Batman & Robin

Franchise killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?
★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1997
Director: 
Joel Schumacher
Starring: 
George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone
The Setup: 
The movie so idiotic it destroyed Warner's first Batman franchise.
Discussion: 

At least we bring the cycle of the earlier Batman films to an end, with the one so flat-out moronic it killed off the entire franchise. Incredibly, upon review, I found it LESS annoying than Batman Forever, as that one was still kind of trying to be serious, whereas this one is nothing but a cartoon from the start. From the moment Batman surfs down out of the upper atmosphere, you'll know everything you once loved has been killed.

So at last we come to this, the movie so all-round stupid it succeeded in killing off the lucrative Batman franchise (until the Christopher Nolan films). Batman Returns was deemed too dark and violent, to the extent that McDonalds pulled out of its tie-in promotion, and that is something we cannot have. So Tim Burton was tossed and Joel Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman we brought in to make the films more "family-friendly," which they started with the execrable Batman Forever. This film took the series even further away from seriousness and toward outright silliness, unfortunately going so far as to kill off all interest, and make the whole thing just a joke. Silliness was apparently what director Schumacher was going for, evidenced by reports that on the set, before every take he would yell out: "Remember, this is a cartoon!"

We open with some colorful credits, the new, interlocked Batman & Robin logo, then go into a series of shots of the dynamic duo getting dressed. We get two butt shots and one crotch shot. The amount of ogling over the anatomically-correct Batsuits (complete with much-hated nipples) was enough to earn this film demerits as being overtly homoerotic. We then have Batman and Robin bickering, Robin saying he wants a car and recycling the "chicks dig the car" line from the last one. They go to the Gotham "art" museum, which inexplicably contains a brontosaurus and a huge diamond, the target of an attack by Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. The first indication that what you're about to see is aimed at developmentally-disabled eight-year-olds comes when you see Batman surf down the back of the brontosaurus, Fred Flintstone-style. They have a fight, during which Robin bursts in through the door, creating a Batman-logo shaped hole, like a Road Runner cartoon, and is soon playing hockey with the huge diamond. Eventually both of them are on a rocket Freeze has fired into the upper atmosphere (why? I can't say) and then comes the moment of true horror I first had upon seeing this film in a theater, when I first realized that things had gone from dumb to sub-idiotic, when Batman and Robin get on little surfboards and surf down out of the sky. You're just sitting there, staring open-mouthed, unable to believe that anyone actually wasted the time and money to create something so blatantly stupid. And these are ADULTS we're talking about.

Cut to South America, where Uma Thurman is working on creating plants that can fight back against humans, moved as she is by the plight of, you know, plants. Her boss is using her research to create weapons, and takes a skinny weakling and pumps him full of venom, which blows him to into muscleman Bane. Uma is found out, and dumped into a vat of the toxin. Soon she emerges as Poison Ivy, kills her boss and takes Bane as her henchman to Gotham City. Throughout the film, Thurman emerges as the only one hitting the exact right tone of silliness for this movie.

Then Alicia Silverstone as Barbara shows up at Wayne manor, the niece of Alfred, who is having little spells and growing sick. Bruce is now, as surely you know, played by George Clooney, and thus any shred of Bruce being a troubled, dark character is long gone and now he's just smug 'ol grinning George Clooney. Perfectly-adjusted. They're off to the fund-raiser for Gotham Observatory, where Batman and Robin are scheduled to appear. That's right, now your Dark Knight is a guest celebrity at fund-raisers, like, say, Ricky Martin might be. Yup, that's where we are now, folks.

In here we learn that Freeze's wife is being held in suspended animation until Freeze, a former scientist who also fell into a vat of something (these villains are always falling into vats of hazardous chemicals, huh?) and now must be kept at freezing temperatures with the aid of this big suit. The suit requires diamonds to function, and the level of this movie is indicated by the attempted equating of diamonds with ice. Diamonds = Ice! Yes! It's THAT dumb!

Meanwhile Robin, whose one character trait is that he's horny and somewhat rebellious, is spying on Barbara. Alicia Silverstone, no one's idea of an actress and obviously here to take advantage of her momentary burst of pop-culture fame, got a lot of flack for being overweight when this movie came out. Now yes, she is nowhere near fat and it all points to our obsession with unhealthy female body images, but on the other hand, what she's gained all manifests right in her face, and she has an unfortunate chubby-cheeked look that draws a lot of attention. She sneaks out at night, borrowing one of the Wayne motorcycles, to participate in these underground motorcycle races, meant to make us understand that she is somewhat badass and not to seem too incongruous when she later suddenly becomes Batgirl. The Gotham she races through is still the bright, happy, colorful place introduced in the last film, but at least this time they spent a lot more money on it. Watching this and Forever back to back, you can see the great leap forward in CGI that occurred just in the two intervening years. Anyway, Robin catches Barbara just before she falls off a precipice, both hanging in the air, and says "So this is where you hang out." Hoo boy, this movie is a cut-up.

Meanwhile Ivy sets up her hangout, which is initially populated by the flourescent-painted glow-thugs we first glimpsed in Batman Forever. They are truly Neon Maniacs. She outfits the place with plants, then goes and pulls the plug on Freeze's wife, telling him that Batman did it. Freeze develops his plan to freeze first Gotham, then the world. Meanwhile Ivy is telling Robin that Batman is holding him back, and why doesn't he have his own signal? The stupid Robin is under a love spell, and so is Batman, but Batman somehow knows it and is impervious, and their tension is just window-dressing that goes nowhere. Robin sees the Robin signal Ivy has created, and goes off by himself.

Meanwhile Alfred entrusts Barbara with a CD-Rom to give to his brother, which she sets about cracking. She tries different passwords, none of which contain at least one number and one symbol, and is met with a cold, robotic voice saying "Access denied." I mention this only to draw attention to the sexy, sultry voice that finally says "Access alllll-owed!" She then sees a display of the plans to all the bat-vehicles, which is all whirling around with cascading concept art, i.e. useful to no one, and finally an animation of the Batman & Robin logo, which I also don't think is going to be of much use to anyone trying to design vehicles. She breaks into the batcave and soon finds that Alfred has made her a suit of her own. We are now treated to more butt shots and some breast shots. And boy, I guess pretty much ANYONE can be a bat-hero if they only hang out long enough.

So Robin is falling for Ivy's wiles and accepts her deadly kiss--only he's wearing special plastic lips! Special. Plastic. Lips. They fight, then Batman comes in, they fight, and both are subdued when, through the ceiling, drops Batgirl! She and Ivy fight--I guess pretty much everyone can drop fifty feet and perform martial arts with no training whatsoever--and she kicks Ivy's ass into her flower throne, which suddenly, inexplicably, collapses on her. This occurs because you know that if we have two females, they MUST have a catfight. We cannot see Batman fight a woman, the precious, defenseless little things.

Meanwhile Freeze has seized Gotham observatory and is freezing the city. Our dynamic trio come in on their specially-designed ice-vehicles (wouldn't they have had to go back to the batcave to get them?) and spring into action. From now until the end, you'll be amazed at the sheer number of times one or more of them is falling, but shoot up a little bat-grappler that grabs and hooks just in time. Like, FIFTY TIMES. Then Robin applies his little Robin-melters. And after a while it's like geez, if they have a little gadget perfect for every possible scenario, that's not very exciting or heroic, is it? You'll also notice that, when they went back to the batcave to get the ice-vehicles, they also all changed into special silver-and-black outfits, which means that not only did Alfred make Barbara a bat-suit, he also whipped up a few varieties for every possible occasion.

The climax returns things to the flat-out STUPIDITY of the opening, with all the falls and saves and explosions and fights and ridiculousness. Freeze has encased the entire city and its inhabitants in ice, but golly, wouldn't you know that the VERY technology needed to unfreeze the city has JUST been created a few days before! It truly is a miracle. It's an array of satellites that can direct sunlight over to the dark side of the planet, and as Batman and Freeze fight we keep cutting back to the monitor alternating "System enabled!" then "System disabled!” then "System enabled!" then "System disabled!" Blah, blah, fight, fight, and finally Batman directs rays of sunlight through the city and everyone melts and is fine. Did you know that you can be frozen solid, then painlessly melted with a little bit of sunlight and spring back to life with no damage whatsoever? It's true! Batman tells Freeze that he saved his wife, and if he works to cure the disease--which also just HAPPENS to be what Alfred has--they'll spare him. He does, and before you know it, Alfred is FINE!

The big surprise to me was that I actually DIDN'T hate this one as much as I hated Batman Forever. This one is outright moronic from the start, dead the moment our two heroes surf down from the upper atmosphere, so one knows not to take it seriously, and the film happily obliges, being essentially a live-action cartoon. With Batman Forever one was coming down from the seriousness of the Burton films, and furthermore Schumacher and Goldsman were kind of trying to deliver a semi-serious movie, just failing miserably. In that one their attempts at gravity, and Lord save us, attempts at deep psychology, were horribly, clangingly painful. As was the fact that the villains' plans were completely ineffective and the Riddler's riddles amounted to nothing. With this one we're solidly in idiot-land and thus expectations are lowered, not raised.

On the little extra feature about the story on the disc--one of those written slide show things that you step through--we have quotes from Goldsman about how the whole of Batman is about loss and thus he created the story with the threat of losing Alfred, so they can all face their deep feelings of loss, and you're like... Do you REALLY think that's what you're writing here? Do you REALLY think that this has any emotional content or says anything about human relationships whatsoever? Wow.

Should you watch it: 

How much do you hate yourself?