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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 Andrew Hicks
2 stars out of 4

I'm as big a fan of the Batman franchise as any, but I think it's time for a mercy killing. BATMAN & ROBIN is easily the worst of the four recent BATMAN films. It's about on the level of the 1966 BATMAN movie; and that's no compliment. The '60s Batman was taken as an abomination of comic book purity, but it was at least funny and well-written at times. Akiva Goldsman's script for BATMAN & ROBIN would probably earn him a D+ in a ninth grade creative writing class.

The dialogue is a long string of horrible puns and cliches, and the serious parts are even worse. The core of a good movie is good writing, and rotten writing lies at the heart of a bad movie. The art direction here is about the same as BATMAN FOREVER, even using the same black light costuming and computer-generated swooping graphics of Gotham City. The movie looks great but still sucks because core is crap. You can dress a turd up in a nice little baby bonnet, but it's still a turd.

Nothing remains the same from movie to movie in the BATMAN films. Different costumes, different villians, different Batmobile, even a different Batman. In one of those casting decisions I'll never understand, they picked George "ER" Clooney for BATMAN & ROBIN. He was passable in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but he does nothing here to distinguish himself as Batman. He's neither good nor bad nor memorable, but then again, it doesn't really matter who's under the mask as long as it's a slim, dark-haired white guy. It could be Howard Stern or John Bon Jovi for all we care.

It's always the villains that distinguish BATMAN films, from Jack Nicholson's Joker to Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman. Casting Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze seemed like a good idea until I actually saw him in costume. Head shaved, painted silver from head to toe in foreboding Tron armor that glows in the dark. The bad writing is spread all around, but Freeze is the only character who delivers 100 percent rotten lines, from "The iceman cometh!" to "Forecast: cool!" They make comic book dialogue balloons seem like they were written by Hemingway.

The rest of the cast is more or less adequate, although we can never get over the garbage that's coming out of their mouths. Returning actors Chris O'Donnell as Robin, Michael Gough as Alfred and Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon all step right back into the roles they've filled before, and cameo players with five or 10 lines each, like Elle MacPherson as Bruce Wayne's steady girlfriend and Vivica A. Fox as Freeze's lusty henchwoman (FOX: I'm hot for you. FREEZE: I'm cold for you.) liven things up a little.

Then there are the two leading babes -- Uma Thurman and Alicia Silverstone. Thurman plays comic book creation Poison Ivy, a character irresistable to men who is similar to Carolyn "Morticia" Jones as Marsha, Queen of Diamonds in the "Batman" TV show. She's beguiling as always, even with green plant eyebrows, but her character is written as a retread of Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS. Both had origins as hard workers who stumbled upon their evil bosses' secrets and then the bosses tried to kill them. Catwoman was brought back by cats, now Poison Ivy is revived by nature itself.

Silverstone, who already seems past her prime, is Batgirl, whose origin is a retread of Robin's. Like O'Donnell in the last movie, she comes to stay at Wayne Manor after her parents are killed (I don't think people are allowed into Wayne Manor unless their parents are dead), stumbles upon Wayne's secret and decides she wants to fight crime too. There's even a repeat of the scene where Robin goes out by himself to battle a gang of neon thugs, then ends up being bailed by Batman. Here, it's Batgirl who does the fighting and Robin who does the bailing.

Just about everything in BATMAN & ROBIN borrows from past films. Mr. Freeze's origin story is similar to Two-Face's. Both did good for their fellow man -- Freeze as a scientist trying to find the cure for his wife's disease (This is the second time in three years Schwarzenegger has been uncredible as a scientist.) and Face as a district attorney -- and went awry after an on-the-job accident. Freeze falls into a vat of freezing solution and somehow survives, although his appearance is greatly altered. In that respect, he might as well be the Joker.

The two villains eventually pair up, just like Penguin and Catwoman in BATMAN RETURNS and Riddler and Two-Face in BATMAN FOREVER. Villains in Gotham City have to pair up sooner or later, and this time there's a third super-villain. It's Poison Ivy's henchman Bane, a grunting bohemoth who is created out of some kind of super plant solution. In the comic book, Bane was the ultra-intelligent villain who put Bruce Wayne out of commission; here, he's dumbed down to make Schwarzenegger's character seem like his IQ is above 100.

The plot is pretty shoestring here. Freeze wants to freeze the city; Poison Ivy wants to kill Batman and Robin. There's not much else to it -- a fourth of the movie is pure, convoluted action, another fourth is origin scenes, a third fourth is criminal activity and the last part is trouble in the Wayne household. Alfred's dying, and they draw it out as much as they possibly can, so that eventually we want to kill the old guy ourselves. Then there's Batman and Robin fighting amongst themselves over Poison Ivy and how Batman always has to be right. The height of this pathetic dramatic exchange is Robin's line, "I'm sick of the Batsignal, I want a Robin-signal!"

BATMAN & ROBIN is on the elementary level as far as writing goes. Schumacher has taken the worst elements of surrealism and bad dialogue in BATMAN FOREVER and run with them. Nothing is the least bit believable anymore, from the opening stratosphere fight with Freeze on. There's a fifth BATMAN script finished, but if it has the name Akiva Goldsman on it, I doubt many people would tune in tomorrow. Same bad writing, same plot cliches.

Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks

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