While I enjoy this movie more than most people, I actually considered giving Batman and Robin no stars because it is by far the worst film in the Batman franchise. However, this movie veers into the “so bad it might actually be fun and okay to watch if I’ve nothing else to do” territory making it worthy of a one star rating. Batman and Robin is like the black sheep of superhero movies, and rightfully so. The plot gives its villains interesting motivations then pulls the rug out from under them with plot contrivances, it’s campy to a fault (were the nipples on the batsuit really necessary?), has 3 villains and lacks substance. It’s hard to know what the powers that be were thinking when crafting this film, were the going for a campy masterpiece or an actual film? Even in the wide spectrum of superhero films (dark and foreboding to humorous fun) this film sits so far away from either. The Avengers proves your superheros can occupy a world where we’re in on the inside joke, but Batman and Robin wants you to take it seriously while presenting nothing but silliness and over the top innuendo.
The plot of this movie is simple, but gets increasingly ridiculous as the movie goes on. Basically, Batman and Robin are tested physically, mentally, and emotionally by 2 new villains: Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, each with their own individual agenda. Mr. Freeze, a former doctor who becomes a diamond thief, plans to freeze Gotham until he gets the money needed to finish finding the cure for a disease that has stricken his wife. Poison Ivy just wants to take over Gotham City with her genetically engineered plants and henchman Bane. While these two villains push our heroes to the brink, they eventually band together with the help of Batgirl to defeat the villains and save Gotham City.
Batman and Robin does many things wrong, but what I will give it credit for is giving its villains interesting motivations for their actions. Especially with relation to Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, the filmmakers engender a lot of sympathy as his character is motivated by his wife’s failing health and his own mistakes. But these great character motivations become undone with the silliness of the storyline, such as him freezing all of Gotham City and Batman having to thaw it. Similarly, Poison Ivy starts off as the next logical feminist step from Catwoman, but after hearing Uma purr “Poison Ivy” one too many times, you never take the character seriously. Why put two talented and scene stealing actors in role with strong motivations and then undermine them with bad dialog and foolish actions?
This film more than anything, really suffers from a crisis of identity. With the loud and brash color scheme, “family friendly” action, and over the top villains, this movie appears to skew younger. But this is Batman, and dark things happen during the story, which become overshadowed and are completely at odds with the lighter fare. The script of this movie is truly laughable with such choice quotes as “Chicks like you give women a bad name” and “Tonight, hell freezes over!” The action is also shot with an uneven editing style similar to that of music videos of the time and the fights are not really that impressive. Still that didn’t stop audiences from turning out to see this movie to the tune of $238 million worldwide, proving that brand recognition can out weight quality of the material.
In terms of the legacy of Batman and Robin, it was pretty much decided in 1997 when the movie was released that this film wouldn’t be viewed favorably and it received eleven Razzie nominations that year. It doesn’t help the movie’s reputation that soon after this we got Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films which set new standards for how a superhero story could be told. Interesting Aside: The one positive of this movie is that the careers of almost all of the principal cast have gone well. George Clooney won an Oscar and was nominated for 5 more, Colin O’Donnell is on mega-hit NCIS: LA, Uma Thurman did Kill Bill, and Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California. That’s incredibly impressive when you consider what a dud this film was. While I admire the go for broke campiness of this movie, this is truly a terrible film.
Tags: Arnold Schwarzenegger, batman, Batman and Robin, George Clooney, Historical Circuit, Joel Schumacher