Holy Bat-astrophe! The Batman film franchise as we know it is dead,
thanks to Batman and Robin, director Joel Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva
Goldsman's campy and most disrespectfully lighthearted reinterpretation of
Bob Kane's Dark Knight.
To most clearly and thoroughly address all that is wrong with this
Bat-flick, I will first review the film character by character:
Bruce Wayne/Batman (George Clooney): Clooney has gone on record
that his aim in taking on the role of Batman was to wipe off the scowl from
under the cowl and lighten up the Caped Crusader. Big mistake. What seems
to be lost on Clooney, Schumacher, and Goldsman is that angst and brooding
is what makes Batman Batman--strip away that and you have in effect stripped
away the meat of the character, not to mention the whole motivation behind
millionaire Bruce's nocturnal adventures in a rubber rodent suit. So what
Clooney serves up is a not-too-interesting guy with a grin perpetually glued
onto his face, a flat, distant character we have absolutely no insight into
Dick Grayson/Robin (Chris O'Donnell): I am not a Robin fan; I never
have been, and I probably never will. However, despite a shaky, whiny
beginning, O'Donnell made me tolerate the Boy Wonder by the end of
Batman Forever by simply calming down. In Batman and Robin, though, Dick
and Robin are back in ultrawhiny mode, playing up the petty jealousy and
brash youth and naivete which are the very characteristics which annoy
Robin-haters the most. Presumably, the audience is supposed to sympathize
with Dick/Robin's frustration with not being treated as an adult by
Bruce/Batman, but based on his behavior in the film, there is no reason for
Bruce/Batman to treat Dick/Robin as anything but the whiny kid he comes off as.
Barbara Wilson/Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone): The big problem with
Batgirl is that no one figured out how to fit her into the story. Unlike
the introduction of Dick/Robin in Forever, which tied directly into the
storyline with Two-Face, Barbara, Alfred's (Michael Gough) niece, simply
turns up on the Wayne Manor doorstep in act one and, in a most superfluous
subplot, is revealed a closet biker chick in act two. There is an attempt
at convergence in act three, when Barbara becomes Batgirl (though her
ear-less getup makes her more resemble Robingirl) and aids the dynamic duo
in their cause, but her most significant contribution is pulling an Ariana
Richards in Jurassic Park (that is,
hack into a computer). The zaftig Silverstone is a good enough sport, but
she never appears completely comfortable as either biker Barbara or brainy
Barbara (or, for that matter, in her rubber costume).
Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger): The filmmakers seem the most
confused with how do deal with Dr. Victor Fries. Schumacher and Goldsman
use the tragic origin for the character from Batman: The Animated
Series--Dr. Fries experimented with cryogenics in an effort to save his
terminally ill wife, Nora (played by supermodel Vendela), but a lab mishap
made him unable to survive in non-freezing temperatures. Instead of leaving
it at that, in an apparent concession to the casting of Schwarzenegger in
the role, Mr. Freeze is a wisecracker, which is totally at odds with the
tragic depiction that is also presented. What results is a most jarring
mess of a character. Case in point: one early scene shows a somber Freeze
wistfully watching old home movies of him
and his wife. Suddenly, an underling comes in and interrupts his viewing
with some important news. Freeze turns around in his chair, freezes the guy
with his freezing gun, and quips, "I hate it when people talk during the
movie." Just what exactly are Schumacher and company going after here?
Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman): The one character that is the slightest bit
done right is that of seductive eco-terrorist Pamela Isley--but it's more
due to Thurman's lively performance than anything done by the filmmakers.
Like Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns (though not nearly as
good), Thurman has a firm grasp on the key to her character: she's not a
vamp, she's a natural wallflower acting like a vamp--thus the act is that
much more extreme. Thurman pulls it off beautifully, but, in the end, even
she's not immune to Schumacher and Goldsman's camp. For a gifted scientist,
her master plan--to populate the world with toothed, tongued plants that
come straight out of Little
Shop of Horrors--is idiotic.
Bane (Jeep Swenson): Idiotic doesn't quite cover what is done to the
character of Bane, who definitely is the most ruined character in this film
treatment. In the Batman comics, Bane is Batman's ultimate challenge--not
only is he physically stronger than Bruce Wayne, he is also smarter. The
problem is that the venom which coarses through his veins makes him crazy.
In Batman and Robin, the only thing left of Bane comic fans know and love is
his bulk and the venom. Bane is nothing more than a generic, grunting,
intelligence-impaired, muscled henchman to Poison Ivy. The saddest thing
about the raping of Bane, he being a rather recent addition to the Batman
comic universe, is that most
mainstream moviegoers won't even know that anything has been done wrong.
Schumacher and Goldsman's wrongdoing do not end with the characters.
Their most heinous crime is the overwhelming atmosphere of camp, from Batman
pulling out a Bat-credit card during an auction to Mr. Freeze's bunny
slippers, polar bear pajamas, and freezer full of frozen dinners.
Schumacher has said that he wanted to "put some 'comic' back in comic book,"
but he forgets what comic book he's dealing with--Batman, which is a "comic"
book in name only. In camping everything up, Schumacher, who claims to be a
comic book fan, just reinforces the most widely held stereotype about
comics--that they're just for kids. The irony is, of course, that the film
Batman and Robin is more juvenile than any Batman comic you'd find on the
I can go on about what is wrong with Batman and Robin, but I must give
some credit where credit is due. B&R does boast the most impressive visual
effects of the series; effects supervisor John Dykstra (of the recently
closed Warner Bros. effects house) comes up with some very convincing for
Freeze's freezing weapons and Ivy's pheremone dust. Production designer
Barbara Ling provides another striking vision of Gotham, with its towering
buildings and statues. And, yes, I guess I can say something "positive"
about Schumacher's work--he's an equal opportunity exploiter. Not only are
we treated to a Batman and Robin suiting-up sequence filled with butt,
crotch, and chest shots, their female counterpart is similarly exploited
when she gets her chance to suit up.
The most telling indication of Batman & Robin's shoddiness is the
audience reaction at the screening I attended. When the lights dimmed and
the curtain rose, the crowd cheered, and it applauded the names of the five
main stars. When the film ended with the image of Batman, Robin, and
Batgirl running in front of the Batsignal, there was a smattering of tepid
applause, but mostly boos. Let the Bat-lash begin.