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Review: Batman & Robin (1997)

Batman & Robin (1997)

Directed by: Joel Schumacher

Premise: The relationship between Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) becomes strained when the mysterious Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) comes between them. Meanwhile, Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) plans to turn Gotham City into a frozen tundra.

What Works: Batman & Robin continues the frantic neon style of the previous film, turning it up to a new level. Despite the many problems of this picture it is strangely enjoyable but in an ironic way. This is the kind of picture to be laughed at rather than laughed with and those who find entertainment value in films like Manos: The Hands of Fate or Troll 2 will find that Batman & Robin has a similar appeal. The centerpiece of the film is not found in either of the title characters but in Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. Like Jim Carrey in Batman Forever, his character is by far the best written, giving him a little bit of the sympathy that made Danny DeVito’s Penguin work for Batman Returns and some of the screenwriter’s terrible attempts at humor work thanks to Schwarzenegger’s delivery.

What Doesn’t: The failure of Batman & Robin has become legendary and it sits in the company of Hollywood disasters like Battlefield Earth and Exorcist II – The Heretic. The reputation is earned because the film’s failure is so spectacular. To start, the film features a roster of high profile actors but virtually no one is good in their role. George Clooney is cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman and although he is terrific in many other films he is out of place in this picture. Putting Clooney in the batsuit is like casting Humphrey Bogart as Superman; the cape just doesn’t fit. Also miscast, despite her talent, is Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. Although she can make crazy or campy characters work, such as The Bride from Kill Bill, the writing of her character is terrible and like Clooney she is unsuited for the role. Alicia Silverstone makes an appearance as Batgirl, expanding an already crowded cast, and she serves no narrative purpose whatsoever, except to sell the toys that were to be sold in conjunction with the theatrical release of the film. And just as the cast is overcrowded with Hollywood stars, the production of Batman & Robin is equivalently overblown. Batman Forever managed a delicate balance of action and schlock that mostly worked, but Batman & Robin upsets that balance in a grotesque display of nauseating colors, ridiculous costumes, and terrible dialogue. This film takes the camp of the previous Batman picture, which itself was borrowed from the 1960s television series, and exaggerates it to bloated levels. Nearly every action scene is a disaster of aesthetics with villains costumed as though they came out of a Disney on Ice performance, sets painted in neon vomit, and frantic editing that disrupts any sense of pacing or narrative. While this may not sound any less campy than Batman: The Movie, Burt Ward and Adam West had charm and self-consciousness on their side. The makers of that film knew what they were doing and had their tongues firmly in their cheeks. Batman & Robin is a joke but the filmmakers don’t seem to know that, and whole picture runs off the rails to become a bizarre cinematic train wreck.

DVD extras: The two-disc special edition includes a commentary track, documentaries and featurettes, music videos, trailers, storyboards, extra scenes, and character profiles.

Bottom Line: Batman & Robin is both fascinating and painful to sit through and it ranks with Jaws the Revenge and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace among the worst sequels to a major Hollywood film ever made. While Batman Forever and Batman: The Movie are campy but fun, Batman & Robin fumbles its way through two hours with no sense of direction or purpose.

Episode: #198 (July 27, 2008); Revised #398 (July 29, 2012)