Batman & Robin (1997)
August 1, 2012 1 Comment
Trying to cure his cryogenically frozen wife of MacGregor’s Syndrome, Dr. Victor Fries (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is rendered reliant on a diamond-powered subzero suit following an accident in the laboratory. Brought into conflict with Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) over the diamonds needed to fuel his suit, this new Mr. Freeze freezes Robin in order to escape and continue his work. Meanwhile, the maniacal efforts of a mad scientist in South America leads to the creation of a super-soldier named Bane (Robert Swenson) and a toxin-lipped eco-terrorist who calls herself Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman). With so many villains vying for their attention, Bruce Wayne and a thawing Dick Grayson are oblivious to the ailments of loyal butler Alfred (Michael Gough) and the potential of his rebellious niece Barbara (Alicia Silverstone).
Is there any real point in rehashing the film’s many, many flaws? Having topped just about every Worst Films Ever list since it ruined 1997 for Bat-fans the world over, there is no shortage of negativity on the subject and I see little need to reprint it all here. Yes, the acting’s terrible, the tone is beyond camp and the characters bare next to no resemblance to their comic-book counterparts – we know this. But now that we’ve all gone and got Serious Batman out of our systems (thanks to Christopher Nolan and his Big Important Ideas), why can’t we finally embrace the ying to The Dark Knight‘s yang? There’s room enough in Gotham for both; and even if there weren’t, Nolan’s films pretty much take place in New York anyway.
So no, this is not a list of the film’s faults, a dismissal of the filmmakers’ efforts or a rant about the impracticality of bat-nipples. That’s been done, and why paraphrase when you can do something all the more rewarding: celebrate. Having been just as bored by Batman & Robin (or Batman On Ice, as it should have been called) on its release as I have by just about every other Batman film, I recently revisited the supposed travesty to find that it isn’t nearly as bad as everyone will have you think. Heck, I even laughed. Intentionally. In my book, that already makes it better than Step Brothers and Dark Shadows. I have very little time for miserable men in ‘realistic’ bat costumes, but I have ever so slightly more respect for a film that looks at itself in the mirror and has the good sense to at least grin.
Nobody likes George Clooney as Bruce Wayne. Nobody. But if you don’t particularly like Bruce Wayne anyway, what harm is there in thinking slightly outside the box? So his parents died when he was just a kid. WE KNOW. There are countless comic-books, hours of television and miles of celluloid devoted to his angsty vigilantism, what’s wrong with a little time out? Everybody has a good day, a few hours in which everything seems to be going your way, and opening your eyes to discover you’ve gone from being Val Kilmer to George Clooney is surely enough to qualify. The actor is just about as charming as ever, doing his best in a thankless part, and ears that seem to get bigger with every scene.
In supporting roles, Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone more than pass the time as the younger generation of caped crusaders (a 90s hallmark). While they hardly inspire much intelligent discussion they are far from offensive, each imbuing their respective heroes with enough energy and likeability to sell the family dynamic which forms the film’s core. Certainly, neither deserved to be exiled from Hollywood for delivering the performances the roles deserved. Arnie, meanwhile, is a parody of even himself in the role of Mr. Freeze, firing off bad puns at a truly impressive rate. That leaves Thurman, the arguable star of the show, who hams it up spectacularly in the role of Poison Ivy. Essentially a Catwoman derivative with vines instead of whips, her scenes with Clooney and O’Donnell are the amongst the film’s best, while her guerilla-themed strip-tease really must be seen to be believed.
What makes Batman & Robin so remarkable (whether for better or worse), however, is undoubtedly Joel Schumacher’s direction. Having seemingly compromised in Batman Forever, recycling Burton’s Gothic stylings with a day-glo infusion of computer generated neon, the Gotham of his follow-up is 100% proof. It’s a stunning spectacle, a sort of grungy Whoville with towering plastic statues and impossible viaducts. In context, the ‘anatomically correct’ costumes don’t look nearly so out of place. It’s like watching a shameless motion comic, from Alfred’s over-starched uniform to the blankets Robin wears to thaw himself out (all that’s missing is a hot water bottle and oversized thermometer). Whereas Nolan retired the monorail and Narrows after only one instalment in favour of a more generic cityscape that might better reflect our own sociocultural woes, Schumacher takes Gotham to the extreme. This is a fictional world, with Bat-cards and cryogenics, and it demands one seismic suspension of disbelief. Sold.
OK, so it’s still terrible: Bane is the wrong kind of monstrosity, there is no such thing as Oxbridge University and – even if there were – it’s certainly nowhere near London, and Batgirl’s escape-by-knotted-bedsheets is embarrassing even by Schumacher’s standards. It’s just so ambitiously terrible that you can’t help but admire it. Nothing is done by halves; the characters are pantomime at best, the plot makes no sense at all and the script is so preposterously pun-heavy (I don’t think they’ve missed a single one) that it might even be inspired. Sure, it’s not Batman Begins, but that’s fine, it doesn’t need to be. I’ve seen worse. And let’s face it, so have you.