Batman & Robin (1997)
Release Date: June 20th, 1997 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Joel Schumacher Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Elle Macpherson, Vivica A. Fox
ho is this nutball?” asks a Gotham City police officer after the diabolical Mr. Freeze makes an appearance. Comically absurd dialogue aside, that nutball is the star of the fourth Batman film in the Warner Bros. franchise (beginning with Tim Burton’s 1989 entry), Arnold Schwarzenegger, receiving billing even above George Clooney, who replaces Val Kilmer as the legendary Dark Knight. Sadly, however, no one supersedes director Joel Schumacher, who once again completely destroys new, theatrically realized Batman villains and makes a mockery of the crime fighter’s exploits.
Gotham City is under attack from a maddened scientist who has an insatiable thirst for the cold. Using an unfathomably powerful ice gun, amongst other subzero devices, self-named Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) wreaks havoc on the town, stealing valuable diamonds for use in both his armor and in a plot to freeze the entire city. Joining him is Dr. Pamela Easley (Uma Thurman), who is unexplainably transformed into the lusty yet venomous Poison Ivy, a woman bent on using Mother Nature to destroy the world. She is also accompanied by Bane (Jeep Swenson), a ruthless convict who is pumped up with steroids and venom for unmatched physical strength.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne/Batman (George Clooney) must deal with Robin’s (Chris O’Donnell) constant nagging about teamwork and the youngster’s frequent poor decisions. Understandably, Batman has trust issues – and Robin’s complaining doesn’t seem to help. When faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough) becomes sick, his niece Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone) drops by for a visit, only to cause further troubles for the masked avengers.
The degree of pitifulness of the series doesn’t seem to matter to fans, as they continue to put money into the producers’ pockets. The neon lights, fluorescent face paint, and lavish costumes all return for another round of unspeakably cheesy superhero action, and not even the introduction of Batgirl can help save it – in fact, especially not the introduction of Batgirl, who comes across as more pesky than formidable. Similar to the downward transitioning of James Bond’s sincerity (from Sean Connery to Roger Moore), Batman’s pictures have become dependent on droll one-liners and unnecessary comedy to dispatch the baddies. Before every fight, every attack, every push of a button, and every retaliation is a dreadfully effete quip, oftentimes enhanced by brief input from multiple characters. And the villains have to speak in lengthy monologues just to keep the audience aware of their convoluted schemes.
Apparently unable to create interesting or new geneses for the villains, Mr. Freeze is introduced exactly like Two-Face in the previous film (with nonstop, unbelievable, sci-fi/fantasy concepts). So too is Poison Ivy, who, without explanation, has venomous lips, a flashy wardrobe designer, and Leia Organa’s hairstylist. Her debut duplicates The Riddler’s appearance from “Batman Forever”; in creating sidekick antagonist counterparts between films, writer Akiva Goldsman has seemingly exhausted himself of ideas. And the third villain, Bane, is reduced to little more than a Frankenstein’s monster. New protagonist addition Batgirl fares no better. Her annoying prying, inconsideracy, and daredevil ways lead to constant irritation – not aid.
Perhaps most disheartening of all, however, is the fact that every character in the film defies gravity, physics, and any form of logic in their clunky or obnoxiously vivid designs. “Batman & Robin’s” style and wardrobe manages to rip off “A Clockwork Orange,” “Mad Max,” “Star Trek,” and Cirque Du Soleil, amongst several other entities (there’s even a Batman Visa card), yet the result is far from comic book faithfulness or amusing weirdness (like Tim Burton’s vision). Moreover, every time the heroes get into a harrowing situation, they conveniently have a random accoutrement or silly device readily available to save themselves – or the camera cuts away and viewers have to assume they skillfully got out alive. This is one of those films that begs for “Mystery Science Theater 3000” commentary, ensuring that Batman will need a complete makeover to ever be taken seriously again.
– Mike Massie