I have never paid a penny towards this movie. No I haven’t pirated it, wouldn’t do that. When it was released in the cinema my uncle paid for the tickets. That cinema viewing was a terrible experience. The screening was full to the brim with people talking and a baby crying for the last hour. When the film was released on video that same uncle brought me a copy. I watched it once to confirm that my opinion of the film wasn’t based on how bad the screening was that I went to. Turns out the crying baby helped the film by adding a much more suitable musical score. The copy I have watched tonight I have borrowed from my friend Luke. He has also given me some sort of flu with his recent coughing and spluttering. Basically no viewing of this film has ever been a good one. It’s like the film brings badness and pain with it. It’s now nearly 2AM in the morning, I’m boiling hot, my throat hurts and I need a drink. Regardless I’m gonna get through this review before I go to bed in the hope that it will somehow be therapeutic. Click the link to share my pain.
Batman & Robin is a two hour long toy commercial/remake of the 60s TV series directed by Joel Schumacher and starring nothing but pieces of ham. It’s lit by a colour blind monkey and written by a remedial school child who then let his gerbil perform last minute rewrites. Also the Bat-suits have nipples on them and giant codpieces. Truthfully though the film stars George Clooney as the new day-glo knight and Chris O’Donnell returns as his sidekick-slash-live in lover Dick “Robin” Grayson. I’ll get onto the casting fully later because that deserves a focus all of it’s own. The plot concerns Mr Freeze forgetting the reason why he turned evil and then he does some stuff while Poison Ivy plans to work with him to freeze the planet and start a new race of super plants. Which seems counter productive. Plants don’t tend to grow to well in ice after all. Some do, but it’s a limited pool.
Allow me to discuss what I like about this film first. With the exception of the nipples and codpiece I quite like Robin’s costume. Well before it goes all silver for the finale for no reason. It looks a lot less campy than the old yellow, green and red costume and has elements of Dick Grayson’s Nightwing costume to it.
Right, back to the review. Batman & Robin gets almost everything it could about The Dark Knight wrong. It’s not like it was following a glowing example of a Batman movie but at least that film had Batman/Bruce Wayne portrayed as somewhat of an introvert who had some issues. Now granted you don’t want to go repeating themes again here but when you have a villain like Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who has elements of his character taken from Paul Dini’s interpretation of the character you have a great story in place already. In the animated Batman series Paul Dini created a back-story for Mr Freeze where he had his wife frozen in order to give him time to find a cure for her MacGuffin’s syndrome. He started off looking for a cure but when he could no longer get funding he started losing his way and employing more extreme measures to find a cure. Despite all the evil he did though he still remembered that his wife needed curing and because of his tragic situation he garnered sympathy from Batman who actually wanted to help him. It caused a conflict in Batman because he knew that by stopping Freeze’s schemes he’d be harming Freeze’s wife which in turn would make him a more desperate and dangerous villain. It was a conflict that could be played out multiple times and each time Batman would succeed the stakes would have to get higher.
Here Bruce informs us of Freeze’s back-story via a pretty pathetic security video sequence, Freeze then looks a bit sad about his wife later, even turning down the attentions of Vivica A Fox, he gets upset when Ivy tells him that Batman killed his wife by unplugging her. Sounds like he has her in mind right? Well the issue is that at no point does any of his schemes have anything to do with finding a cure. He’s stealing diamonds for a weapon he plans to make but then doesn’t have the idea for the weapon until later when he finds out about a telescope that he could use to freeze Gotham which conveniently has a space that fits his diamond encrusted ice gun thing he’s made. I’m going over the film in my head only a few hours after watching it trying to remember if at any point he mentions any of his jewel thieving schemes having anything to do with curing his wife’s illness but I’m pulling a blank.
Meanwhile a nerdy scientist called Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman) is experimenting with plants and animal DNA to give them the ability to defend themselves. Her co-worker is stealing her work though and making a super soldier serum, he actually uses those words, to make a skinny dude be something that’s meant to resemble Bane. Isley has been suspicious of the doctors work but had no idea what he was doing so she chooses tonight to be the one where she bothers to just walk through the unlocked door to his lab. Because she sees this the other doctor decides he has to kill her so he pushes her into a load of chemicals. Next time you see her she’s sprouting from the ground and talking in what can only be described as the most unnatural and hammy tone the world has ever known. Here’s the major issue here, other than everything I mean, we have no idea who she is. She’s quite clearly unhinged from the start. She’s working in what looks exactly like a 1950s mad scientist’s laboratory but is she a good scientist or a bad one. She talks like a mad woman but is then disgusted by her the other doctors experiment and threatens to take him down. Mixed messages abound. There’s no back-story to her. We don’t see her outside her work or have any scenes that inform us of the type of person she is. She just turns up, gets pushed into chemicals and is then evil.
Later Alicia Silverstone turns up saying she’s Alfred’s niece Barbara. Apparently he’s been sending her money to help her with her educational studies at, and I shit ye not, Oxbridge university in London. Google map search that, I dare ya. Here’s Alicia Silverstone’s entire contribution to the film… she steals a bike for what appears to be three days. Then goes road racing for some reason. Turns out she’s been skipping uni all along, so thieving Alfred’s money then. Then she guesses the password to a file Alfred asks her to deliver to a relative which reveals all the secrets of Batman and Robin and then Alfred makes her a suit. Alfred, a man in his 80s, makes his niece a rubber full body suit. Hmmm. Anyway, she eventually kicks Poison Ivy and says something about women’s lib.
The errors on this film come not only in broad strokes but in the minutiae too. For example, the team change costumes to new silver ones for the films final action scenes, no explanation as to where they got a second Batgirl costume from or why they changed. A scene following the finale shows Robin dressed in his previous costume. Poison Ivy is seen putting on a blonde wig in the back of a car before confronting Bruce Wayne with a plan to make the world a greener place. When she confronts him she has messy dark blonde hair that’s very unlike the wig she put on. Later on she’s at another event wearing the wig that she put on earlier. Batman has a fecking credit card with an expiry date that reads “forever”. Batman & Robin have ice skates in their boots and then go sky surfing. Computer monitors can apparently project images onto peoples faces. Poison Ivy has a plant that looks like Seymour from Little Shop Of Horrors at one point. We never see it again. There’s more but I can’t just list stuff.
Oh go on I can… let’s be a little more critical.
Dialogue in this film is either pointless and jokey or just a series of puns. For every random scene of cackling laughter that there was in Batman Forever there is about 5-8 puns here. Not one of them is funny and more than half make no sense. Bane is characterised as if the makers of the film only saw one image of him and said “OK, got it!”. He’s depicted as a dumb heavy that can barely talk. At one point he’s placing bombs whilst saying “BOMBBB” for each one placed. People can complain about Tom Hardy being too small and him not wearing a wrestlers mask all they want but at least Chris Nolan seems to have gotten his character spot on. Bane is a very clever character. He’s even managed to outsmart Batman in the comics. As far as I can tell George Clooney is playing Batman as Adam West. His articulation is uncanny in it’s similarities at times.
This is probably from the film. Seems similar enough
Now onto casting. Arnold Schwarzenegger… why? Apparently Joel Schumacher thought Mr Freeze (who surely should be referred to as a Doctor) should look like he was cut from ice. So why Arnold? Apparently Patrick Stewart nearly had the role. I assume he took one look at the script and said “Screw you chaps, Imma gonna go do this X-men thing here”. Mr Freeze in this film has to be one of the most miscast parts since… well I was gonna make a reference to black-faced people in Birth Of A Nation here but that would have likely been going too far. Lets just say that Arnold is nothing but wrong for this part. Uma Thurman seems to be completely clued in on just how bad this film actually is though because she is going hell for leather for worst performance of her career. God Bless Chris O’Donnell though, he puts all his efforts in that he can but he is but one player in a cast of thousands.
The score in Batman & Robin is just as gaudy and intrusive as it was in the previous film. Sound effects are pure cartoon sample files, I’m honestly surprised that we didn’t have the words “BAM!” and “WHACK!” flashing up on the screens during the fight scenes. Speaking of fight scenes there’s one every few minutes, just like in Batman Forever, and most of these just build up to a chase of some kind involving Mr Freeze-s weird freeze bus thing. The films pacing is horrible. It just trundles along from one stupid event to the next a lot of the time with zero connective tissue. The whole film smacks of a first draft in terms of storytelling and plotting. One of the biggest crimes though is the blatant toyification of the film. Every vehicle, suit and gadget looks like it was designed by Hasbro. As mentioned there’s a random suit change for the gang at the end. Along with that comes 3 new vehicles for kids to buy along with the new figures. Poison Ivy herself has about 10 costumes over the course of the film.
Batman & Robin is an abomination of a film. It’s one of those bad movies where there really is no excuse. They had the budget and the talent to make a decent film but instead churned out a neon coloured turd of a film. It’s not like it has that inept charm of say Troll 2 because despite the horribly OTT lighting and over-active editing the film is competently put together. By which I mean the camera is in focus and scenes aren’t cut together entirely incorrectly. I get that there was an attempt to represent the Batman comics of the 50s and 60s here but this was 1997, you either make a film the represents the tastes of today or you make a film that genuinely does embrace the style of the era it was aiming for. Batman & Robin really does not. It doesn’t get the chance to be so bad it’s good because it’s just plain bad. This film caused Warner to cancel a sequel, where Scarecrow was going to be used as a plot device to bring The Joker back as a nightmare vision of Batman’s. It then made them spend 8 years trying a multitude of different ideas for sequels to try to make good with the audience. Two of which would have been potentially awesome, one was a Batman Beyond film and the other was a Darren Aronofsky directed Batman Year One. I’ll be reviewing the animated Batman Year One in the coming weeks. I’ll also never be seeing Batman & Robin ever again.