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Batman & Robin (1997)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

BATMAN & ROBIN (1997)

Starring: George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Chris O'Donnell, Alicia Silverstone

Written By: Akiva Goldsman Directed By: Joel Schumacher

The Short Version

Behold the death of a franchise.

Behold one of the worst comic book movies ever made.

Behold one of the worst Big Hollywood movies ever made, period.

Behold nipples on the bat suit.  (But only for the dudes.)

On second thought, don’t bother beholding anything. If you see Batman & Robin, run like hell.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

E-Z CHEEZ.

Crap in a can.  How much can this film’s creative team get to stick to the wall, I wonder?


Pairs Well With...

NATTY ICE & MAD DOG 20/20.

“Natural” for Poison Ivy, “Ice” for Mr. Freeze, and “Utterly Nasty” to cover everything else… followed up by day glow ingestible antifreeze to make you forget the whole thing happened.  (You’ll still have the residual headache, though, so the experience is preserved.)

“There's just something about an anatomically correct rubber suit that puts fire in a girl's lips.”

“Why is it that all the beautiful ones are homicidal maniacs? Is it me?”


I have sat through some of the most horrendous crap ever put to film and marketed to the general public.  Bloody Murder is a lobotomy on a platter.  Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy makes the basement of a pachyderm house smell like a flower garden.  Skyscraper is a dental procedure in a box.  But those flicks are cheap.  If you really want to go for the day glow fecal gusto, you need to have the moxie to waste over a hundred million dollars in the process.  Battlefield: Earth couldn’t do it.  The remake of Rollerball couldn’t do it.  Joel Schumacher’s second trip to the Bat Cave, though?  Ka-Ching!

Or, as Robin might say, “Holy egregiously godawful toxic waste product, Batman!”

Batman & Robin is, without a doubt, one of the worst comic book movies ever made, and one of the lousiest pieces of hundred million-plus fare ever coughed up by Hollywood.  Just three chapters and eight years off the heels of The Last Great Film of the 1980s – you know, the one that singlehandedly reinvented the comic book movie genre – Batman & Robin completely destroys its own franchise and stains the resumes of everyone involved.  A failure of vision, of direction, of writing, and of just plain audience awareness, it’s no wonder that this steaming day glow pile rests firmly at or near the bottom of so many critics’ lists.

Tim Burton’s original Batman flick played less like unreality than it did like alternate reality, and it proved that genuinely interesting human characters could inhabit the costumes of superheroes and supervillains.  Time was taken to explore those characters and the world they inhabited, the actors playing those characters totally bought into the concept, and the results were just as thought provoking as they were entertaining.  Next to none of that happens in Batman & Robin.  Instead, a ton of crap is tossed at the wall, and none of it sticks.  Characters turn into caricatures, snappy dialogue is replaced by cheap puns, quality is discarded for the sake of quantity, and greatness gives way to garishness.   Displaying a total disregard for everything that made the first movie in the franchise an instant classic (thanks in at least some part to studio pressure), director Joel Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman instead appear to be torn between emulating the campy television series from the 1960s or drawing their cues from Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders… but they’re definitely sure that day glow, batsuit nipples, and free flowing hormones are where it’s at.

Had the object been to make a parody, there’s a glimmer of possibility there.  Indeed, some people try to slog through the tedious experience of Batman & Robin by treating it as exactly that.  Unfortunately, it’s not a parody, and despite all of the garish colors and the goofy dialogue and the constant sexualization (be it auditory or visual), Joel Schumacher has somehow managed to make his hundred and a quarter million dollar light show boring.  Utterly… excruciatingly… boring.

Can this really be the same director who so ably took the pulse of the audience for The Lost Boys?  Sure, the script is terrible, but on a project like this, a director isn’t exactly powerless to influence how things go with the writing.  (Or on any project, really.)  Later, Schumacher would say that he was under pressure to make the movie more of a marketing platform for toys, but that can only hold so much water in a flick that is so blatantly horny.  Whatever the reason, he just can’t establish a pace with this flick, and even during the frequent action distractions, there’s just no life at all to the picture.  (Maybe that’s why he insisted on putting nipples on the bat suits: so people would have a reason to keep staring at the screen.  And yes, that was Schumacher’s decision… though one can’t help but notice that he did not put nipples on Batgirl’s suit.)  Ultimately, the major blame for the failure of Batman & Robin must lie with the man in the big chair... though I can’t help but feel sorry for him.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, of course.  As noted, the script is unbearably awful.  Sure, this one’s got a plot, but that’s all it has going for it.  Far too many major characters are tossed into the mix, and they all suffer from poor development.  (Being carried along a plotline conveyor belt is not the same as character development.)   Poison Ivy’s supposed motivations are fascinating and could have easily carried an entire film; instead, she’s turned into an evil killer slut stereotype and nothing more.  Mr. Freeze, too, could have been interesting, but why bother with that when simplistic pun-slinging vengeance is so much easier?  Bane?  Bah.  Make him a human gorilla and call it a day.  As for the heroes…  Comic book fans (who should understand by now that movie studios don’t really care about preserving the integrity of the stories they love, especially since the conventional wisdom is that most movie goers never read the comics anyway) will recognize the start of Robin’s split with Batman, but it’s very lazily written and shunted into the story ham-handedly despite being a major plot axis.  Batgirl is total disaster even if one accepts the alteration of her origin story, and Batman himself…

For the most part, I hold the cast blameless for the debacle at hand.  They’ve been given a terrible script to work with, and the direction isn’t helping anyone.  It’s easy to want to chuck veggies at Arnold Schwarzenegger here, but really, he’s just playing the role exactly as it’s written, and unlike some members of the cast, he’s decided to wholeheartedly jump into said role with the full-on abandon you’d expect from the guy whose career took off with Conan the Barbarian.  Sure, the puns gets really old really fast (Akiva Goldsman apparently doesn’t understand that 80s/90s action one liners are supposed to come one at a time and in measured doses), but he’s just doing what he’s been paid for, and I can respect that.  The same goes for Uma Thurman’s horny Mae West routine, which get really tiresome after very little time.  (I didn’t get mesmerized by it like many others do; your mileage may vary.)  She’s just doing what she’s told and earning her paycheck.  Alicia Silverstone (whose part was slashed after she gained weight during filming, even though Schumacher publicly protested the move, which is one reason I don’t want to blame him for everything) does her best, and Chris O’Donnell – whose hopes for a proposed Nightwing spinoff died with the failure of Batman & Robin – also puts in credible work given the crap he’s reading. 

But there’s just no excuse for George Clooney.  After Batman Forever, Val Kilmer didn’t want to come back (and Joel Schumacher was reportedly happy to see him go), but even understanding that a recast of the role was unavoidable, Clooney just never belonged in the bat suit, no matter how big his Hollywood stock was at the time.  He spends the entire movie looking bored out of his mind, and he reads every line of dialogue as though he’s reciting a phone number.  (Some people can make this work.  He can’t.)  In later interviews, Clooney would say that he thought the script was terrible, but to me, that’s a cop out: he’s getting paid like everyone else – more than most – so he should at least pretend to do the work.  (Quick poll: how much garbage would you enthusiastically act through for a few million? Yeah, thought so.)  He further said that he decided to play Bruce Wayne as gay even though the character really is not, but personally, I’m not buying that from the man who also said that the one souvenir he wanted to bring home from the production of Batman & Robin was Elle Macpherson.  Even if one does take his declaration at face value and read the character that way (it’s possible if one tries, and I’d be okay with that save for the following fact), Clooney still delivers a terrible performance – by own comments, on purpose – and there’s just no excuse for that.

Audiences agreed, of course, and despite pulling in nine figures at the box office, Batman & Robin was and still is a resounding failure.  The franchise died, spinoffs were scrapped, and nearly everyone involved disowned it.  I’d ask why the studio bothered spending a hundred and a quarter million (before marketing) making a movie which, according to hundreds of declarations afterward, most of the people involved thought was going to be crap from the get-go, but I know better.  In the end, the only things bigger than the budget are some studio executive’s ego and his (always his; never her) staff’s promises of riches on the way.

Bottom line, Batman & Robin is a poorly written, badly directed, and generally unwatchable disaster.  As not just one of the worst comic book movies ever made but one of the worst Big Hollywood movies ever made in any genre, this flick is a complete waste of time for all but the most determined of audiences, and can only be recommended to that special category of moviegoers who take the phrase “This is the worst movie ever!” as a challenge.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, December, 2013


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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