PG Cooper: Batman and Robin Review

Posted: July 9, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Retrospectives

Release date: June 20th, 1997

Running time: 2 hours and 5 minutes

Written by: Akiva Goldsman

Based on: The character Batman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Directed by: Joel Schumacher

Starring: George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Uma Thurman

Batman Forever may have sucked hard, but that didn’t stop it from becoming the second highest grossing film domestically in 1995 (Toy Story was the first). While it did not out-gross Tim Burton’s first film, it vastly surpassed Batman Returns box-office intake. Warner Bros. was pleased, and in Joel Schumacher they saw the perfect man to helm their Batman series. Little did they know Schumacher’s next Batman film, Batman and Robin, would be the lowest grossing Batman film of the current series, and the third lowest grossing Batman film of all time (and in fairness to the two lowest grossing, Batman (66) and Mask of the Phantasm, they were T.V spin-offs, the latter of which received minimal advertising and was originally intended to be direct-to-video). The financial failure would be second only to the critical failure. Batman Forever, horrible as it was, met more of a mixed reaction from critics. Batman and Robin on the other hand was universally panned by critics and audiences alike. Today, Batman and Robin is not only considered one of the worst comic book films of all time, but one of the worst films ever made within any genre. So let’s dive in!

Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a new villain that has emerged in Gotham. Freeze was in an accident that left him requiring is body be kept and subzero temperatures. To do this, he wears a special suit to cool him which requires diamonds. He’s also been collecting bigger diamonds to fuel a giant freezing gun so he can freeze the city and demand ransom. He wants money because his wife, who he keeps cryogenically frozen, is dying of a rare disease with no known cure. Freeze hopes that his ransom will further his research to the point where he can produce a cure. Meanwhile, a plant loving villainess known as Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) has arrived in Gotham with her personal henchman Bane (Jeep Swenson). Ivy’s goal is for plants to dominate their Earth. She also has an ability to seduce men and as such, as divided the partnership between Batman and Robin (George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell). Bruce and Dick are also greeted with two surprises; one being Alfred’s niece Barbara (Alicia Silverstone) coming to live with them and eventually becoming Batgirl, the other being that Alfred (Michael Gough) is dying.

The plot is a horrid, cliché mess. There’s a million different stories going on, but none of which are very interesting or tense. Mr. Freeze’s backstory and motive of wanting to save his wife (taken from Batman: The Animated Series) is great in theory, but the execution is extremely sloppy. Poison Ivy’s plot is even stupider. What’s her villainous goal you ask? World domination. It feels like writer Akiva Goldsman spent about ten seconds thinking about Poison Ivy’s story. Even the villains in Batman Forever had a more interesting motivation, that being revenge. Sure, it was simplistic, and the execution was horrible, but at least the motivation was solid. The story of Barbara becoming Batgirl is very underdeveloped and uninteresting. There’s also a subplot about Batman and Robin coming into conflict. This story is one of the most frustrating. I love stories about conflict between the dynamic duo, but it’s handled so poorly. Dick Grayson just became Robin in the last film, so for him to be complaining about not being respected makes him feel like an entitled little prick. Instead of the conflict between the two coming off as dramatic, it feels like two spoiled kids bickering away. The only story that doesn’t fall completely on its face is the one regarding Alfred dying. I don’t think the story is handled very well, but it isn’t horrible either. But I’ll talk more about this Alfred subplot a little bit later.

A big part of the problem is that it is very obvious the main efforts of the film weren’t on the story or characters. Instead, most of the films effort were spent on two things; having things that toys could be made out off, and visuals. The former is certainly accomplished. There’s lots of colourful characters, and alternate costumes, and additional vehicles. You can tell all these things were just shoved in unnecessarily though. As for the visuals; they suck. Gotham looks even more colourful than before and I can’t stand it. The action scenes are appealingly bad, hitting a new low from the cartoonish nature of the action in Batman Forever, the effects are fake looking, and the cinematography is lazy.

The cast here is horrible. I dare say it’s one of the worst casts ever put on film, which is odd considering I like a lot of the actors in the film. George Clooney dons the cape and cowl. I like Clooney a lot, but as an actor, he mostly just plays variations on himself. For the most part, that’s okay; I usually enjoy watching Clooney do just that. But that doesn’t work here. The thing is, Batman is an established and definitive character. Any actor playing Batman needs to really lose himself in the role because Batman is a character who’s bigger than any actor. But Clooney just goes through the film as his usual self. Every other actor that played Batman tried, even Val Kilmer. Clooney just slept through the part. Chris O’Donnell is extremely annoying as Robin, doing nothing but whining throughout the entire film. To be fair, a feel O’Donnell was stuck with horrible writing, but still. Alicia Silverstone delivers one of the film’s worst performances as Barbara/Batgirl. First off, there’s the fact that she’s allegedly born and raised in Britain and yet has no trace of an accent. Still, I could forgive her lack of an accent if she gave a solid performance. That isn’t the case though. Silverstone is horrible, never showing any convincing emotion and goes through most of the film looking like an idiot. She may be a decent actress and may have given better performances in other films, I wouldn’t know, but she is atrociously bad here.

It’s the villains that really take the cake here though. In talking about them, I’ll go from least offensive portrayal, to most offensive. Least offensive we have Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy. Ivy is the only villain who isn’t completely screwed up. The core of the character, a villain who uses her sexuality against men while pushing forward her environmental beliefs, is there. The problem is in the way it’s handled. Instead of coming off as dangerous and interesting, Thurman’s Poison Ivy is obnoxious and annoying. The key here is subtlety, or lack there of. Thurman plays everything so over the top that none of it can be taken seriously. Particularly laughable are the ways Thurman tries to make Ivy come off as sexy. The film tries to make Poison Ivy come off as irresistible, but she doesn’t feel like a sexy woman, she feels like a woman trying (and failing) to be sexy. One of the things I like about the Poison Ivy character is the way things seem so effortless for her, but that doesn’t come across here. I know Thurman is a good actress, but she played a horrible Poison Ivy. The film’s treatment of Bane is probably the worst, but it doesn’t bother me as much as the treatment of Mr. Freeze (which I’ll talk about soon). In the comics, Bane is strong, but he isn’t a brute. In fact, he’s incredibly intelligent, able to deduce Batman’s secret identity and construct a brilliant plan to break him. In this film, Bane is a lobotomized goon who goes around repeating the lines of others and occasionally being involved in horrible action scenes. He’s little more than Poison Ivy’s henchman, and is Bane in name only. At least it looks like Chris Nolan will redeem the character in The Dark Knight Rises.

For me, it’s the treatment of Mr. Freeze that really gets my blood boiling. Brief history; throughout Freeze’s tenure as a Batman villain, he was little more than a D-lister with a freezing gimmick. Than in 1992, Batman: The Animated Series turned him into one of the most tragic villains in comic history with their Emmy-winning episode “Heart of Ice”. This episode, combined with other episodes, transformed his character into a tortured soul who could seemingly no longer feel. His wife, while still alive, is stricken with a disease and must be kept cryogenically frozen. I love this version of Mr. Freeze. I think he’s one of the greatest Batman villains of all time. That’s why watching Batman and Robin is one of the most frustrating things for me. Sure, the basics are there: cryogenic suit, freeze gun, cryogenically frozen wife stricken with disease, it’s there. But the character is handled completely wrong. Any sense of tragedy is removed in favour of ice related puns and goofy humour. Now the Mr. Freeze of the animated series had ice related dialogue too, but there, it had a sense of elegance. Let’s compare; here’s a line from Batman: The Animated Series, “In my nightmares I see my Nora behind the glass, begging to me with frozen eyes.” And here’s a line from Batman and Robin, “What killed the dinosaurs? THE ICE AGE!!!!” The difference is night and day. To see such an interesting and fantastic character reduced to such a ridiculous joke is heartbreaking. Arnold Schwarzenegger looks like he’s having a blast with the role. I’m a Schwarzenegger fan, but this is one time I can’t side with the big guy.

For my money, Scwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze is the worst comic book villain to ever be portrayed on screen. There are a few reasons for this. First, Freeze comes off as stupid and goofy, so that sucks. Second, wasted potential. As I’ve made clear, Freeze is a fascinating character who’d already had great stories told about him. He should have made for an amazing villain, but that isn’t what happened. Finally, there’s the legacy Schwarzenegger’s Freeze has created. You can’t talk about Mr. Freeze without somebody making a Batman and Robin joke. Even though Schumacher did a horrible job with every villain he touched, none of them had the lasting impact that Freeze did. People still remember Frank Gorshin as the Riddler instead of Jim Carrey, Nolan redeemed Two-Face with The Dark Knight and looks to be redeeming Bane with The Dark Knight Rises, and no one really remembers Thurman’s Poison Ivy. But to the general public, Freeze is still associated with puns and Arnold Schwarzenegger. People are shocked when I tell them Mr. Freeze is one of my favourite Batman villains. And that’s where most of my anger toward this version of Freeze comes from, the fact that he is one of my favourite villains. I urge anyone who’s seen Batman and Robin to seek out the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Heart of Ice”, so they can understand just how thoroughly Batman and Robin fucked up.

Only one actor in the film gives a decent performance: Michael Gough. Poor Michael Gough, the man had played Alfred throughout the Burton Schumacher series and in each film, you can tell the man is really trying. He genuinely brings warmth and humanity to the film. I haven’t talked about Gough much throughout these reviews and I may have done the man a disservice. If nothing else, Batman and Robin proved to me just how talented an actor Gough is. Despite all the horrible schlock surrounding him, Gough actually delivers a solid performance and gets me to care, even if only a bit. Gough is the only actor who feels like he’s really in character and watching him made me just wish he was in a better film. Don’t get me wrong; at the end of the day, Alfred’s subplot in the film is handled poorly, but it’s also the only element of the film which doesn’t suck. I attribute that to Michael Gough.

The horrible treatment of the Batman characters is enough to make me hate Batman and Robin, but when I tackle on the fact that it’s also a horribly made film on every level, there’s literally nothing there for me to appreciate. I know a lot of people get a kick out of the film by viewing it as a comedy, but I can’t go there. Had the film had a different title, all the characters renamed, and the costumes tweaked, then MAYBE I could enjoy it as a comedy/spoof. But as it stands, all I see is blatant disrespect when I watch Batman and Robin. Disrespect to what Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, writer Sam Hamm, and the rest of the cast and crew accomplished with the early films. Truly one of the most painful things I did to myself while watching Batman and Robin was occasionally reminding myself that it was a sequel to Batman and Batman Returns. Even worse than the disrespect to Tim Burton is the disrespect shown to the Batman universe. Decades of great characters and stories, and it’s all treated like such a joke. The critical reaction to Batman and Robin was so harsh that the Batman series was killed off temporarily. Though rumours fluttered throughout Hollywood for a number of years, the caped crusader would not return to the big screen for eight years. But the film would prove to be worth the wait.

Rating: F

Comments
  1. Quick question: If you abhorred Batman Forever so much, why on Earth would you watch Batman & Robin? Great review, even though I feared you would create a Z rating for this one.

  2. le0pard13 says:

    Nailed it! You really captured why B and R is such an unadulterated crap-fest. As much as I harangue ‘Spider Man 3’ and ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ (and they are certainly worthy), they pale (at least in the super-hero film failure department) to what Joel Schumacher stumbled upon here. Good call on Mr. Freeze. I do remember that episode (I didn’t catch them all), but it was such a different look upon the character that really changed my mind about him as a villain. Well done.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      Thank you sir, glad you enjoyed my review. Yeah, there are bad superhero films, and there are bad superhero films, then there’s Joel Schumacher superhero films.

  3. Very good review. I have to agree with the letter grade — even though I do find it watchable on a “so bad it’s good” level. I agree with a lot of what you say here, though I do think Thurman and Clooney were decent choices for the actors. I just think they did unusually bad jobs. Thurman has shown she can act in other films, and of course Clooney is usually very good; I’m unconvinced he’d make a good Batman, but he’d be a great Bruce Wayne, and I’d certainly have been willing to give him a chance in the cowl. But their performances are off, and it’s not just because of the lines. I hate to bag on Schumacher — I think one of the worst things about the internet Batman fandom is the way they treat Schumacher as a complete incompetent because of these films, despite him having directed some great films outside the series — but here I think a significant part of the blame has to be put at his feet. It’s the director’s job to get good performances out of his actors; since there are at least two good actors here who didn’t do good jobs, he has to shoulder the blame.

    I also agree with the treatment of a lot of the characters. I don’t really care about Bane either way; he was always just a bad joke that people took seriously anyway. (His existence in the comics was solely to put Bruce Wayne out of commission so they could give the cowl to a psychopath and shut up the readers who were, at the time, clamoring for a Batman who killed; the idea being to prove the readers wouldn’t want that when they got it. He was literally created as a prank against the readers.) But I didn’t like the treatment of Batgirl, who seems to just be an afterthought (and was it necessary to make her Alfred’s niece instead of Commissioner Gordon’s daughter/niece?) And I agree, Mr. Freeze was not portrayed well at all… not by the writers, and not by Arnold. I hope that some day a live-action film will do the character justice.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      Regarding your last line about Mr. Freeze, so do I. I didn’t know the stuff about Bane’s history though, that’s certainly interesting. I haven’t seen any of Schumacher’s other films, they may be great, but I don’t know. At any rate, good director or not, he clearly was not the right person to tackle Batman.

      • I’ll tentatively agree on that; he certainly didn’t show his skills, but I do have to wonder how much leeway he actually had. But even with that consideration, it’s still his responsibility to turn out the best product possible, and he didn’t.

      • pgcooper1939 says:

        You do raise a good point, that he was more or less the studio’s puppet.

  4. brikhaus says:

    This movie is utter garbage. I’m not sure why, but I found it better than Batman Forever. Maybe it’s just the Arnold fan in me. But you are 100% right on every point you make. They killed Batman with this piece of crap. I’m glad he made a proper return to form with Batman Begins.

  5. […] Batman and Robin Review “You can’t talk about Mr. Freeze without somebody making a Batman and Robin joke. Even though Schumacher did a horrible job with every villain he touched, none of them had the lasting impact that Freeze did. People still remember Frank Gorshin as the Riddler instead of Jim Carrey, Nolan redeemed Two-Face with The Dark Knight and looks to be redeeming Bane with The Dark Knight Rises, and no one really remembers Thurman’s Poison Ivy. But to the general public, Freeze is still associated with puns and Arnold Schwarzenegger.” […]

  6. […] Gotta go with Batman and Robin. I know it’s cliché to mock that movie for how bad it is, but it’s just so damn bad. I […]

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