Uma ThurmanBatgirlPoison IvyChris O'Donnell
Batman & Robin
Medium: film
Year: 1997
Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Akiva Goldsman
Keywords: Razzie-winning, superhero, action, rubbish
Country: USA, UK
Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, John Glover, Elle Macpherson, Vivica A. Fox, Vendela Kirsebom Thomessen, Elizabeth Sanders, Jeep Swenson, John Fink, Michael Reid MacKay
Format: 125 minutes
Series: << Batman >>, << Robin >>, Batgirl >>, Mr Freeze, Poison Ivy >>
Website category: Batman
Review date: 7 January 2001
This film has become the superhero equivalent of Hitler. It's the argument-annihilating nuclear option, by common agreement the worst of all appalling comparisons that could ever be made when discussing comic book movies. Some would say that my use there of the phrase "comic book" was redundant. In any conversation not actually about Batman & Robin in the first place, bringing it up means that sensible discussion is over. On top of that it's also turned into Voldemort, in that people will refer to it with code phrases instead of saying its name. You just say "nipples on the Bat-suits" and everyone knows what you're talking about.
Personally I find it fascinating. Every time I watch it, I have a completely different reaction. 1st time: insane irritation and hatred. I turned it off after twenty minutes, unable to take the pain. 2nd time: hey, this is an entertaining no-brainer! 3rd time: extreme boredom, etc. However Batman & Robin is clearly trying to be nothing other than exactly what it is, i.e. the silliest, most ridiculously camp and stupid film in the entire world. At that it succeeds - and how. It's like a big-budget reinvention of the Adam West TV series, but this time not allowing even po-faced cod seriousness to distract them from the rampant camp.
Schumacher's previous Batman film merely happened to turn out painfully stupid, but this movie does it deliberately! Batman Forever at least had a Burton-esque script, whereas right out of the gate this one clearly knew it was going to be a Schumacher Batman film. Those first twenty minutes aren't aiming even for the intellectual standards of Return of the Swamp Thing or Flesh Gordon 2: The Cosmic Cheerleaders. To compile a complete list of cliches and idiocies would be the thirteenth labour of Hercules. Here are a few.
(a) When Robin's bike bursts through the wall in the opening fight, it makes a perfect hole in the shape of the Robin logo. Eat your heart out, Wile E. Coyote.
(b) Dialogue so cliched that it's jarring to hear a line that isn't corny. Special mention here goes to Mr Freeze's cold-related puns, which will destroy your brain. Eventually they seem like old friends. Compared with these, all those one-liners after Arnie's killed a guy in films like Predator and Commando now look like Oscar Wilde rewritten by Noel Coward.
(c) The classic cornball device of Mr Freeze not killing Batman when he has him in his power, but instead leaving him to die in a pointless deathtrap.
(d) "Batbomb"?
(e) Every word spoken by Uma Thurman as Pamela Isley pre-transformation. "Rats, my experiment to mate the dendronium orchid and South American rattlesnake has failed again." Admittedly that was said into a tape recorder, but even when that's gone the dialogue-as-exposition continues.
(f) Comedy fight scenes so stupid that their ludicrousness becomes the whole point.
(g) "Oxbridge Academy"?
(h) Bane's comedy muscles, the visual equivalent of the TARDIS console boinnnng sound in The Horns of Nimon.
(i) Making Jason Woodrue, a genuinely sinister and creepy guy from the original DC comics, a cartoon mad scientist who almost made me think better of Professor Kerensky in City of Death.
(j) How exactly do diamonds recharge Mr Freeze's energy levels? Does his suit eat them or something?
However unlike Batman Forever, this movie is an entertaining no-brainer if approached in the right spirit. You don't even care about the appalling acting. The Keaton-Burton era is gone. George Clooney is coasting on autopilot, not helped by the script's yawnsome attempts at Bat-analysis. Uma Thurman is embarrassing as pre-transformation Pamela, though we already knew from The Avengers that she's no actress. Oh, and let's not forget Schwarzenegger. But at least all these performances are entertainingly bad, as opposed to the wooden interest-killers of the last movie. You laugh, throw popcorn and wait happily for the next bit of stupidity. It's almost offensively moronic and its plot is uninvolving to put it mildly, but there's always something new and ridiculous to hoot at.
I've just said bad things about Uma Thurman, but as Poison Ivy she eats up the screen. It's clear that she has a strong idea of what she's trying to do in that costume, which is to vamp it up like no screen queen has ever vamped before. There's an eye-popping Top of the Pops sequence in which she does a striptease before cavorting with half-naked musclemen to funky exotic music. (But with no nudity. Sorry.) It's completely pointless, but who cares? This is the most visually outrageous of the four Batman movies, knocking even Tim Burton into a cocked hat. It's also the best for hot babes (Alicia Silverstone, Elle MacPherson and Uma Thurman, although Batman Returns takes second place with Michelle Pfeiffer) and there isn't a square inch of film that isn't stylised and garishly coloured beyond all rational conception. If you don't let yourself think, it looks awesome.
By the way, what is it with Batman's female villains? Both Uma Thurman and Michelle Pfeiffer are frumpy mice with bad hair until someone tries to kill them and they turn evil. The moral of the story = "women, gain empowerment and men through crime and slinky outfits!"
Then as for Alicia Silverstone... no, on second thoughts, let's not. Fish in a barrel.
This is such an appalling film in every single way that I admire it. Batman Forever is merely a mess, whereas Batman & Robin at least has a clear (albeit stupid) objective and is consistent in tone. Admittedly it appears to have taken as its role model a retarded child wearing disco lights having an epileptic fit in a fetish bar, but at least that's something you won't see every day. You'll scream in agony and run off to throw puppies and children off railway bridges after the first time you see even five minutes of it, but once the pain has passed you'll settle down and realise that, for instance, its Gotham is even more stylised than Burton's. They were trying to make something to rank alongside the 1960s Adam West film and that's exactly what they did. To the letter.
Recently I showed the Adam West thing to someone and had to turn it off at her request after half an hour because she hurt too much from laughing. Batman & Robin can similarly be a lot of fun, provided you don't make the mistake of approaching it like a real film. Given its reputation, there shouldn't be much danger of that.