Today is my birthday. I am 26 years old. For the last few years, I’ve had two traditions on my birthday: one is to wallow in self-pity thanks to my lack of a professional career, and the other is to rewatch a bad movie and review it. Since I have a good job now (ka-ching!), I guess I’m stuck with writing the third Glutton for Punishment. The first GfP was Phantom Menace. The second was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. For the third Glutton for Punishment (as if you had to guess with the picture above), I’m taking on Batman and Robin.
Let’s get right down to the Austrian elephant in the room – Mr. Freeze. Just so, so much of him is wrong in this film. While older iterations of the character were pretty goofy, at the point the movie was made Mr. Freeze had been crafted into a complex character with a truly heartbreaking backstory. He was a villain you could empathize with, one whose reasons for crime could possibly be justified, at the very least understood. Batman the Animated Series in itself had solidified Mr. Freeze into a well-rounded foe for me personally. And yet somehow, Joel Schumacher took an antagonist with real depth and compelling motives and turned him into a pun-hungry Austrian who loves watching kitschy claymation sequels in his polar bear pajamas and forcing his henchmen to sing along while Vanessa Williams hit on him.
There are some small, very rare moments when Arnold shows subtlety. I’m talking under 10 seconds for the whole movie, but they are there. The problem is that Arnold will always look and sound like Arnold, even when you put 5 lbs. of glitter on his face. Even when he isn’t hamming it up more than Spider-pig, he’s still Arnold “talk with a wurst in my mouth” Schwarzenegger. This was a doomed role from the very minute he was cast.
Schwarzenegger isn’t the only odd casting in this picture. After all, why would Alfred have an American niece… who lives in England? Sure, she could have been raised in America and then sent to England for college, but come on! Of course, the accent isn’t close to the worst part of Barbara … well, I was going to say Barbara Gordon, but she’s not Barbara Gordon. She’s Barbara No-Name, the Oxford-drop out with no personality. And that makes me angry. Bruce Banner angry.
You see, Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl is my favorite superhero. Unlike Batman and the Boy Wonder, Barbara doesn’t take on her alter-ego for vengeance. She grows up watching heroes like Batman and her dad fight injustice in her city, and she wants to be like them. She’s smart, capable and gutsy. Even after the events of The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon continued to be a beacon for justice as Oracle. I grew up loving her portrayal in the Batman animated series, and even now she remains my hands down favorite comic book hero. And that is a big reason why this movie pisses me off so much! Alicia Silverstone sucks in this film, right down to the bad fight scenes. Her hee-yah after every karate move is so reminiscent of Anakin saying yippee. That is a bad thing, people.
Here’s a good question … why is Poison Ivy so set on the earth freezing? Most plants can’t survive in snow, and even the plants that her DNA melded with were tropical plants. It just seems like a strange combination of villain team-ups. I will say this much about the movie – Uma Thurman’s heart was in the right place. Honestly, if there was a better script and her costuming and make-up wasn’t so … Schumacher-y, she could have been a great Poison Ivy. Unfortunately, with the script and direction the way it is, she just adds to the stupidity that is this film.
There’s also this seducing sexuality Thurman’s Poison Ivy would be sort of fitting to the character … but not to a kids movie. Everything else about this movie (from the cartoonish sets and costumes to the “all’s well that ends well” ending) screams family friendly Batman EXCEPT for Poison Ivy and her bad sex/plant puns. For instance, when Arnold says he needs to get more diamonds, Ivy replies, “I’ll help you grab your rocks.” Really? Hand job jokes? Have we really come to this? A worse treatment happens to Bane, and I’m not just talking about his forced mutation. No, it’s just awful that a whole generation knows Bane as a Nacho Libre/Frankenstein breeding error.
Robin in Batman and Robin makes Robin in Batman Forever look good. While the ruse is thin, Robin in Batman Forever almost passes for an actual teenager. The more traditional colors and design of the Forever Robin costume helped us hold the suspension of disbelief that Dick Grayson was under the legal drinking age. Batman and Robin gave Robin a darker, edgier costume, which completely smashed the illusion of youth. Just today I realized what was going on – Schumacher was trying to make Robin into Nightwing, including the Boy Wonder pushing away from his mentor. It’s not the worst idea in theory, since Chris O’Donnell did look the right age for Nightwing, after all. The issue is, they pushed the character into Nightwing persona without having him earn the title of Nightwing. We don’t see Robin actually successful in fighting crime; even in Batman Forever, he got captured. In the first fight against Mr. Freeze, he almost dies. So, when Robin starts demanding his own Robin signal, you don’t empathize with him … you want to tell him to shut up.
I guess we might as well talk about the special effects. Let’s just argue that the special effects were impressive at the time. They aren’t good now. Have you watch the “Robin air surfing” scene lately? I distinctly remember them praising that scene on the back cover of the VHS tape – now it just looks sad. This proves something I’ve believed for a long time – it really doesn’t matter how good your effects are if you’re movie isn’t well-written and acted. Someday those effects will look like crap, and you won’t be able to hide behind them. The lesson: WRITE GOOD MOVIES.
On the accidental plus side, George Clooney running in the rubber Batsuit is one of the funniest things in all cinema. He kind of wobbles, which doesn’t really say intimidating dark knight of vigilante justice, does it? On top of that, his tone through out the whole movie is slightly frustrated boredom. Sir, I know (of) Michael Keaton and you are no Michael Keaton. And the movie really bashes you over the head with theme of family, to the point where Bruce tells Dick that when Dick was talking about trust earlier in the film, “You weren’t talking about being partners. You were talking about being a family!” We’re a family, don’t you get it? It’s the theme of our kid friendly storyline, dammit! I don’t care that we have absolutely no chemistry, you will love me even if I have to non-act at you forever. FAMILY!
Having a Batman movie with an Alfred storyline could be good in theory, but not when it’s done this poorly. Not when you give him MacGuffin’s disease. What would have happened if Alfred had gotten sick when the Riddler was running rampant … use the brain drain device on him? Jim Carrey him back to health? I’m just saying, it’s pretty damn convenient that the villain they redeem at the end of this movie just happens to be the one scientist to have cured Alfred’s disease and just happens to have the precious antidote with him just in time for Bruce to get it to Alfred. Oh, and Alfred is cured immediately. Because terminal illness work like that. I’ve gotten over colds slower than that. Yes, it’s a comic book movie, but they can’t hide behind that excuse. I won’t let them.
The costumes are pretty horrifying. While most remember the bat nipples, I am more horrified by the terrible trio’s costume change between Poison Ivy’s last fight (their regular costumes) and the big showdown with Mr. Freeze (ice themed costumes). What this meant for the studio was more versions of the action figures, which meant big bucks. For ME, it meant Batman, Robin and Batgirl felt it necessary to go change into something a little more festive instead of immediately going to save the world. Gotham citizens could have perished in a most gruesome and painful death, but the superheroes needed to look their best, right? Of course, this is a movie that features a bulldog freezing solid as he pees on a hydrant, so good taste is rather rare in this picture.
And this is all after the bat credit card of this post’s title. I’d go into just why this scene is so maddening, but I think the Nostalgia Critic did that well enough. While it’s not even the most offensive moment in the movie, the bat credit card … thing … summarizes what’s wrong with the whole movie – it’s really, really stupid. There’s a place for kitschy Batman stories in this world, but I don’t think that place is film. Some non-canon comics are fine, and even Batman – the Brave and the Bold had some really good episodes, but stories need to be written well no matter what their level of silliness. Even with some of the bigger mistakes made in this film (Arnold’s casting, for instance), this movie still had some potential. After all, the dynamic duo already had their origin story in Batman Forever, so they could build on that in some way. I still say Uma Thurman would have made a good Poison Ivy if the writing and direction weren’t so abysmal. And Mr. Freeze is a great character when he’s not played by Turboman! Batman and Robin had some tiny nuggets of potential in there that were dashed to the dogs.
As we get closer to The Dark Knight Returns hitting the big screen, I’ve heard naysayers criticizing both of Christopher Nolan’s previous Batman films. I know they aren’t for everyone, but can we all just take a moment and count our blessings? After all, Joel Schumacher will never touch the Batman again.
Happy birthday to me.