Film Review: Batman and Robin (1997)

At one point in 1997′s Batman and Robin an enraged Mr. Freeze (curiously endowed with a thick Austrian accent) hilariously bellows at the Caped Crusader to “Freeze in Hell!” Now, this statement is notable due to its impractical silliness, but also for concisely channeling the sentiments that many movie-goers were feeling for this temporary franchise killer and the creative team that spawned it.

Much of the blame for this face-palming entry into the Batman cannon must be laid at the feet of its director, Joel Schumacher. His succession to the directing throne effectively stripped away all vestiges of Burton’s atmospheric take on the character and yielded a pair of movies defined by ostentatious set-designs, ham-fisted acting and a curiously fetishized take on Batman and his world.

To put it very simply: Batman and Robin is a shockingly bad film. Sure, Burton’s films also featured cheesy dialogue and scenery chewing. However, the silliness was diluted through the same characters being imbued with at least some semblance of psychological depth. Often times the characters in Burton’s world displayed such violent pathologies that the sporadic moments of over-the-top action were refreshing and broke the tension. This balance of darkness and light or, to use one of Peter Traver’s disgusting mantras: “malice and mirth,” is effectively destroyed by Schumacher’s take on the mythology. In Batman and Robin everything is played for laughs and every tongue on set must have been firmly crammed in a cheek. This is blatantly obvious in the excruciating albeit hilarious clips below.

The hideous sets and ridiculous plot of Batman and Robin speaks for itself (as does the nipple encrusted Bat-suit). However, it is the acting and writing (Avika Goldsman should have been given 100 Razzies) that truly turns this aesthetic eye-sore into a full-on artistic travesty. None of the actors involved are able to even remotely transcend the material, even actors who have proven themselves to be enormously capable in other films. As Bruce Wayne Clooney is acceptable but as Batman he is outright offensive, articulating his lines behind the cowl in a manner that can only be described as detached boredom (“Hi Freeze, I’m Batman.”). Unfortunately, Clooney is the high-point of the film’s acting, with O’Donnell being little more than a petulant creep, Silverstone looking like she got lost on her way to the Clueless 2 set, Uma Thurman overacting with such zeal that even her breathing seems forced and Arnold, well, you know (“What killed the dinosaurs? The ice age!”).

What’s clear is that Schumacher and his minions viewed Batman as being based on childish drivel and thus they created a film that could only be truthfully enjoyed by the most infantile of minds. The only other way this film is palatable is if you engage with it in a “so-bad-it’s-good” type of way. Otherwise, as Mr. Freeze might say, it is never and I mean never, ice to see Batman and Robin.

Nothing in Batman and Robin works. Not only does the film fail on every artistic level and represent a creative low-point for all those involved, it also serves as a complete desecration of several Batman characters. The criminal mastermind Bane is reduced to an idiotic slab of beef and Mr. Freeze’s motivations are turned into something only expressed through an endless barrage of ice-related puns. This effectively destroyed the searing depiction of the character that 90′s children had grown up with through Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s terrific series: Batman: The Animated Series and  further reinforces the idea that Batman and Robin is not really a film, but an insult.

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