Originally Reviewed – 6/7/2012
When I think back on the original series of Batman films, they all mark a personal milestone. The original film was the first PG-13 movie I ever saw, Returns was the first of that rating I saw in theaters and Forever marked my first experience with a tone shift in a beloved franchise. Each film, different for better or for worse, added another wrinkle to my cinematic psyche. The fourth film in the series, Batman and Robin, was no exception.
The theater was packed with Batman enthusiasts the day myself, my 12 year old brother and my dad sat down to see Joel Schumacher’s second franchise movie. The film opened as expected, with the requisite Bat Butts, codpieces and cheesy one liners. Problem was, nothing looked like Batman. Everything seemed plastic, overly manufactured. As the movie went on, an eerie silence filled the theater. In my Batman Forever screening, the crowd whooped with the action and laughed at Jim Carrey’s antics. But in Batman and Robin, the crowd was quiet. 120 minutes later, the credits ran and the crowd filed out of the theater in the same stunned silence. No boos or tossed popcorn boxes. Just silence.
As we walked to the car, my dad and I were quiet. I’m not sure what was running through my mind that afternoon, but I imagine it was confusion. It was as if they played the wrong movie, replacing Batman with Circ De Solei on acid. My brother was the only one talking, trying to like the film. What followed was a moment of film education for the two of us, a moment that would be cemented in my brother’s mind for all time. My dad leaned over and said, “Bobby. You may be too young to realize this, but that was a really bad movie.”
After that screening, I never saw it again. Time passed, the franchise died and while the science of that colossal misstep fascinated me, I never dared to pop in that fateful failure. Every time I opened the Batman boxset to watch one of the other three movies, I avoided the fourth, averting my eyes from the sight of it. As time went on and my memories faded, I wondered if it was really as bad as I remember. Sure, I knew it was universally accepted as one of the worst films of all time, but I couldn’t remember why. A few days ago, I finally sat down to watch it for the first time in thirteen years to confirm what the world was telling me. Was Batman and Robin really as bad as its reputation said it is. The answer is a resounding yes. Batman and Robin is a confusing, trivial and shockingly dumb piece of cinema that defies logic and reasoning. How could a Batman movie be so damn boring.
The first answer to this question lies in the film’s threadbare story. In this go-round, Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) not only deal with super villains bent on world domination, they have to contend with working as a team. At first, one would think there might be some tension here. Batman has always worked alone, Robin is an impetuous youth and the potential clash of personalities could have made for an interesting subplot. Unfortunately, due to a horrific script, all we get is the Boy Wonder whining and Batman not caring. Even the side story of Alfred’s sickness runs thin because nobody seems to give a damn. Michael Gough as the perennial butler gives it his all but Clooney simply goes through the motions. Clooney is by far the worst Batman of the bunch, mostly because the script gives him nothing to work with outside of cornball one liners. More attention is paid to the size of Clooney’s codpiece than actual character development.
If one constant remains true in this original series, Batman always takes a back seat to the villians. The bad guys are designed to give the film its energy and here Batman and Robin fails in epic fashion. This time we have three baddies: a lovesick doctor who calls himself Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the insane botanist Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) and the ultimate juice head, Bane (Robert Swenson). One could write a thesis on why these antagonists are terrible, but the dust jacket version is that nobody has a motivation beyond, “stuff happened to me, I’m now crazy, time to take over the world.” Uma Thurman plays her role way over the top but at least she’s not the pun slinging eye roller Arine is as Mr. Freeze. Arnold has exactly three lines that do not involve some sort of reference to low temperatures. This obsession over one liners completely destroys a backstory that could have been serviceable in hands of a different screenwriter. And then there’s Bane, one of the biggest crimes in a film full of felonies. Reduced to growling monster used solely for comic relief and yawn inducing action scenes, the once interesting comic character is reduced to the lowest common denominator.
And just when you thought things could get dumber, the action scenes in Batman and Robin make you pine for the days of Adam West going BAM, WHAP and WHAM. Batman Forever wasn’t a masterpiece by any stretch, but it least had competent ass kicking sequences. The action in Batman and Robin flatlines at every possible turn. From the opening ice hockey game with a diamond to a laughably slow paced motorcycle chase, the action sequences are disjointed and hard to follow. And since my mother told me if I have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all, the film features some nice exterior shots of Gotham City, including Arkham Asylum, the Gotham Observatory and one nice bridge shot which is promptly ruined by Mr. Freeze’s rolling pin cushion crashing into it. Oh, and Alicia Silverstone (the girl from the old Aerosmith videos) plays Alfred’s niece from London who eventually becomes Batgirl for no reason. And she doesn’t even try to have an English accent. Sigh. This film stinks.
After sitting and squirming through 120 minutes of Batman and Robin, I’ve come to a conclusion. The movie is indeed terrible to its core but I can’t blame anybody involved in making it. The flick is just a perfect storm of awful. Big budgets, big stars and big dollars all combined to create this cliché ridden monster with not one participant ever expecting it to break loose and start terrorizing the village. Director Joel Schumacher simply wanted to make a fun, over the top Batman film and while the movie fails in historic fashion, I can’t pick any one person to shoulder the blame. They were all there for the ride, a ride that ended in a catastrophic explosion that destroyed an entire franchise.
If I had to point a finger, it would be at Warner Brothers for taking a franchise that took a decade to bring to the screen and turn it into mindless product. The Bat Teat was milked dry by a money hungry studio and a group of people who simply wanted to make a goofy Batman movie got caught up in the midst of it. Weighed down by a horrendous script, actors who have nothing to do and action scenes so poorly staged they feel like Film 1 projects, Batman and Robin is a colossal failure despite the efforts of everybody involved. The best thing one can say about the movie is that it wiped the slate clean, clearing a path for a new vision a decade later. Enter Christopher Nolan. Thank God for that.
Score – 20%