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‘Batman & Robin’ (1997)

— by CHAS BLANKENSHIP —

Batman & Robin struggle to keep their alliance together as they attempt to stop Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy from freezing Gotham City and enslaving it with animal plant hybrids.

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No words can possibly express the sheer volume of hatred, disdain, disgust and wrath that this one film has received from both the Batman fan community and the world at large.

Empire Magazine, following a poll from its readers, dubbed the film the single worst film in movie history (with “Battlefield: Earth” taking the second spot).

Okay…before we get to it, there’s something I want to be clear about.

Most people, especially fans of the earlier Batman films and of Nolan’s current iteration, loathe this picture with a passion that would probably be better suited for more productive things.

I’ll tell you something…I don’t.

Well…not as much anyway….

In fact, although admittedly it IS my least favorite of the six contemporary live action films in the series, I still found the film quite refreshing in its cartoon-ish innocence.

Now before you condemn me for my opinion (which in and of itself is a pointless practice…it’s just my opinion; please deal) let us consider some things.

The character DOES have a rather large fan base made up of young children. Despite the psychological underpinnings of the character and the themes of insanity and tragedy that make up the myth of Batman, kids are inevitably going to find the character and his adventures alluring.

That said, what’s so unforgivable about making it light-hearted?

Just once.

I’ll admit that I’ve always found the darker, more hard-edged Batman more to my liking (even AS a kid), but does every single work that involves Batman have to be dark and brooding all the time?

I don’t think so.

If you have a kid who loves Batman but might scare easy, wouldn’t you be glad to have a more family-friendly characterization to share with him or her?

Unfortunately, most people and fans aren’t as tolerant about the subject.

But let’s go ahead and take a look at “Batman & Robin.”

This time, Gotham City is in the grip of a new enemy: Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger). A former Nobel-Winning scientist thrown into despair when his wife starts dying, an accident in a science lab has turned him into a super-villain intent on turning the city into a massive block of ice.

But he’s about to find a new ally in the shape of the beautiful, sexy Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), also a former scientist killed after discovering a secret she wasn’t supposed to find. Her plan is simply to eliminate mankind so her floral kindred can make the world theirs.

Of course, the caped crusader and his side-kick must stop this, but as Robin (Chris O’Donnell) struggles to mature to find the strength and restraint to be an ally to Batman (George Clooney), can the two work together in time to make an effective partnership against evil?

Easily the most critically-mauled movie of the Batman franchise, the final part in the old series is again directed by Joel Schumacher and continues with the trend established by “Batman Forever” to be a lighter, more family-friendly turn. I see nothing wrong with that. The studio dictated the tone of the film…and Schumacher was just doing his job.

If I had to place blame on one creative force outside of the studio for the movie’s shortcomings…I’d put it more on Akiva Goldsman than Joel. Because the film DOES suffer from a heightened sense of the same problems that “Forever” had…problems originated in the script:

The story is ultimately lame, the dialogue clunky and the tone basically has the continuous texture of a loud, garish, overtly-colorful nightmare production. But again, in my personal opinion, it’s not all bad. You just have to dig a little to find the good stuff.

And that good stuff resides in an engaging and emotionally intriguing sub-plot concerning Alfred (played by the always welcome Michael Gough) who after years of faithful service to Bruce Wayne has been stricken by terminal illness. His deterioration into that illness and the arrival of his niece Barbara (Alicia Silverstone) allow us to take refreshing breaths from all of the big, dumb American Movie action occuring around us. Alfred’s quieter scenes with Bruce are also quite compelling, which says a lot considering this was the “fourth” Batman film at the time.

Alfred: “Death and Chance stole your parents. But rather than become a victim, you have done everything in your power to control the fates. For what is Batman…if not an effort to master the chaos that sweeps our world. An attempt to control death itself.

Bruce: “But I can’t, can I?”

Alfred: “None of us can…”

Still today, that’s one of my favorite exchanges in the original film series.

The film is also helped (very mildly though) by some fairly good performances.

George Clooney has a genuine presence as Batman (and a better one as Bruce Wayne) and Thurman has a genuinely sexy presence to her as Poison Ivy. Appearing in some figure hugging sexy suits and pouts that certainly raise the innuendo a degree or two for a PG movie, Thurman just oozes eroticism much as Kidman had done prior. On top of the sex angle, Uma gives Ivy a good turn as a nasty, well-spoken ***** with an honest contempt for humanity (although having her actually utter “Curses” just puts it too over the top).

As for the Governator himself…Schwarzenegger looks cool (I’m sorry I couldn’t help it…) in his Mr. Freeze costume, but he’s really at his bad-acting worst in terms of his performance here. Then again, I’ve never considered Arnold in contention for Oscar, so…meh. O’Donnell is as hopeless as ever and thankfully faded into oblivion shortly after the film was made (though he’s since found semi-resurrection on the series “NCIS: Los Angeles” opposite LL Cool J). The same fate, it would appear though, fell to Silverstone, who didn’t deserve it as much, but her role as Barbara Wilson (who are you and what’ve you done with Barbara Gordon!?) a.k.a. Batgirl here is pretty pointless and a rather tacky marketing gimmick aimed at both getting a more female-oriented demographic and for keeping the franchise going longer (which failed).

The sets conceived by Barbara Ling are big and bold and pretty decent. The Batcave is pretty sweet in this incarnation and Freeze and Poison Ivy’s respective dwellings, while being played up to the area of outright villainous stereotype, fit easily enough.

I think big is just the operative word here.

John Dykstra’s visual effects work very well — considering. Sure, having Batman and Robin surf through the sky as a rocket explodes over Gotham is a bit…much…but at least it looks cool. And a big factor of comic books is having stuff look cool. I wouldn’t trade that for decent storytelling, but the kid in me STILL gets a kick out of it now and then.

And I’m just gonna say…right now…that to date, including “Batman Begins,” Schumacher’s depiction of Arkham Asylum is still, to me, the best live action representation of that location to date. His Gothic Citadel of an Asylum kicks the crap out of Nolan’s uniformed Arkham any day of the week. But anyway…

Some of the gags in the script and aspects of the production fall flat, and I’m sure you all know them by heart…Bat Credit Card, Green Lightning and Flames, Rubber Lips, R. Kelly’s “Gotham City,” Cod Pieces, Snow-Meiser, Lobotimized Bane, Reverse Robin, Nipples, Polar Bear Slippers, Taco Bell, Gorilla Suits, Coolio (COOLIO!!!???)…and so on and so on….

But so what?

The child in all of us can still thrill to the climax of Batman rescuing the observatory scientists from the falling telescope…and the pop-comic elements of sweeping flight and fancy fun still hold up for me today.

I can watch the film without ragging on it…and that really stems from my childhood experience of seeing it for the first time with my late great grandmother in Oklahoma when it first came out. Caught up in the moment getting the toys and eating the pop-tarts before going to the theatre and seeing it on the big screen with those big saucers for eyes…nothing like that!

In the end, “Batman & Robin” is a complete farce…but hey…it’s a fun farce to watch every so often.

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Directed by … Joel Schumacher
Written by … Akiva Goldsman
Based on the DC Comics Character Created by … Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Executive Produced by … Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan
Produced by … Peter Macgregor-Scott, Mitchell E. Dauterive and William M. Elvin
Cinematography by … Stephen Goldblatt
Production Design by … Barbara Ling
Art Direction by … Richard Holland and Geoff Hubbard
Costume Design by … Bob Ringwood, Ingrid Ferrin and Robert Turturice
Editing by … Mark Stevens and Dennis Virkler
Original Motion Picture Score Composed by … Elliot Goldenthal

Arnold Schwarzenegger … Mr. Freeze/Dr. Victor Fries
George Clooney … Batman/Bruce Wayne
Chris O’Donnell … Robin/Dick Grayson
Uma Thurman … Poison Ivy/Dr. Pamela Isley
Alicia Silverstone … Batgirl/Barbara Wilson
Michael Gough … Alfred Pennyworth
Pat Hingle … Commissioner James Gordon
John Glover … Dr. Jason Woodrue
Elle Macpherson … Julie Madison
Vivica A. Fox … Ms. B. Haven
Vendela K. Thomessen … Nora Fries
Elizabeth Sanders … Gossip Gerty
Jeep Swenson … Bane
Joe Sabatino … Frosty
Michael Reid MacKay … Antonio Diego
Eric Lloyd … Young Bruce Wayne
Jon Simmons … Young Alfred Pennyworth
Jesse Ventura … Arkham Asylum Guard
Ralf Moeller … Arkham Asylum Guard
Coolio … Banker
Nicky Katt … Spike

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7 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Cam Smith #
    1

    While agree with your kid-friendly Batman theory to a certain degree, the considerable amount of sexual inuendo and juvenile crotch/breast/butt close-ups don’t exactly make it an overly suitable family film.

  2. AndrewJParker #
    2

    I am really conflicted about this movie. I don’t openly hate it, but I really can’t defend it either. For every one thing that I liked about it, there were two or three other things about it that made me cringe. By this point the franchise was kind of scraping the barrel in terms of villains, but at least Mr. Freeze kinda worked. I couldn’t stand Poison Ivy, though, and I think this film hurt Uma Thurman’s career more than it did the rest of the cast. However, it is decent mid-afternoon on a weekend free television fare.

  3. 3

    yea the film was very bad all around. to much camp, and goofiness in it. though there was some good actors in the film like uma and george. It was the story and directing that was very bad. Now yea i may hate the film myself. But i do watch it from time to time when ever its on. Its one of those stupid films you do have a little love for me. Plus i do love arnold’s one liners as freeze he had some good ones.

  4. annielicious14 #
    4

    Yeah! ……. man! It is what it is! And it’s Batman! you take the good with the bad!
    …… with that said………..nah…I got nothing!

  5. Adam P #
    5

    This movie came out when i was fourteen and I will say that for a long time I loved this film! Now there are two main reasons: firstly I was 14 and Alicia Silverstone(nuff said) and secondly I am the youngest of four kids and this is the first movie I remember my dad taking me too, just us and it was a memory I love. It was cartoonish and over the top but had some good villians and it was the only Batman film with all three of the caped crusaders together. (Plus a ittle hidden gem, in the lair Poison Ivy makes in the gangsters hangout there is a… how can I saw it ummmmm overexcited flower, Ill leave it at that)

  6. Russel #
    6

    This movie is a guilty pleasure for me.

  7. 7

    Bout freakin’ time someone took a logical and ADULT look at this film. Too many people take the all-good or all-bad approach to making judgments of the film rather than taking the good *with* the bad. It’s tragic and frankly childish. Poison Ivy definitely was the highlight for me. And goes far beyond pure physical attraction; though that in turn is a major factor in it. The villain is so dangerous when you get down to it. She doesn’t come in flaunting her abilities- not directly at least. She breaks the heroes down, to their most vulnerable and then turns it against them, tries to kill them with it. Not with fists, not with knives- not even a gun. But with induced feelings of love, with seduction. To be their sole object of physical desire and their dreams. To want her so badly they die for her- literally. She is completely poisonous and evil in every sense of the word. Uma disappeared into the role (for me at least).
    If given the chance I believe she could have carried the role of lone villain quite easily. But then that might be my biological male urges talking.. ^_^


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