Nov 28, 2014

[Movies] Batman & Robin (1997)

When I decided to post reviews for the entire "classic" Batman movies, I knew that I was going to have a tricky time with this last one. Let's face it, Batman & Robin is just one of those movies that seems to dominate a lot of different "worst movie" lists for many reasons and I can't say that I entirely disagree with them. Then again, I'd like to think that the movie still has some merit on its own as opposed to merely being probably the worst movie in the original quadrilogy of Batman movies.

Batman & Robin marked the series really going in a direction that felt completely different from the original vision defined by Tim Burton in Batman. And this shift was clearly not well-received by those fans who started with the 1989 movie, but I can see how it could have served to open the doors to new fans entirely. And this was obviously want the studio wanted - to tap into a much younger fan base and sell more toys.

But yeah, just because you're making a movie being marketed to kids doesn't necessarily mean you have to make a movie so silly, it's beyond the acceptable range of ridiculous. Or something like that.

Synopsis: Batman & Robin is the 1997 addition to the on-going Batman movie franchise and is the last such movie before Christopher Nolan rebooted the series anew. The movie was directed by Joel Schumacher like Batman Forever before it but with a screenplay by Akiva Goldsman.

The movie begins with Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) trying to stop Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as he attempts to steal precious diamonds from the Gotham Museum of Natural History. However they fail to apprehend him when Robin is frozen and Batman has less than 11 minutes to thaw him out fully before he dies. Naturally Batman opts to save Robin as opposed to continuing his pursuit of Freeze.

Elsewhere we meet Dr. Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman) as she experiments on the application of her "Venom" on the growth of plants. But she then discovers that her colleague, Dr. Woodrue (John Glover) has been using her Venom in other experiments - thus creating the super-strong Bane (Robert "Jeep" Swenson). Woodrue tries to kill her with various animal-plant hybrid toxins, but instead this transforms her into a super-powered creature. Calling herself Poison Ivy, she swears to use her new powers to protect plants from mankind all over the world.

From the movie's first moments, the stark difference in tone is pretty jarring. The movie is campy, silly and feels like a natural continuation of the original Adam West Batman series more than the more modern incarnations. And as much as we already said that Batman Forever also opted to take things in a lighter manner, this movie really pushed things to crazy new heights.

It probably didn't help that Arnold as Mr. Freeze was just painful. His dialog was written with a minimum of three puns per statement or something, and these were some really bad ice-centric puns. Uma Thurman certainly had fun with Poison Ivy and she had dialog which had a slightly lower level of pun-saturation. But then there's Bane, who is a sad shadow of his comic book self with no actual dialog beyond a series of horrible grunts and groans.

But I can't quite fault the villains for being so campy when Batman and Robin themselves weren't that much greater. Clooney and O'Donnell did a decent enough job of portraying the characters, but a lot of the changes about these characters are what really made things nutty. Starting with nipples on the batsuits, a Batman-branded credit card and of course those long, drawn-out suiting up sequences complete with an effort to highlight their butts was all just wrong.

The movie also tried to juggle quite a number of plots and stretched itself a little thin given all the villains in the movie. Mr. Freeze of course remained focus on saving his wife Nora, and's rather par for the course. I just wish he kept serious about these efforts and avoided moments like singing along to old Christmas movies. Poison Ivy made for a strange eco-terrorist with Bane as her lapdog and her repeated seduction of Batman & Robin got old pretty fast.

And I'm not sure how to feel about introducing Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. We hadn't seen much of Silverstone in the movies when this movie came out and so this casting felt like a bit of a surprise at the time. Then again, her character had a pretty flimsy back story that ignored what the comic had to offer her. But I guess that could have been forgiven had Batgirl had more to do in this movie apart from, well, change into Batgirl.

I guess this movie still sort of works as an oddball live-action cartoon sort of movie, but at the same time I trust that more parents see that they can make their kids watch smarter fare. Like I mentioned earlier, just because a movie is said to be meant to be kids doesn't necessarily mean the movie needs to be stupid. Kids are smarter than most studio executives seem to give them credit for and that needs to be remembered in every such venture.

Batman & Robin is indeed a sad addition to the overall Batman movie franchise, but at least it tried. And I'm sure there are guy and girls who loop the old costume-changing sequences for their fetish value - assuming you're into rubber costumes being turned in a spotlight. Thus the movie only gets 1 horrible pun per sentence of dialog of this movie out of a possible 5.


  1. The interesting thing about this particular batman movie is that it's sooo bad, and yet I'd watch it whenever I catch it on cable.

  2. I hold that it's bad in comparison to the rest of the franchise given the shift in tone / audience focus, but then it's also such a part of our growing up that we can't exactly look away.