Batman & Robin Movie Review

This fourth episode in the Batman series isn't a movie so much as a theme park. It wasn't scripted so much as run through the Hollywood script mill, where every line of dialogue is reduced to a catchphrase. "Allow me to break the ice," says Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), "My name is Freeze. Learn it well. For it's the chilling sound of your doom." That groaner is representative of pretty much every line of Batman's arch-nemesis. He later posits such zingers as, "Tonight, hell freezes over!" and "You're not sending me to the cooler!" This is not character development so much as paint-by-numbers screenwriting, where you can imagine the gang sitting around wondering what incorrigible pun they'll come up with next.

Tim Burton's first two Batman films were all about this nerd auteur playing with a gigantic train set, so even though the stories were threadbare and superficial, at least Burton brought a highly stylized pop Gothic look. Jack Nicholson hammed it up nicely as the Joker and Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman was an unforgettably sexy femme fatale who was able to hold her own in a power struggle with the caped crusader. Say what you will, the films had their moments, and even miscast Michael Keaton was an enjoyable wild card.

All that changed with the third Batman, helmed by Joel Schumacher, who transformed the series into a paint-set of gaudy "splash" colors, dizzying Dutch angles, and hyperactive snip-snip cutting in the editing room, to the point where one sits and watches the screen, eyes glazed over, not even able to comprehend the logical flow of an action sequence. There is some vestige of a plot, where a scientist transforms into Mr. Freeze and decides to create a new ice age, and some other nonsense involving villain #2, Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), who wants to take over the world using genetically engineered plants.

These villains would indeed be colorful if they had any personality, but instead they're a series of one-liners pointed in the general direction of Batman (George Clooney, who doesn't even get top billing), Robin (Chris O'Donnell), and Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone), who lack the benefit of a super-power gimmick to give them personality. Clooney, who has proven himself an actor of some integrity in recent years (Out of Sight and Three Kings were when he started taking some responsibility for his career), admitted in interviews he did Batman & Robin for the cash, and I don't think I've ever seen a Hollywood star coast through a movie so cavalierly, so without caring. And who on earth can blame him, considering he isn't given much of a character to play? Bruce Wayne wears a suit and Batman wears a cowl. There's your character!

Let's not kid ourselves. The studio wanted to keep up the franchise and keep toys on the shelves. But they did the capital mistake of underestimating the audience, which was in no mood for putting up with this crap again. When storytelling gets reduced to one big explosion after another, the effect is ultimately exhausting and unfulfilling. But here's a pet theory for you as to why the movie tanked: All those leering shots of Batman and Robin's codpieces. Now, someone is going to make a connection between the global homophobia that made Batman & Robin tank as opposed to the repugnant gay panic scenes that are in almost every would-be successful major motion picture coming out of Hollywood (most recently in Wedding Crashers, The Dukes of Hazzard, and The Island). But that's not worth going into here because Batman & Robin deserves no justification for existing. It was made assuming people would be dumb enough to ladle into their mouths whatever the Hollywood sequel machine would throw at them. Maybe the fact that they put some real effort into revitalizing Batman Begins (I didn't love it, but at least they tried) speaks well for the dream factory; at least they learned from their mistake.

The new Anthology DVD set includes the first four Batman films: Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin. Each comes in a two-disc pack (that's eight discs total), with commentary tracks, making-of featurettes, music videos, and deleted scenes (for Forever and Robin). Extra points for an impressive box design.


Comments

Batman & Robin Rating

" Unbearable "

Rating: PG, 1997

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