Batman & Robin (1997)

Many movies get a terrible reputation when, in retrospect, it was less the quality of the movie and more the circumstances under which it was made or the box office reception giving the impression that it was worse than it was.  Heaven's Gate is a perfect example of this.  The movie itself is a well-made film when seen in proper ratio and with the full run-time, and it is as entertaining and thrilling as any epic of the time.  However, westerns were not popular when it was made, and no one was clamoring for a three-plus hour film about a 19th century range war in Wyoming.  There are also a lot of other things that proved the movie's undoing, not the least being director Michael Cimino's arrogance, but when it comes down to it he delivered a quality film.

Even Howard the Duck isn't anywhere near as bad as it is said to be.  It's annoying at times, rarely funny and saddled with a mediocre story clothed in ILM effects, but it is still far from even being one of the worst movies of all time.  Thus, I tried to keep a bit of an open mind for Batman & Robin.  Initially I couldn't remember if I saw it in the theater, but because of the year it came out I know I didn't.  I had stopped going to movies just to go, largely because I was spending more time with the woman who was soon to be my wife.  She would have remembered this movie as well, since it is not an experience one forgets, similar to the time I ran over my foot with a street cleaner.  I would be hard pressed to figure out which was more painful. 

Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O'Donnell), aka Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, have a new problem in Gotham.  His name is Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a former scientist who almost died after falling into cryogenic fluid while searching for a cure for his wife's disease.  This has left him with the ability to only exist in sub-zero temperatures.  In order to power his suit, as well as the machines he needs to continue his research, he needs diamonds - the bigger, the better.  Unfortunately, since he's sourcing them from a museum in Gotham, Batman has to get involved.

They soon face another threat in the form of Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), a former biologist who now uses pheromones to get people, particularly men, to do what she wants.  With her henchman, a supersoldier named Bane (Jeep Swenson), she aims to join forces with Mr. Freeze to take down Batman and destroy all animal life in the world, making it a paradise for plants.  Meanwhile, there is a new arrival at Wayne Manor: Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone), Alfred's (Michael Gough) niece.  She soon joins the caped crusaders as Batgirl to help keep Mr. Freeze from bringing a severe cold front to Gotham and Poison Ivy from destroying humanity.

One of the reasons I was dreading this, other than its reputation, was because there were lines in Batman Forever, as well as the way the actors were told to deliver them, I found almost physically painful.  Val Kilmer did not want to work with director Joel Schumacher again, so Clooney was hired.  While Kilmer thought Batman Forever was bad, largely due to taking out most of the humanity to make it more cartoonish and sell toys, Clooney has gone so far as to refund people's money when they mention they saw it.  It was his ticket to stardom, but it was also a career killer for the likes of O'Donnell and Silverstone, as well as Schumacher to an extent.  Thurman luckily had Quentin Tarantino waiting down the line, while Schwarzenegger was about to take a number of years off to be governor of California, and the latter two were the only ones praised for their involvement in the movie.

I can't understand why with Poison Ivy, as the character is completely unbearable.  I know Thurman was told to deliver her lines like she does, but it is sad seeing someone who is a decent actress be reduced to this.  Arnold, on the other hand, seems to be having a ball, even though I'm sure even he thought the abundance of ice puns (27, if I remember reading correctly) was going overboard.  He also seems to be aware of the terrible film he's been cast in.  Although he was unintelligible at times - something rare for Schwarzenegger at this point, because the accent had long stopped getting in his way - he plays a sympathetic villain that could have saved the movie.  Mr. Freeze is someone driven mad with grief who has ceased to care about others, and Schwarzenegger does a good job portraying him.  Unfortunately, any time there is some emotional heft, it is once again killed by a bad pun or misplaced joke.  Also, Bane, whose intelligence is supposed to match his strength, is reduced to a grunting lump of meat. 

There are too many heroes, too many villains and not enough story,  A subplot about Alfred slowly dying that should have been one of the centerpieces of the movie, given that Michael Gough played him in all four despite three different actors playing Wayne, is introduced as well  Once again, any weight it might have had is destroyed by Akiva Goldsman's script.  He was another person remembered from this production as having a hand in bringing the franchise to a premature end.  

As for being one of the worst movies ever made, I hate to say it but Batman & Robin lives up to its reputation.  There are worse made movies, but Joel Schumacher was a good director and almost everyone in this movie at least has some idea how to act.  It is loaded with tons of bad ideas, plus an emphasis on selling action figures, toys and, in one of the worst jokes in the movie, credit cards, overwhelm how good this movie could have been if the human elements were emphasized more. 

Batman & Robin (1997)
Time: 125 minutes
Starring: George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman
Director: Joel Schumacher



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