Caped Crusader Cinema: Batman & Robin (1997)

In Retrospect

Just as I was becoming content with Val Kilmer as the Caped Crusader, now he was bailing for that guy from E.R., what was his name? Oh yes, George Clooney. Batman & Robin, as it soon came to be known, was the first movie I can recall having its own website, which I tried to visit, but I could never get it to work because our computer didn't have some newfangled software called "Shockwave Flash."

While I initially had no reason to not be excited for the third bat sequel, signs of doubt started to creep in when I saw a clip of the movie on a talk show just before it was released. The scene they showed was when Batman and Robin first confront Mr. Freeze in the museum. Batman came crashing through a window in the ceiling and landed on a giant dinosaur. With his head bouncing around like a bobblehead (and sounding an awful lot like George Clooney) he announced "Hi Freeze, I'm Batman." Robin soon followed, smashing through an obviously cardboard wall with his motorcycle, leaving a perfect Robin logo shaped hole behind. Also, as his motorcycle came back down to the ground, it seemed to float in the air a little longer than what seemed natural.

Despite my worries, I went to go see it with some friends on opening weekend anyway. I was driving, and we were in the right lane on the freeway. Without warning, I noticed that our lane was rapidly getting blocked off with construction barrels. And as I glanced to my left to change lanes, there was a large semi truck in the way. I stepped on the gas and narrowly squeezed in front of the semi just before the lane completely ended. Looking back, maybe it would have been better if we had gotten in the accident and missed the movie.

As the opening exchange in the bat cave between Batman, Robin, and Alfred began to assault an unsuspecting audience, I had a sinking feeling. Still, I pushed those thoughts aside and tried to like the movie. It was still Batman, right? While there were plenty more groan-inducing moments to come, I was in serious denial, and decided that it wasn't all bad. I even talked myself into wanting to see it again. A week or two later, I suggested to my friends Scott and Spencer that we go, since they had yet to see it. Well, I got over my denial stage pretty quickly in that second viewing. With each passing ice pun or gratuitous close-up of the Dynamic Duo's rubber buttocks, we got more and more restless until we were jokingly attempting to gnaw our own arms off by the end.

Scott still hasn't forgiven me for taking him to see it. In fact, I would be disappointed if he doesn't leave a comment once again reminding me of this blunder. One positive thing did end up coming out of it though. My friends and I were inspired to prove that even we could make a better Batman movie than what we had witnessed. Later that summer we began filming Batman & Some Guy, which yes, I honestly believe is better than Batman & Robin, even though it was made without an actual script, and on a modest budget of about $10.

Critical Analysis

One of my personal favorite digs at Batman & Robin, which comes from DVD Verdict, compares it to "watching an army of monkeys with chain guns strapped to their heads assaulting a fireworks factory—unsettling, surreal, and transfixing." Easily one of the most vilified movies of the last 15 years or so, it might seem like there are no insults left to pile on this cinematic travesty, but I shall do my best.

I should say that with the arrival of Batman Begins, and now The Dark Knight, the sting of the Batman franchise being put on ice (sorry, couldn't resist) for 8 years has been lessened considerably. These excellent new films have made it so I can now chuckle at the outright futility of Batman & Robin (in between cringes). In preparing to write this, I even decided to try and watch it. I have to say, every time Batman and Mr. Freeze open their mouth—pure unintentional comedic gold. Unfortunately, Robin, Batgirl, and Poison Ivy are still unbearably annoying. With a little help from the fast forward button, I made it through about a half hour.

Like Batman Returns, Batman & Robin gave a second time bat director the chance to indulge after being somewhat restrained in their more successful first outing. But whereas Tim Burton added layers of dark humor and gothic imagery to his sequel, Joel Schumacher stretches the candy-coated visuals of Batman Forever to a teeth-rotting extreme, essentially creating a live action cartoon, complete with zany sound effects and some of the least-convincing wirework in the history of cinema. And if that isn't enough, Schumacher also brings fetishes like homoeroticism and anatomically correct rubber suits to the forefront, turning himself into a punchline in the process.

For all the effort that was made to distance Tim Burton's original Batman from the '60s TV show, I find it fascinating that it only took 8 short years for the character to devolve back into exactly that, complete with slanted camera angles and villain of the week mentality. All that is missing is the POW's, the WHAM's, and most importantly, the campy self awareness. Instead of being silly in the name of wicked self parody like the TV show was, Batman & Robin is silly in the name of pandering to the kiddies and selling more toy Batmobiles.

I'm fairly certain that Batman & Robin contains no actual dialogue. Oh, there are plenty of words mind you, which are dispensed in three fashions: (1) ham-fisted speeches about the nature of family, (2) villainous monologues explaining their ludicrous plans to the confused audience, and (3) ice puns, lots and lots of ice puns. Here is a carefully hand-selected sampling of the pun-ishment that the movie doles out over its torturous 125 minute runtime (don't forget to read them to yourself in a thick Austrian accent):
"Allow me to break the ice. My name is Freeze. Learn it well, for it is the chilling sound of your doom."
"You are not sending me to the cooler!"
"Freeze in Hell, Batman!"
"Mercy? I'm afraid my condition has left me cold to your pleas of mercy."
"Stay cool, Bird Boy."
"Tonight, Hell freezes over!"
"The Ice Man cometh!"
"Let's kick some ice!"
"I'm here to make your life a living hell. Prepare for a bitter harvest. Winter has come at last."
Isn't it interesting that many of these lines involve hell in some way? Seems only fitting since this will likely be the movie that is showing there.

Grade: F-


robmba said...

You didn't mention the best part of the movie.

Ben said...

This is the one Batman movie that I don't think I have ever seen all the way through. I remember watching it after I got home from my mission (thankfully I was out of the country when it was released), and the only reason I did was because my parents had "won" a copy of it at a Halloween party. I don't think I can say more than has already been said about how terrible this movie is. I will say this, however: Batman and Robin, not only did you ruin the Batman franchise, you gave us R. Kelly's "Gotham City". I hate you.

ScottBoomer said...

Thank you Dave for accurate and funny review of this movie. It was bad. I was more like a cartoon than anything else.
I don't think George Cloony or any of the other actors were bad in this, I think the writing and directing was what led to the downfall of batman and robin.

Jett Loe said...

The thing is - I know I've seen 'Batman and Robin' at least once in the theater, and a couple of times on planes and yet HAVE NO MEMORY OF IT. It really is that bad. Was surprised to discover yesterday that Uma Thurman is in it...yet I've seen the film! Eerie.