Thursday, September 6, 2012

Batman & Robin (1997)

    In the summer of 1995, Batman Forever was released that brought Batman back to being more appealing to family audiences rather than the dark, gothic, and psychologically damaged Dark Knight we got with Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns. The financial success of Batman Forever meant that a third sequel was a go. Making loads of money off toys, video games, and McDonald's merchandise, Warner Bros. decided that they wanted to make even more merchandise with the next film. They even had toy companies design the look of the costumes, vehicles, and gadgets for the film.  And what better way to make more action figures than to add more characters. We got Batman. We got Robin. We got Mr. Freeze. We got Poison Ivy! Let's just toss in one more villain with Bane and another iconic Batman sidekick with Batgirl!  Where Batman Forever indeed had campy villains, Batman and Robin were taken pretty seriously. Warner Bros. wanted Joel Schumacher back in the director's chair and told him that they wanted it strictly family friendly and not to be taken seriously. Due to scheduling conflicts, Val Kilmer wasn't able to return as Batman/Bruce Wayne so Schumacher hired television star George Clooney to replace him in the cape and cowl. Chris O' Donnell returned as Robin/Dick Grayson. Michael Gough and Pat Hingle returned as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon. Arnold Schwarzenegger was hired to be the cold hearted Mr. Freeze. Uma Thurman was cast as Poison Ivy. Wrestler Jeep Swenson joined the super villain's trio as the back breaking Bane.  And sexy Alicia Silverstone joined Batman and Robin as Batgirl.  Already, people were getting worried by this strange line of casting. Batman & Robin opened in the summer of 1997, exactly two years after Batman Forever, and bombed horribly at the box office. Critics and fans alike called it the worst comic book movie ever made and a disgrace to the Dark Knight legend. So, how does Batman & Robin hold up after all these years? You'll just have to chill and read my review.

              There's a new criminal in Gotham City calling himself Mr. Freeze. Dressed in an armored suit to keep his body at zero degrees and  armed with a high tech freezing gun, Freeze has broken into the Gotham Museum to steal some diamonds that help keep his suit at zero degrees in order for him to survive. Batman and Robin crash Mr. Freeze's  diamond heist and Freeze freezes Robin, which will keep Batman busy so Freeze can escape. Meanwhile, Dr. Pamela Isley is upset that her co-worker Dr. Jason Woodrue is always messing up her botany experiments. Woodrue has a mad plot to make super soldiers out of hardened prisoners. He tests his Venom experiment on prisoner Antonio Diego. The Venom drug turns scrawny Diego into a huge hulking man wearing a luchador mask named Bane.  After discovering that Dr. Isley has seen what he's been up to, Woodrue pushes Dr. Isley into her experiments, which supposedly kills her and buries her underneath the floor of the lab.  Isley survives the ordeal and has turned into a femme fatale of sorts who has cracked and has a poisonous kiss. Now going by the name Poison Ivy, Pamela Isley sets her sights on turning Gotham into her own garden of evil. Seeing that the Dynamic Duo will get in her way, she uses her plant pheromone dust to make them fight over her. Poison Ivy sees a likely alliance with Mr. Freeze, who plans to freeze all of Gotham in search of a cure to save his dying wife who is cryogenically frozen.  Meanwhile at Wayne Manor, Alfred's niece Barbara Wilson comes to stay, discovers the Batcave, and decides to help out the Dynamic Duo by becoming Batgirl.

     I will say it now.  I actually enjoy Batman & Robin. There, I said it.  Is everyone right though that it is one of the worst comic book/superhero films ever made? Indeed they are. Just because I personally enjoy the film does not in any way, shape, or form make it an actual good movie.  Batman & Robin is what I like to refer as being an epic failure. It is a movie so outrageously terrible that I can't help but to be entertained by whatever the hell it is I'm watching.  This film is so cartoonishly hilarious to the point where it is still fun. Granted, it is a convoluted mess of a superhero flick, but it is one hell of an entertaining mess.  There were a few serious and heart felt moments that somehow managed to sneak into the film such as the scenes between Bruce Wayne and his butler/father figure Alfred Pennyworth. Of all the Batman movies pre Christopher Nolan, Batman & Robin has the most emotional Bruce and Alfred scenes.  There's an amazing scene where Alfred tells Bruce...

      " Death and chance stole your parents, but instead of becoming a victim, you have done everything in your power to control their fates. For what is Batman if not an effort to master the chaos that sweeps our world. An attempt to control death itself."

            There's also a scene that always makes me kinda tear up when Alfred is dying and laying in bed, Bruce sitting at his bedside. Bruce takes Alfred's hand and says "I love you old man" with tears in his eyes and Alfred smiles and replies, "And I love you too."   Just an amazing emotional scene. The Bruce/Alfred scenes weren't the only serious parts of Batman & Robin. Even the ice pun master himself Mr. Freeze had a few serious moments. There's a great moment when it is revealed that his wife, Nora Fries, is still alive and is cryogenically frozen in a tank that is located in a secret room hidden at his hide out.  We also get a scene with Victor Fries watching old videos of him and his wife when they first got married. And then there's a scene where he thinks his wife is dead and he begins to cry but the tear drop freezes . For a movie that was set out to be a straight up campfest, these serious moments while nice, also make people even more pissed off about the film because these moments should be the tone of the WHOLE MOVIE and not just snippets among a bunch of cartoon comedy.

                Mr. Freeze, like Two-Face, is a very tragic villain. He was just a regular guy who was a cryogenics scientist who's beloved wife came down with a rare disease and was dying. In an attempt to save her, he cryogenically froze her until a cure to her illness could be found.  An accident occurred one day where the cryogenics liquid got on him, mutating his body where he could not survive outside a subzero environment. He then creates a suit to keep him alive and makes a high tech freezing gun to use on anyone who tries to stop him as well as make Gotham as empty and as cold as he has become.  Before the '90s, Mr. Freeze had no origin story. He was just a guy in a suit who froze people with a freezing gun. In the episode "Heart of Ice" in Batman: The Animated Series, writer Paul Dini and director Bruce Timm finally gave Victor Fries a tragic origin story, which manifested itself into the comics and became part of the character's mythos.  While I liked that Schumacher kept true to Mr. Freeze's origin story and some what of his mission, the character became really over the top spirting out ice puns and laughing maniacially in the tradition of Two-Face and Riddler in Batman Forever. Even though it wasn't the Mr. Freeze that I knew and loved from The Animated Series, Mr. Freeze was one of the best and most fun parts of Batman & Robin aside from the few serious moments. His terrible ice puns made me laugh especially...

     "Tonight's forecast, a freeze is coming."

       "What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!"

        "Freeze in Hell Batman!"

                   While Freeze was enjoyable, the portrayal of Poison Ivy was way too over the top and a bit annoying.  I don't remember her actually having an origin story. In The Animated Series, she was just a botanist who had a weird immunity to poisons and toxins and wanted to kill anyone who didn't respect plants and the warm green Earth. Here, her origin story is very quick with no real build up. It's not like with Selina Kyle in Batman Returns where it had build up to her becoming the femme fatale Catwoman. Poison Ivy just came across as a weak copycat of Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman. I know some people liked Uma Thurman's portrayal of Poison Ivy, but I prefer Diane Pershing from The Animated Series.  All Poison Ivy did was give guys poison kisses, monologue way too much, tried too hard to be sexy, turn Batman and Robin against each other, and bark orders at Bane who she made her errand boy.  Oh and she got kicked around by Batgirl. Not much to really talk about. Where were the giant Venus Flytraps that try to eat Batman whole?  One thing I enjoyed about Ivy in the animated show was all the giant plant monsters she created. We're talking about a woman who made Human/plant clones to make it look like she had gone sane and had a family. We're talking about a woman who actually made Bruce Wayne a wife just to steal his money. We're talking a woman who poisoned District Attorney Harvey Dent.  We're talking an ecoterrorist, but sadly we don't get that here. All we get is a Catwoman wannabe who's half Rita Repulsa from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  Granted, this may have been what we'd get in the '60s television series if Poison Ivy was part of the super villains squad.

      And then we have Bane. A character who is one of Batman's deadliest enemies besides The Joker and Ra's Al Ghul. The Bane we get is nothing more than a Frankenstein/Solomon Grundy/Hulk hybrid who just happens to be named Bane. The only thing they kinda got right is the origin story that Bane was a life sentenced prisoner who was part of an experiment to make super soldiers by inducing a drug called Venom into their head, which would pump them up to being huge and destructable fighting machines. Bane in the comics and in The Animated Series is actually a very intelligent guy who has a plan to destroy anyone who he feels is a challenge to him, which would obviously make Batman a target. Lucky for us, we get to see the real Bane in The Dark Knight Rises in a few weeks.  I will say while heavily disappointing, the horrible portrayal of Bane in this film does make me giggle.

           One thing that constantly and has always annoyed me about Batman & Robin is the portrayal of Robin especially when he is under Poison Ivy's love dust. He is a fucking prick in this movie. He's okay when he isn't under the love dust. He's like any sidekick. He wants to be trusted and wants to also kinda be his own identity rather than following in Batman's shadow. This I can understand and tolerate. He hates that Batman gets the car, he gets the motorcycle. Batman gets the signal, he gets nothing. I get it and can see where the guy is coming from. He just wants Bruce to trust him. Just like Alfred tells Bruce...

     "Master Dick follows the same star as you, but gets there by his own course."

         Yeah, Robin made a bad call launching at Freeze, but he learned from it. Batman was a little too protective like a father or older brother would be because he doesn't want Dick to be hurt or killed. But once Robin is under Ivy's love dust, he turns into a total douche to Bruce and says that Bruce is jealous that Ivy wants him instead of Bruce. The constant back and forth of that really got on my nerves.  I do love the whole museum showdown with Mr. Freeze and that Batman and Robin popped ice skate blades out of their boots.

            The portrayal of Bruce Wayne was okay, but Batman was pretty bad.  It still entertained me and oddly fit with the cartoonish tone of the film.  I just wish that he was like he was in Batman Forever. He was just a billionaire who liked dressing up as a bat and fighting super villains with his sidekick Robin.

          Batgirl was another big problem I had with this movie.  While the Batgirl character is a decent character when done right, she fits better into television or animation than a 2 hour live action movie.  Plus, the portrayal of her in this film is all wrong. For starters, she is not Commissioner Gordon's daughter, she is Alfred's niece. This is a big plothole because Alfred is not supposed to have any living relatives as far as I know, which is why him and Bruce were so close. They were each other's only family even though they weren't blood related.  If Alfred had a niece this whole time, why didn't he mention it to Bruce or Dick? Doesn't make sense. There is also the whole thing of Batgirl being a redhead or a brunette where she is a blonde in Batman & Robin, but that wouldn't bother me being that Selina was a blonde in Batman Returns. With already being crowded with three super villains, another sidekick was just too much.  She just felt tacked on for the sake of more action figures. Also, why didn't they give her a bat cowl? Her action figure is wearing a cowl, yet in the movie she gets a female Robin mask. What the fuck? For someone who really loves to show off nipples on his heroes' suits, Schumacher could have given nipples on the Batgirl suit to satisfy the straight guys and lesbians of the world!  She was the only rubber ass that I actually wanted to see during the costume change.  And how the fuck would Alfred have the time to make her a costume anyway? It made sense making Dick a costume in Batman Forever, but he's laying in a bed for the last act of this film.   And why even bother keeping the Batcave a secret anymore when everybody who enters Wayne Manor can easily find it? Vicki Vale, Dick Grayson, The Riddler, and now Barbara. Sheesh, they should just post a sign up saying ENTRANCE TO THE BATCAVE. WATCH YOUR STEP.

            Speaking of suits, I hated the new suits for Batman and Robin. I prefer the suits they had in Batman Forever minus the nipples.  They also had some grey looking suits for the finale when they had no time to change before stopping Freeze. Even fucking Batgirl got a second suit when helping fight Freeze! More merchandise please Warner Bros.!

             I will say that some of the FX were done well, especially the freeze gun effect. It felt exactly out of The Animated Series and comics.  I still wish they gave Freeze a better suit with the red goggles. That was cool in the comics and animated show.

         The direction by Joel Schumacher was a mixed bag. While the film looked cool except for the over use of neon lights, everything felt jumbled up. Three villains. Three heroes. Alfred sick and dying. Batman and Robin fighting over Poison Ivy. And a few decent moments in between all the camp. Akiva Goldsman who wrote some parts of Batman Forever did a really bad job turning out a Batman script. It was all over the place and too campy. Batman Forever had a nice mix of seriousness and camp while Batman & Robin was more campy and less serious. It was a 2 hour toy commercial than an actual superhero film.  I did however love the opening credits sequence where the Batsignal turns into a block of ice.

           The acting was mostly bad with a few highlights. George Clooney was totally miscast. Clooney is a great actor when given the right material, but was just wrong for Batman.  He was an okay Bruce Wayne though. I would have liked to see Val Kilmer play the role again as I kinda liked his duality of Batman and Bruce Wayne. Chris O' Donnell got pretty annoying as Robin/Dick Grayson especially when under Ivy's love dust.  O'Donnell was also upset with the direction of the film so that may explain things. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a pretty bad Mr. Freeze, yet was very fun to watch with his silly ice puns. Uma Thurman was probably the worst in the cast as Poison Ivy/Pamela Isley. She was way too over the top to the point of annoyance and tried to immitate Michelle Pfeiffer. The late  Jeep Swenson was an abomination as Bane. Tom Hardy is a much much better actor to play Gotham's reckoning. Alicia Silverstone was pretty bland as Batgirl/Barbara Wilson. I do like Silverstone as an actress, but she was just wrong for this part and plus she didn't have a cowl except for riding that bat bike thing. John Glover was awesome in his small role as Dr. Jason Woodrue. Glover has played in two other DC Comics productions with being the voice of The Riddler in Batman: The Animated Series and playing Lex Luthor's father Lionel Luthor on the television show Smallville. We also get a cameo by rapper Coolio. Michael Gough was great as usual in his final performance as Alfred Pennyworth. And Pat Hingle did nothing as usual in his final cameo as Commissioner Gordon.

            Overall, Batman & Robin is a terrible movie, yet is mildly entertaining for all its awfulness. It is the best worst comic book movie as far as I'm concerned right beside Steel.  This may have ended this set of Batman movies, but also paved the way for the greatest Batman trilogy in cinema from 2005 to 2012.


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