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!”
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.
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.
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.