Batman & Robin
Last week I wrote about the origins of the current comic book movie wave (Blade), so I figured this week it was fitting to discuss the end of the last comic book craze – “Batman & Robin.”
To this day, no movie quakes fear into the hearts of comic book fans and movie producers more than this 1997 Joel Schumacher train-wreck. While the movie performed well at the box office, this critically-lambasted flick single-handedly put the comic book movie industry on ice, thanks in no small part to the efforts of its hammy villain, Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger).
There honestly isn’t much to the plot. Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) contend with Mr. Freeze, an icy supervillain trying to steal enough equipment to revive his cryogenically-sealed wife. Along the way, Freeze allies himself with Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), a mousy assistant-turned-fem fatale after a spat with her mad scientist employer (future Smallville star John Glover). With the hulking drug-empowered Bane (Jeep Swanson), the villains plot against Gotham City.
Despite spending the better part of three movies skulking in the shadows, Batman and Robin are apparently publicly adored heroes. In addition to the threat posed by new villains (in particular the charms of Ivy, which threaten to undermine their partnership), Batman and Robin also are faced with an ailing Alfred (Michael Gough) and the arrival of his strong-willed daughter (Alicia Silverstone), who decides to become Batgirl. Also, Bruce has a girlfriend (Elle MacPherson) who wants to get engaged or something.
The movie’s flippant jokey tone becomes apparent with bad pun after bad pun. From “the hockey team from Hell” to “Ice to see you,” the movie commits some of the worst lines in human history to cinematic form. This is made all the more frustrating when you consider the movie was written by Akiva Goldsman, whose credits include “A Beautiful Mind,” “A Time to Kill” and upcoming “Dark Tower.”
I’m not really sure what Joel Schumacher was trying to achieve either. The movie’s tone wasn’t consistent with either the Gothic playground of Tim Burton’s first two films or Schumacher’s flashy-but-still-not-that-bad “Batman Forever.” Heck, it wasn’t even consistent with the 1960s Adam West series. I guess consistency goes out the window when you make a conscious decision to add nipples to the Batman costume (which Schumacher actually did).
Perhaps most frustrating is the movie’s treatment of very iconic characters in the Bat franchise. By now, the critically-acclaimed “Batman: The Animated Series” had been on the air for years, having already introduced fans to characters like Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy. In the animated series, Mr. Freeze has a retro costume designed by Mike Mignola of “Hellboy” fame; in the movie, Mr. Freeze resembles a really tall Power Ranger. In the cartoon, Bane is a super-strong genius; in the movie he’s not much more than a monosyllabic brute. Many critics – include Roger Ebert – went on to remark these animated series had outdone their live action counterpart in every conceivable way.
When I was young, I thought “Batman & Robin” was the worst movie ever. Having seen many other much, much, much worst movies (I’m looking at you “Feast 2”) I realize it’s not. It’s still light-years away from being good, decent or even somewhat watchable, but for a low price, it’s worth a watch to see what circumstances lead to Christopher Nolan completely rebooting the franchise in 2005.
And to bring this all back full circle, Nolan has announced the character of Bane will appear in the upcoming “Dark Knight Rises,” played by Tom Hardy of “Inception.” Hopefully, he’ll have more lines than just “Batman!” and “Bomb!” this time around.
Own “Batman & Robin” on DVD for $5.97 shipped from Wal-Mart.