Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Chris O’Donnell, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Elle Macpherson, John Glover
Plot: Batman (Clooney) and Robin (O’Donnell) begin getting divided over the manipulation of Poison Ivy (Thurman), while strongman Mr. Freeze (Schwarzenegger) lays waste on Gotham.
Things started going very wrong with the Batman franchise after Batman Forever, which horrendously threw away Burton’s mysterious, yet fun side of the Dark Knight character. Batman and Robin is an extension of Schumacher’s misunderstanding of the character, as he continues to come out with a light-hearted romp, which unintentionally destroys everything Batman stands for.
The main problem for me is the decision to make Robin the subject of the movie. As the title suggests, the appearance of Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy is smoke and mirrors, to bulk out a movie about the crime-fighting duo. At this stage in time, Robin wasn’t a very good character. Chris O’Donnell isn’t allowed to do anything more with the character than go melodramatic with the cocky, young kid that Batman has some inexplicable bond with. Schumacher explores what happens when that relationship is disrupted, putting Batman’s father figure image to the test. It just isn’t a very interesting backbone to the story. My dislike for the character also stems from the fact that I have always liked to see Batman as an isolated figure and the idea of a sidekick just damages this perspective, especially when Robin brings very little to Batman’s character. The scenes in between action are cringe-worthy, because these two characters are bouncing terrible lines at each other (the script is full of lead balloon dialogue – truly awful), frustrating the audience more than they already were. Making things worse, Schumacher foolishly throws in a new member of the team, Silverstone’s Batgirl, into the mix, suggesting that he is blind to the fact that he is making mistake after mistake on this movie. It just becomes easier to disassociate yourself with the movie.
The acting isn’t much better. Batman and Robin will always be remembered for the time Arnold Schwarzenegger got to do a Batman movie and gave it bad pun after bad pun. Schumacher tries to make as many word plays out of the words ‘snow’ and ‘ice’, as possible, using them all on ‘witty’ one-liners. I was mildly interested to see Arnie take on a villain, but this is not the correct character to fulfil that wish with. At least he looks the part, but you would prefer the role going to someone with more acting gravitas, who could really work with Freeze’s anti-hero figure. Chris O’Donnell never really had much acting talent to begin with and he just continues on from Forever, bungling lines and annoying the audience, whenever he steps onto the screen. I cannot tell if he is bad or it is Schumacher’s directional style that lets him down, but he becomes the worst thing about the casting. At least, we get what we expected from Arnie. I wouldn’t call any of the others awful, but they are a slave to poor writing and direction. Uma Thurman makes a meal out of Poison Ivy, almost turning into a pantomime villain. At times, her fun is catchy, but you wish she was allowed to explore other elements of the character. Alicia Silverstone arrives far too late to do anything other than stand there in a latex suit. George Clooney doesn’t do anything wrong, but he doesn’t do anything right either. He coasts through this movie, which actually makes him the best actor on the team, because it steers Batman away from the melodrama everyone else is succumbing to. Clooney has the weight to give Batman some oomph with very little effort, which I guess is good enough, when the bar is set so low.
But now I am going to annoy some people and say that I actually prefer this one over Batman Forever. Why? Well, while Forever threw away Burton’s vision, Batman and Robin actually, to me, has a place in cinema. In my eyes, this movie is Batman for kids. As Burton and Nolan make great movies that are sadly too dark or too complicated for the younger fans to keep up with, Batman and Robin provides a lighter approach to the character than the younger ones can keep up with. In the eyes of a ten year old, the puns work, the melodrama hits home and it doesn’t matter when Robin or Batgirl refuse to develop as characters. At least, this time around the villains are done moderately truthfully to the original concept. Two-Face and the Riddler evolved into back-up Jokers, while here Poison Ivy is a pantomime version of the seductress she is supposed to me, and Mr. Freeze’s backstory is portrayed very well (sadly, I cannot defend Bane – that is just… no! Just no!). As an adult, their characters irritate me, but I would be happy to stick any future children (who will be Batman fans; they have no choice in the matter!), in front of this film and be happy that they will squeeze some enjoyment out of it.
Final Verdict: Batman for kids. Adults won’t find much here, especially those that dislike Robin and refuse to see their characters reduced to puns and over-acting.
Meh, this movie sucked.
Spot-on review – I saw this on release back in ’97 and haven’t been able to forget it since…for all the wrong reasons!