In the lead up to the debut of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I’m reviewing every single Batman film. Check out more Batman-related content in my Dark Knight Discussion column.
If there is a simple way to describe the entirety of Batman & Robin, it is unbridled excess gone completely insane. An easier way to describe it is total shit.
After the success of Batman Forever, the duo of director Joel Schumacher and writer Akiva Goldsman were given the go ahead by Warner Bros. to follow up their take on Batman with a fast-tracked entry. This time, the result was Batman & Robin, a neon lit, supremely idiotic take on the world of Batman and its characters filled with performances that would make a toddler cringe that was so bad its director and star have both apologized for it multiple times, whether that is necessary or not. Batman & Robin did what no Gotham City madman could ever do in the comics, it killed Batman. The franchise was abandoned for years until its resurrection via reboot in 2005’s Batman Begins. But there are so many reasons why this abomination sunk a franchise that once lit cinemas on fire back in 1989.
There’s so much wrong here, but let’s focus on the worst of the worst, the performances. Literally everyone here is complete crap and in ways that detract from the “so bad it’s good” quality of some of the film. Everyone from its lead actors to bit players with only a single line are just the worst. This is the caliber of acting that you’d expect from a middle school musical, but it’s put on the big screen through a high budget, neon-lit extravaganza that simply pummels you with bad line reading after bad line reading.
Here, we find the dynamic duo of Batman (George Clooney taking over for Val Kilmer) and Robin (the returning Chris O’Donnell) fighting the team of Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), who seek to destroy the world and remake it in their vision. So we have two classic heroes against two villains who have been featured in some of Batman’s great stories over the years. But Goldsman and Schumacher seem to make the wrong decision with every possible choice, ranging from garish production design to an irreversible misunderstanding of practically every character interpreted for the screen.
Batman is blander than he’s ever been with Clooney under the cowl and Robin has little of interest to do or say. With no real story arc, the heroes are made to hate working with one another for no real reason until the seductive Poison Ivy forces them against one another, but even that has little of note besides a scene that results in the infamous Bat Credit Card. More can be said of their nippled supersuits and plastic weapon accessories than their performances. And along those same lines is Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl, here confoundingly changed to be the niece of Alfred (Michael Gough) who is dying of a rare disease. Her annoying inclusion to simple expand the cast and Silverstone’s marble mouthed delivery that garbles every line renders her very presence a drain on the energy of viewers.
Speaking of Poison Ivy, Thurman is literally the worst villain ever seen in a Batman film. Talking like the most cliché of 1940s mobster molls, Ivy is meant to be a seductive force of nature, but has all the sex appeal of a wood block. Maybe that’s because of the horrifying outfits that she wears (cheap spandex and glued on face leaves don’t work for most people), or because she spouts all manner of plant-based diatribes with every moment she has, or maybe its because Thurman is overacting in a way that makes it seem as if she’s both deaf and blind. In any case, it’s stupefying.
But no more stupefying than Schwarzenegger’s part here. As a movie star, Arnold has always gotten by more on charisma than true talent, but buried under a pile of icy blue makeup and a light up aluminum suit, he comes off as truly inane. Of course, he’s also saddled with a litany of ice-related puns that spew from his blue lips whenever he bursts onto the scene. He chews into them with an abandon that may seem admirable, but is actually just groan-inducing. The Mr. Freeze seen here is also far removed from the character that had become beloved by fans – a haunted and emotionless scientist committed to doing whatever is necessary in order to save his terminally ill and cryogenically frozen wife. While those character bits may be in place, Schwarzenegger’s Freeze is a mountain of a man who jokes, grins, and cackles while freezing anything in sight for the heck of it.
As far as bad lines go, there’s a litany of terrible lines here that spew from character’s mouths, smacking viewers in the side of the head like a dead wet fish minute after minute. They range from ice puns to just bad writing, each of which has the right to claim the title of worst line. Here’s just a few.
“What killed the dinosaurs? The ice age!”
“Bruce, it’s me, Barbara. I found the Batcave.”
“I hate to disappoint you but my rubber lips are immune to your charms.”
“There’s just something about an anatomically correct rubber suit that puts fire in a girl’s lips.”
The list could go on. Whether it’s a terrible line from the start or an average piece of dialogue that clunks on delivery, there’s literally nothing character related in Batman and Robin that can be deemed as remotely positive.
While Schumacher took the world of Batman and elevated it to a brighter and wilder interpretation in Batman Forever, he amps everything up to its highest levels throughout all of Batman and Robin. Every character is given something garish to wear, every scene takes place on a massive original set, and special effects dominate any piece of action. It’s clear that the film’s $125 million budget was thrown onto every scene, but it all feels so incredibly cheap, even when viewed in the context of its 1997 release. Sets wobble, extras act with the wherewithal of head trauma victims, and the extreme colors that bathe every moment don’t make the film feel like a real life comic book, but a misguided nightclub that will be closed in two weeks.
And did I mention Bane? Bane is in this. The man who broke the bat demoted to green vein-covered dumb muscle that can’t even be memorable in this nightmare of a movie.
A combination of a lack of interesting action and an obvious desire to sell as many toys to young fans as possible dictates so much of how the setpieces are handles here. Freeze has a massive tank, Batman has a new (unwisely one seated) Batmobile, Robin and Batgirl get their own motorcycles, and there’s some sort of ice glider vehicle, too, not to mention the multiple versions of each hero’s outfit. The entirety of Batman & Robin is akin to a two hour-long toy commercial, but a cheesy voiceover and giant children overreacting to their new toys could only have improved the actual film here.
Sure, there are times when Batman & Robin is laughably bad or even delightful in how robustly cheesy it is, but most of the time, the film is executed so poorly that the result is a bleak affair. Be warned, all who enter this barren wasteland of DC Comics film, even Batman himself could not escape here alive.
Best Batman Moment: This is a tough one due to the sheer lack of anything that could be remotely qualified by the term “best.” But I suppose Batman running toward camera with Robin and Batgirl silhouetted by the Bat Signal is a decent visual. If they included the trio running off the building and falling to their death, it would have been better.
When They Got Batman Wrong: The entire time. Everything about everything that is committed to celluloid is wrong here, including Clooney’s nippled Dark Knight.
Comic Book Inspirations: While Mr. Freeze first appeared in 1959’s Batman #121 (as Mr. Zero), his tragic origin was created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Heart of Ice,” which aired on September 7, 1992, five years prior. That origin informs the version of Mr. Freeze seen here but is, unsurprisingly, far superior.
Fun Fact: The plan was for Batman & Robin to be followed by the sequel Batman Triumphant (also known as Batman Unchained), where Scarecrow and Harley Quinn (Joker’s daughter here) would have teamed up against Batman. The film would have included a scene where Scarecrow’s fear gas caused Batman to hallucinate encounters with every previous villain he fought, all played by their original actors. But the bombing of Batman & Robin caused the film to never go past early drafts.