Batman and Robin (1997)

Joel Schumacher shows what he really thinks of us.So here it is: the final nail in the coffin, the death knell of the Golden Age of superhero movies. As with any artistic Age, it’s boundaries are plastic and open for debate, should any nerd care to distract him- (or her-) self. But you’d be hard pressed to find a nerd who doesn’t view this movie for exactly what it is: the lowest of the low, the scum of the fucking earth, the most useless, servile, pathetic trash that was ever shat out of Hollywood, a town ruled by effete assholes who see not at all wrong with dumping toxic, imaginative waste straight into their target audience’s eyes, so long as there are as many eyes as possible.

Sorry. Channeled Trainspotting there for a moment. Where were we? Ah, yes…we were marveling at Joel Schumacher’s continued slide into camp and self-parodying idiocy. All in the name of keeping this franchise “family friendly.” In practice, you and I both know this means, “so dumb your trailer-trash, hick cousins from Possumscrotum, Texas, will beg, cry, scream and, eventually, drag their parents into theaters. We’ve spent the last six months stoking their little, ADD-addled minds with trailers and toy commercials. If we don’t get their butts in those seats, our Japanese masters stand to lose hundreds of billions of yen! We can’t allow that!”

Michael Gough feels our pain.This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but with a corporate executive telling Tim Burton his work was too “dark.” You can’t allow that. But you can allow Schumacher access to two Bat-movie’s in a row. Honestly, I ask you, which is the bigger tragedy?

Problems abound from the first frame, a montage of the Bat-couple dressing for action. I can already hear your hick cousins from Possumscrotum – and mine – giggling at the obvious homo eroticism Schumacher layers onto this picture. (See the Gratuitous Butt Shot above.) It’s so overt here I can’t even call it subtext, given the trust issues Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) will spend the movie arguing over. No one bothers to mention how much time’s passed since Batman Forever, but it’s obviously been long enough for a brilliant scientist (and Olympic dicathlete) to fall into a vat of cryogenic fluid and emerge as Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

The opening fight scene concerns Batman and Robin’s attempt to stop Freeze from stealing a gigantic diamond from the Gotham City Natural History Museum. Diamonds power the glowing, armor-plated suit Freeze must now wear in order to survive in any environment above zero. (Celsius? Fahrenheit? Kelvin? Who knows?) That is, until he manages to steal enough giant diamonds to complete his gigantic Freezing Laser Canon, and turn Gotham into a set from John Carpenter’s The Thing. Then he can stroll down Finger Avenue naked as a Tuesday and hold the city for ransom. Freeze needs money, you see. To fund his research into a cure for  the fictional “MaGregor’s Syndrome,” set to kill Freeze’s wife once he lets her out of the cryostatis pod he stuffed her in prior to his transformation. Too bad the Penguin died back in Batman Returns. One phone call to Cobblepot could’ve converted those stolen diamonds into cold (buh-dump-*cymbal crash*) hard cash. But that would be intelligent writing, something beyond screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s wildest imaginations.

Strike a pose!If you want a movie tailor-made to showcase your company’s toy line, call Akiva Goldsman. His heavy hand weighs down every line. They fall like marble blocks from the roof of a schizophrenic sculptor’s apartment building, bursting heads with inane puns on ice, plants, bats, birds…aping camp to neigh-on Ed Woodian levels. “You’ll not send me to the cooler!” De Ah-nold declares. “Chill!” What are we, seven? “Time to kick some ice!” Is this still 1966? Who says every line out of a super-being’s mouth has to use a play on words as its object?

Following the Two Villain Rule, we cut to Amazon after Freeze gets away with his diamond. (Go Bat-team, go.) There we find Dr. Pamela Isely (Uma Thurman) slaving away on something to do with plants.  Her co-worker, Dr. Jason Woodrue (John Glover, handing out free ham) is so insane he’s stolen Elsa Lanchaster’s hair and used Isely’s research to perfect a super-soldier formula he calls “Venom.” Wayne Enterprises, their primary backer, has just pulled out of the project, so Woodrue’s busy in the next room over-selling Venom to the highest bidder. Isely stumbles across a “demonstration” of his compound, which turns a scrawny human guinea pig into a giant in a rubber suit (seriously), which Woodrue names Bane (Jeep Swenson). Wodrue attempts to woe Isely over the dark side and, when she refuses, douses her with her own multi-colored, Scientific-loooking liquids. But since this is the D.C. Universe, she rises, Swamp Thing-like,  as Poison Ivy, vamped up to ridiculous extremes. With an accent. Jazz Age Nightclub Singer, I believe.

Ivy also gains the Kiss of Death, and her background in chemistry allows her to whip up mind-controlling pheromone dust, setting the Dynamic Duo at odds over whom she loves more. Like they’re thirteen. Following the Two Villain Rule, she and Bane (gotta love that mind control) unite with Freeze against the two ambiguously-gay vigilantes once Isely’s meeting with Bruce Wayne goes south, forcing her hand.

"See? Bat-boobs! Everybody's got'um."Schumacher apparently chose Clooney for his chin once Val Kilmer pulled out to make the much-better Saint.  Clooney saves as much dignity as he can with those rubber nipples weighing him down.  Apart from Michael Gough, the sole surviving original member of this franchise’s cast, no one in the film seems to take their characters seriously. No one else plays a human being, unless you count Chris O’Donnell, who plays Dick Grayson as The World’s Biggest Douche (again). No deep, psychological problems or traumatic, repressed childhood memories for this Bat-family. Our film is all about Trust and Togetherness, along with oogiling Alicia Silverstone. She plays Alfred’s neice, Barbara (*cough*) Wilson, and serves no real purpose until, like Dick before her, she stumbles upon the Batcave. Bruce really should get an alarm system. Silverstone brings her trademark blank stare to her role as superheroine. (But Hollywood’s journalists really did unfairly crucify her for gaining a few pounds and deserve to be denounced as  maggots.) Thurman and Ah-nold both accept Schumacher’s tacit permission to overact. Ivy’s even allowed to shout “Curses!” So much for the actors.

The real problem is, this film doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s too dumb for adults, too sexual for the kiddies, too serious for a comedy, too stupid for an action movie. Easy to see why it killed a franchise and an Age. Unevenly paced, filled with physics-defying action sequences, and all the bullshit sentimentality only Hollywood can deliver, it’s the worst of all possible worlds. Alfred’s surprise contraction of McGreggor’s Syndrome and his miraculous resurrection are only a final insult, added to mortal injury. As idiotic as it is unmemorable, Batman and Robin may be the worst modern film to come out of Hollywood to date, with the possible exception of Battlefield Earth, a fact so obvious even the suits recognized it.

As much as I hate them, I salute their decision to save us all from Schumacher’s proposed Batman 5. Their just might be a God after all, no matter how much this film makes me doubt it.

Zero

Thankfully, not forever.

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10 thoughts on “Batman and Robin (1997)”

  1. Me and my friend watched this movie last week just for laughs and it’s just amazing how many huge, muscle bound, man statues are littered through out the film. The most ridiculous one by far was the gigantic one that Batman and Freeze drove on.

    1. That’s what happens when you take Art Deco out a whole new door. Personally, I always felt Batman & Robin‘s Most Ridiculous Man Statue Competition ended in a three-way tie between Der Governator, Clooney, and the thing this film chooses to call Bane.

      1. By the way, did you notice Poison Ivy’s “birth” was basically plagiarized from Catwoman’s in Batman Returns ? Not just similar but the same, freaken, origin. Both started off as nerdy and lacking self confidence, both accidentally stumble upon their employer’s evil plans, both are “killed” by their employers in pretty much the same manner, both are resurrected as villains, and both eventually kill their employers. Huge difference being one scenario was extremely well crafted and tragic and the other was a steaming pile of cow shit.

        It was even worse than the previous Riddler/Two-Face team up.

        1. There’s that. And then there’s the Riddler-Poison Ivy connection. A reclusive Scientist who works for Wayne Enterprises gets a Hot New Idea sure to revolutionize whichever branch of Science they’re working in. Reclusive Scientist pitches this idea to Bruce Wayne, who dismisses it out of hand as too radical. Too untested. “It just raises too many questions,” Bruce says to Nigma, and he gives Dr. Pam basically the same line less than a year later (in spite of all the trouble Nigma caused him less than a year earlier – putting a lie to the Riddler’s contention that “If you kill ‘im, he won’t learn nothin'” ). So, once Reclusive Scientist becomes a supervillian, s/he immediately has a focal point for hir anger in Bruce Wayne, necessitating s/he team with with an already-established supervillian who hates Batman to avenge hirself on both sides of Bruce’s personality and, inevitably, Try To Take Over the World once that’s done.

          1. Great point. And speaking of Riddler, did you notice how his costume got progressively worse in Batman Forever? At first, the costume was decent. I could have done without the dyed hair but the suit was fine. However by the end of the film, it’s just…an awe of bad taste. Purple hair and a leotard decorated in rhinestones. Frank Gorshin didn’t even like the leotard he had in the tv show; I would have loved to have seen his reaction if he ever saw Batman Forever.

            1. I could write a whole essay on Jim Carrey, and what his meteoric rise says about the middle-90s in general and its effect on American Comedy in particular…quite aside of the Batman franchise. But first I’ve got to get through the Burton years and see how many people I can alienate in the process. It’ll be fun and educational.

  2. I think Carrey rarely achieved his potential in a lot of his film work. Most of the time Carrey did nothing but flail which wasn’t always an entirely terrible thing like in Ace Ventura. What I speak of is such films as Batman Forever and The Grinch which give Jim almost nothing to do . By the way, I am one of the few who enjoy The Cable Guy.

    I look forward to your Burton reviews especially Batman Returns which I found interesting but, like most Burtons films, a narative mess.

    1. Ah yes, but any mess with Catwoman in it is a mess I’ll gladly jump into.

      And it seems to me you Cable Guy fans have a bit of a self-image problem. For a supposedly small fanbase, ya’ll seem to be everywhere. So much so that I’m actually considering reviewing the film after all these years of benign neglect. I fell of the Carrey Wagon after When Nature Calls did everything it could to pander to the jock douchebag demographic. It worked, so good on the film for achieving goals…but fuck it for having such low goals in the first place. Which could work as an epitaph for Carrey’s career as a whole…damnit. Already my brain’s idly wondering if I could draw a through line from Ace to Van Wilder to the Hot Tub Time Machines of today and call the whole thing something bombastic like The Slow Death of the American Comedy. Looks like I know what I’ll be doing while I boycott Transformers 3.

  3. Yes, I suppose Cable Guy seems to have achieved some sort of cult status. Maybe we are a bit modest. 😉

    What I can’t stand about alot about comedy these days is that the comic figures are lazy, unsympathetic, man children who make it through their episodes by doing nothing. For example, last night I was watching Tommy Boy and me and my friend both agreed that anyone would have been as equally as frustrated in David Spade’s position. The moral of the story was if you work your ass off in your job, you have no life or friends but being a fat, drunken, reprobate means a hot a chick and a high paying job. Now I am not saying comedic figures should be champions of morals but for god’s sake, let them care about something. Harold Lloyd, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Ralph Kramden, and Ed Norton leave an impression on you because they are strugglers dealing with day to day life. Sometimes their pain is their own fault and other times it’s unavoidable. They are neither punished or rewarded more than they need to be. Today’s comedic figures are total opposites because they are arbitrarily abused and rewarded by doing nothing. Seth Rogan’s characters, or the same one-note character he plays over and over again under different names, for example are people who I never would want to meet in my life. They care about nothing and nobody. People find this funny and I can’t understand why.

    Rant over.

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