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Batman & Robin

movie review out of 4 Movie Review: Batman & Robin

Starring: Arnold Schwarznegger, George Clooney
Director: Joel Schumacher
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 130 Minutes
Release Date: June 1997
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Chris O'Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, John Glover, Elle MacPherson, Vivica Fox

Review by MrBrown
1½ stars out of 4

Holy Bat-astrophe! The Batman film franchise as we know it is dead, thanks to Batman and Robin, director Joel Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman's campy and most disrespectfully lighthearted reinterpretation of Bob Kane's Dark Knight.

To most clearly and thoroughly address all that is wrong with this Bat-flick, I will first review the film character by character:

Bruce Wayne/Batman (George Clooney): Clooney has gone on record that his aim in taking on the role of Batman was to wipe off the scowl from under the cowl and lighten up the Caped Crusader. Big mistake. What seems to be lost on Clooney, Schumacher, and Goldsman is that angst and brooding is what makes Batman Batman--strip away that and you have in effect stripped away the meat of the character, not to mention the whole motivation behind millionaire Bruce's nocturnal adventures in a rubber rodent suit. So what Clooney serves up is a not-too-interesting guy with a grin perpetually glued onto his face, a flat, distant character we have absolutely no insight into whatsoever.

Dick Grayson/Robin (Chris O'Donnell): I am not a Robin fan; I never have been, and I probably never will. However, despite a shaky, whiny beginning, O'Donnell made me tolerate the Boy Wonder by the end of Batman Forever by simply calming down. In Batman and Robin, though, Dick and Robin are back in ultrawhiny mode, playing up the petty jealousy and brash youth and naivete which are the very characteristics which annoy Robin-haters the most. Presumably, the audience is supposed to sympathize with Dick/Robin's frustration with not being treated as an adult by Bruce/Batman, but based on his behavior in the film, there is no reason for Bruce/Batman to treat Dick/Robin as anything but the whiny kid he comes off as.

Barbara Wilson/Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone): The big problem with Batgirl is that no one figured out how to fit her into the story. Unlike the introduction of Dick/Robin in Forever, which tied directly into the storyline with Two-Face, Barbara, Alfred's (Michael Gough) niece, simply turns up on the Wayne Manor doorstep in act one and, in a most superfluous subplot, is revealed a closet biker chick in act two. There is an attempt at convergence in act three, when Barbara becomes Batgirl (though her ear-less getup makes her more resemble Robingirl) and aids the dynamic duo in their cause, but her most significant contribution is pulling an Ariana Richards in Jurassic Park (that is, hack into a computer). The zaftig Silverstone is a good enough sport, but she never appears completely comfortable as either biker Barbara or brainy Barbara (or, for that matter, in her rubber costume).

Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger): The filmmakers seem the most confused with how do deal with Dr. Victor Fries. Schumacher and Goldsman use the tragic origin for the character from Batman: The Animated Series--Dr. Fries experimented with cryogenics in an effort to save his terminally ill wife, Nora (played by supermodel Vendela), but a lab mishap made him unable to survive in non-freezing temperatures. Instead of leaving it at that, in an apparent concession to the casting of Schwarzenegger in the role, Mr. Freeze is a wisecracker, which is totally at odds with the tragic depiction that is also presented. What results is a most jarring mess of a character. Case in point: one early scene shows a somber Freeze wistfully watching old home movies of him and his wife. Suddenly, an underling comes in and interrupts his viewing with some important news. Freeze turns around in his chair, freezes the guy with his freezing gun, and quips, "I hate it when people talk during the movie." Just what exactly are Schumacher and company going after here?

Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman): The one character that is the slightest bit done right is that of seductive eco-terrorist Pamela Isley--but it's more due to Thurman's lively performance than anything done by the filmmakers. Like Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns (though not nearly as good), Thurman has a firm grasp on the key to her character: she's not a vamp, she's a natural wallflower acting like a vamp--thus the act is that much more extreme. Thurman pulls it off beautifully, but, in the end, even she's not immune to Schumacher and Goldsman's camp. For a gifted scientist, her master plan--to populate the world with toothed, tongued plants that come straight out of Little Shop of Horrors--is idiotic.

Bane (Jeep Swenson): Idiotic doesn't quite cover what is done to the character of Bane, who definitely is the most ruined character in this film treatment. In the Batman comics, Bane is Batman's ultimate challenge--not only is he physically stronger than Bruce Wayne, he is also smarter. The problem is that the venom which coarses through his veins makes him crazy. In Batman and Robin, the only thing left of Bane comic fans know and love is his bulk and the venom. Bane is nothing more than a generic, grunting, intelligence-impaired, muscled henchman to Poison Ivy. The saddest thing about the raping of Bane, he being a rather recent addition to the Batman comic universe, is that most mainstream moviegoers won't even know that anything has been done wrong.

Schumacher and Goldsman's wrongdoing do not end with the characters. Their most heinous crime is the overwhelming atmosphere of camp, from Batman pulling out a Bat-credit card during an auction to Mr. Freeze's bunny slippers, polar bear pajamas, and freezer full of frozen dinners. Schumacher has said that he wanted to "put some 'comic' back in comic book," but he forgets what comic book he's dealing with--Batman, which is a "comic" book in name only. In camping everything up, Schumacher, who claims to be a comic book fan, just reinforces the most widely held stereotype about comics--that they're just for kids. The irony is, of course, that the film Batman and Robin is more juvenile than any Batman comic you'd find on the stands today.

I can go on about what is wrong with Batman and Robin, but I must give some credit where credit is due. B&R does boast the most impressive visual effects of the series; effects supervisor John Dykstra (of the recently closed Warner Bros. effects house) comes up with some very convincing for Freeze's freezing weapons and Ivy's pheremone dust. Production designer Barbara Ling provides another striking vision of Gotham, with its towering buildings and statues. And, yes, I guess I can say something "positive" about Schumacher's work--he's an equal opportunity exploiter. Not only are we treated to a Batman and Robin suiting-up sequence filled with butt, crotch, and chest shots, their female counterpart is similarly exploited when she gets her chance to suit up.

The most telling indication of Batman & Robin's shoddiness is the audience reaction at the screening I attended. When the lights dimmed and the curtain rose, the crowd cheered, and it applauded the names of the five main stars. When the film ended with the image of Batman, Robin, and Batgirl running in front of the Batsignal, there was a smattering of tepid applause, but mostly boos. Let the Bat-lash begin.

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