Batman and Robin are joined by a new ally as they take on the troublesome twosome of Mr Freeze and Poison Ivy.
Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone
Run Time: 125 Minutes
Release Date: 20 June 1997 (US)
“I think we might have killed the franchise”
If there was a list of quotes that you would not want to hear from the star of a superhero movie with a $125 million dollar budget, that one would be right up there. Those words were spoken by George Clooney, chosen to play Batman as he would bring a softer approach to the character, someone who would portray a different Batman to that played by Michael Keaton. He did that, but he will also be known as the man who played Batman in the movie that did indeed kill the franchise.
With a release fast-tracked to capitalise on the success of Batman Forever two years prior, Batman and Robin was doomed from the start. Schumacher had already lost viewers – despite the financial success – with Forever’s major departure from the Gotham that Tim Burton had previously created, and confidence wasn’t high for this rushed sequel. Clooney’s appointment may have brought star name power, but there’s precious little else. Compared to previous actors who have donned the suits of both Batman and Bruce Wayne, Clooney falls some way short. His Wayne shows no emotion other than the ability to smirk and crack jokes. He is painfully dull and things don’t get much better when he pulls on the Batsuit, the wisecracks continuing (and decreasing in humour with every one) and his Batman rapidly evoking memories of the camp comedy previously employed in the Adam West 1966 version. And O’Donnell is not much better as Robin, with his ‘moody independent streak’ persona becoming rather grating rather quickly and following Clooney down the same ’66 comedy path.
In Schumacher’s defence, the first half hour or so of the film are actually pretty good. Clooney and O’Donnell do momentarily look the part as the Dynamic Duo, Schwarzenegger looks good as Mr Freeze (before the puns start) and Thurman effortlessly steals the show with her sultry Poison Ivy. Unfortunately for Schumacher, the film, the viewers, and undoubtedly the studio’s hopes of another money-spinning sequel, the film reaches 30 minutes and then goes and finds a cliff to throw itself off.
Things quickly descend into farce and ridicule. The promising opening 30 minutes rapidly become a distant memory, to be replaced with wisecracks. If they were funny, or at least endearing, then maybe we could forgive this drastic departure from the tone set so successfully in previous films. But once you’ve heard Arnie’s latest ‘freeze’ pun, patience is running dangerously thin with a laughable and ridiculous script that seems to only get worse as it goes on. Schumacher has shown previously that try as he might, he just doesn’t seem to know how to write, direct or just generally present a good Batman film, and he comes nowhere near it here either. There is no attempt made to flesh out the characters in any way, instead preferring to present puns and one-liners and overpriced special effects that barely passed as realistic back in 1997.
In his defence Clooney does try, and fearful of repetition, the opening 30 minutes do give us hope that we will get a good Bruce Wayne and Batman. But when the film finds that cliff to throw itself off, Clooney goes right along with it. His role seems to be nothing more than smirking and cracking wise, essentially becoming Adam West. He isn’t exactly helped by his supporting cast either, with O’Donnell’s brooding, independent-steak Dick Grayson still no more likable than it was in the previous film. Robin does have a place in the Batman movies – and was actually in Tim Burton’s original Batman script in ’89 – but for it to work it needs the right actor, the right script and the right director to make it all work. In Schumacher, Robin never had a chance. His continued presence appears to have served purely because it gave Warner Bros. and their respective partners another line of merchandise. In fact, the film itself appears to exist for that reason only. Marketing bods at Warner were mass-producing lines of toys and other assorted money-spinners before the film’s script was even complete.
Going back to the all-important characters though, if the heroic Dynamic Duo aren’t going to light up the screen then the main villain needs to take command and drag the film up. Unfortunately this wasn’t Burton and Nicholson, we had Schumacher’s puns and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Promoted as the film’s star (Nicholson’s Joker all over again), Schwarzenegger was never going to win plaudits for his acting ability here. Mr Freeze is a walking pun machine, and they get tired quickly.
There is one sole highlight in this film and that is Freeze’s on-off partner-in-crime Poison Ivy, played by Uma Thurman with class and more style than this film deserved. She doesn’t hesitate to camp it up on occasions, but it never detracts from her performance. The amount of sex appeal she manages to get into a PG film should also be commended, and if there was ever anything that could come out of this it would be an Ivy spin-off. Alas that never happened, of course, leaving us to instead wonder what could have been and just thank Thurman for giving us one bright point of this movie.
At the other end of the spectrum, the latest hero addition to the set piece – Alicia Silverstone’s Barbara Wilson – fails miserably. Introduced as Alfred’s niece, strangely with no hint of a English accent, she ends up as Batgirl and part of a trio looking to take down Freeze. Putting aside the altering to the Batgirl origin story, Silverstone is a major disappointment here. If the rest of the film was aimed at kids and families, Silverstone’s casting can only exist to those out there that are keen to see her slip into a leather catsuit.
No review of this movie would be complete without at least a passing mention of the infamous costume choices on display here. While even the most ardent Batman ’66 admirer would admit the Batsuit wasn’t the most thrilling, to add nipples and hilariously-oversized codpieces just seems like someone in the design team were having fun and no-one realised it wasn’t serious. Much like the film in general, actually.
A mistake on every conceivable level, Batman and Robin will forever go down in history as the worst Bats film committed to film, and put the character on the shelf until Christopher Nolan was trusted with it some eight years later.
[tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]
Uma Thurman emerges with her reputation undamaged with a sterling performance
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]
Joel Schumacher hammers a final nail into the coffin containing the Batman movie franchise
Alicia Silverstone offers nothing in her role as Batgirl
Creative and design decisions doom this film to fail
*Batman 75 Retrospective will return on Monday with Batman Begins.*