Thu
Feb 3 2011 2:39pm

Big Screen Batman: Batman & Robin

Yeah, a Bat-credit card

It is very hard to find anything to say about Batman & Robin, Joel Schumacher’s second Batman movie, other than that it is bad. It owes its entire existence to commerce, greenlit upon the success of Batman Forever and rushed to completion at the earliest possible date, ultimately functioning more as a $125 million advertisement for toys than a movie.

It requires benefit of the doubt to even be called a movie, rather than a two-hour display of noise and flashing lights. The biggest flaw, the fatal one, is that Batman & Robin set out deliberately to be camp (without a steady grasp on what the term actually means), with Schumacher informing his cast via bullhorn, “We’re making a cartoon!”

Ironically, Schumacher is a bad enough director that in attempting to make a camp classic, he failed miserably, ending up with a loud, bizarrely dreary, stupid mess; if he’d tried to sincerely make the best movie he possibly could, he may very well have ended up with a camp classic.

Even exerting the energy to call Batman & Robin bad is offensive. It is constructed, artlessly and methodically, as “a Batman movie,” down to the self-defeating strategy—shared with Tim Burton’s Batman—of having the villain be billed above the hero. Not to be overly simplistic here, but the movie has the word “Batman” in the title. He should be the most important guy in the movie. But Arnold Schwarzenegger had it in his contract that he get top billing (as well as his $25 million salary) to play Mr. Freeze. Why? Why Mr. Freeze, not even an interesting villain? Why Arnold Schwarzenegger? The exact details are unknown, but Patrick Stewart had been cast as Mr. Freeze until one day Joel Schumacher decided he had to have Arnold. Joel Schumacher’s mind is an inscrutable, unknowable thing.

Allegedly, there’s a story buried somewhere in all the cacophonous nonsense, involving a fictional disease that killed Arnold’s wife, motivating him to become Mr. Freeze and turn to a life of low-temperature crime. Some sinister mad scientist turns Uma Thurman into Poison Ivy just because he’s evil, but she kills him. Batman and Robin meet Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone, written in solely due to having had a couple hits at the time the script was being written) and join forces. The collective might of our daring protagonists proves too much for Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy to handle, and they end up getting chucked into Arkham Asylum, but not before Mr. Freeze gives them the cure to the fictional disease out of remorse or something so Alfred doesn’t have to die. Batgirl comes to stay at Wayne Manor. The end.

Repeating how bad Batman & Robin is would be beating a dead horse at this point. Suffice to say, Joel Schumacher publicly apologized for the movie, George Clooney—at the time known best for TV’s ER and trying to break into movies—has been half-joking for years about the fact that the first line of his obituary would read “played Batman.” Of all the actors cast, to that point, as Batman Clooney would easily be the most capable of handling both Batman and Bruce Wayne (a balance neither Keaton nor Kilmer found easy), if he only had a remotely competent movie in which to play the dual role. Instead, he looks a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of how terrible the movie is; in some scenes he looks like he’s just trying to survive the experience.

Although the movie didn’t lose money, Batman & Robin was nonetheless enough of an embarassment that it ended Schumacher’s reign as an A-list director and delayed Clooney’s ascent to movie stardom. More importantly for this discussion, it nearly killed the entire Batman movie franchise. It would take a few years and the advent of the concept of “rebooting” a movie franchise before a new cinematic take on Batman came along. It, most certainly, would be different.

Next, how Christopher Nolan resurrected Batman with a new origin story, in 2005’s Batman Begins.


Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to nytheatre.com and Premiere.com.

18 comments
Hammerlock
1. Hammerlock
Normally, I'm opposed to physical abuse to deceased equines, but in this case, for this movie, it cannot be done enough.

This is pure, canned, Awful. Distilled, refined, processed Bad. They should amend the Geneva Conventions to ensure that captured soldiers are never exposed to this film as a means of interrogation.
C C
2. Hatgirl
This film came out when I was at a sort of nerd summer camp. We all went to see it as that afternoon's "social activity". It was certainly a bonding experience. Traumatic events often are *shudder*

It does have one of the most... memorable... lines of dialogue I've ever heard. "Rubber lips are immune to your charms!" is right up there with Anakin's creepy sand speech in Attack of the Clones
james loyd
3. gaijin
"Patrick Stewart had been cast as Mr. Freeze until one day Joel Schumacher decided he had to have Arnold."

I'm almost relieved Stewart's career wasn't tainted by this travesty. At least Stewart looks like Mr. Freeze. If anything, Arnold could have played Bane, but that would mean covering his face so no go.

I've always been baffled how Schumacher could make a movie as good as The Lost Boys and then do...this.

Another incredibly annoying aspect of it is that Mr. Freeze CONSTANTLY quips about his lack of emotion, all the while raging at Batman, seeking revenge, making jokes, and greiving for his wife. Far from the apathy he claims, he's an emotional wreck.

Sadly, I've been subjected to this film many times because my 4 year old is fascinated by Poison Ivy.

One last thing and I'll shut up:
"...Clooney would easily be the most capable of handling both Batman and Bruce Wayne"

Maybe, but only if he were capable of controlling his incessant Bobble-head/Parkinson's head jiggling. Clearly this is beyond him.
Hammerlock
4. Megaduck
The worst part of this is how much I loved the charecter of Mr. Freeze. He might be the deepest and most tragic of all the Batman villians and possibly the one that protrays the best dark mirror of the dark knight.

He answers the question "Why would Batman be like if his defining word was not 'Justice' but 'Vengence'?"

Heck, Arnold could have been the perfect choice. An actor who's best known for playing a cold emotionless robot playing a villian that has lost the ability to be anything but cold and emotionless?

Instaid we got...camp...
Hammerlock
6. cmpalmer
To complete the irony of Schumacher telling the cast "We're making a cartoon!" the animated Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero is an awesome movie with a emotional wrenching portrayal of Mr. Freeze.

Well worth watching if you haven't seen it.
Hammerlock
7. Edgewalker
To be fair, Clooney was cured of the head jiggle when he did Out of Sight.
Dave Thompson
8. DKT
I never did see this one. Maybe I will one day, but thus far, I've been able to keep myself pure, and nobody's been able to convince me it was a bad decision!

I do dig how apologetic Clooney is of this movie now, and how the awfulness of this movie apparently helped him gain perspective career-wise.
Hammerlock
9. RanchoUnicorno
The most depressing part of this movie for me was the aftermath. After faithfully going to the theater for opening week of all four of movies of this era, this one bothered me so much, I vowed I would never watch another Batmon movie. Batman Begins came out, and I stayed home - even turning down paid for by friends tickets to opening night. A friend pushed and pushed, finally putting it in and not telling me what it was.

I never got to see Batman Begins the theater. For that, I cannot forgive Joel Schumacher.
jon meltzer
10. jmeltzer
Didn't this thing almost kill Uma Thurman's career?

So, so bad.
Hammerlock
11. AnnabelleB
The one thing I did like about this movie was its portrayal of Gotham City's underbelly, full of painted thugs, dangerous street races, abandoned industrial projects and black light graffiti. The city had more personality than its superheros and supervillians combined. Unlike Metropolis or New York City, Gotham is unselfconscious and unapologetic, where ridiculous evil plots can take root and flourish without seeming out of place. The production designer described it as "a World's Fair on ecstasy" which describes the Batman and Robin set to a T. Think of the portrayal of Chicago in The Devil and the White City. It's a place that's wonderful and strange, but also dangerous; built by wealthy investors, but inhabited by the scum of the earth. The juxtaposition of the high-society charity auction and the death-defying night races emphasizes the two faces of Gotham City, without which Bruce Wayne would never have become Batman. Gotham is the context of Batman's story. What I liked about Batman and Robin is that finally the context matched the content.
deviousjen
12. deviousjen
Batman & Robin set out deliberately to be camp...with Schumacher informing his cast via bullhorn, “We’re making a cartoon!”

One more thing Joel Schumacher doesn't know how to do: make a cartoon. This film was laughable, but not due to any diligence or success on his part. I agree George Clooney was a step up from Keaton and Kilmer, and oh how I wish he was given a chance to really make the role work. But how do you compete with the hot mess that is Conan the Barbarian and his league of evil hockey players? Or the idiocy of having two sidekicks that make the Batcave feel like an orphanage for Gotham's wangsty youth?
Thank the gods that Patrick Stewart got dropped from the film - as much as I hated watching George Clooney suffer through that script, it would've been 10x worse with Patrick Stewart. "Everybody, chill!" *shudder*
Lev Rosen
13. LevACRosen
john mullen
14. johntheirishmongol
When did Clooney ever become an A list movie star? Pretty much anything I have seen him in is pretty bad. He has one expression, which is a self satisfied smirk, and it gets old pretty quickly.

As for the film, yes it's bad, pretty much everyone is awful in it except Uma seemed to be having fun. Alicia looked a little uncomfortable in the latex, probably a little too jiggly for it. Chris O'Donnell was better for having no back story to try to act in.

I don't know if it's just me but every Batman seems to be getting worse instead of better.
Chris Greenland
15. greenland
@9. RanchoUnicorno. That really sucks, but look at the bright side. Your username is awesome.
Chuk Goodin
16. Chuk
I liked the hockey playing minions near the beginning. That's all though.
Hammerlock
17. b.c.smith
jmeltzer: it kinda did, that is until she sweapt it right back with a little piece of awesome called KILL BILL.
Hammerlock
18. losc
It is a good movie better than the new ones

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