PSA: Batman And Robin (1997), or The Death Of A Franchise

2 07 2009

Batman died a hard death in 1997. One of my favorite DC characters of all time, I had followed the Dark Knight from his humble origins as a humble crime-fighting caped crusader in the 30s and 40s to his current incarnation as a deep, brooding anti-hero. I’ve seen the artists and writers of the comics and the films throughout the ages change the character to fit both exemplary and shameful artistic decisions. I have looked at his entire career up and down, and with enough verve to shake a city I can tell you that this Batman I have seen today is the most bastardized, eccentric, stupefied, and incorrigible version of Batman I have ever seen.

In ’97, when the world was young and ignorant, this movie came out of the shoot and changed my life forever. I was a wee lad when I first saw it at the tender age of 11. I remember seeing the spectacle in a small squalid theater in East Texas and thinking that it was pretty good, not great, and certainly not as good as the first two. Looking back on it, I was probably more impressed with the fact that we were going to see a movie in theaters, which was rare for me in my youth, because there’s NO WAY I was being objective at 12. Much like the kids flocking to the second Transformers movie right now, I didn’t really understand just how AWFUL it was then. Now, as an adult, and having watched this film extensively, as well as acquiring a new-found appreciation for the cinematic incarnation of Batman after having seen The Dark Knight, I realize that Joel Schumacher really blew it this time. He blew it for a franchise, he blew it for himself, and he blew it for the fans. And I realize that he has since apologized, and has gone on to making more uninspired garbage in his own domain, away from comic books, but this was something monumentally insipid at work here.

I’m not even going to do a synopsis here, as is my normal routine. Let me just say that this is a direct sequel to Batman Forever featuring returning cast member Robin and new recruit Batgirl as they try to stop Gotham City from being taken over by Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane. Now, instead of what these characters are doing in the film, their emotional arc, or their motivations, let me instead offer you some snippets of powerful dialog from this film:

Police Officer: Please, show some mercy!!!

Mr. Freeze: Mercy? I’m afraid my condition has left me COLD to your pleas of mercy!

Mr. Freeze: ICE to see you!

Mr. Freeze: What killed the dinosaurs? The ICE Age!!!!

Poison Ivy: I am Nature’s arm. Her spirit. Her will. Hell, I am Mother Nature!

Batman (while brandishing a credit card called Goth-Card that has the Bat symbol on it. The expiration date is Forever!!!!!!): Never leave the cave without it! (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Mr. Freeze: If revenge is a dish best served COLD, then put on your Sunday finest. It’s time to feast!

Mr. Freeze (trying to guess Poison Ivy’s name when they first meet): Let me guess, Plant Girl? Vine Lady? Huh? Hand over the diamond Garden Gal, or I’ll turn you into MULCH!

And my personal favorite-

Robin: I hate to disappoint you, but my rubber lips are immune to your charms! (!?!?!?!??!?!?!)

THAT’S the kind of movie this is. The kind that thinks that puns are hysterical, the kind that uses rubber lips (???) as a plot point, the kind that actually features Batman brandishing a credit card with NO expiration date. This is the badlands of comedy, the wastelands of comic book movies, and the bottom of the barrel when it comes to quality. Somehow everything is a spectacle, but nothing is spectacular. The hugeness of such a franchise film is severely undercut by its amateur and kid-oriented style.

Schumacher says that he used the archetype of the 50s era Batman as the basis for his Batman, and I can see how that would have fucked him up. It’s no excuse, but it’s at least a reason. For anyone who has read the comics, the 50s brought Batman into a kookier, more sci-fi direction. In an effort to compete with Superman’s ever-growing cast of embarrassing super-villains (Mr. Myxlplyk, anyone?) and flat-out insulting character developments, Batman had to resort to some pretty degrading stuff to keep in demand. Going into space, getting a super-dog, and becoming deputized (!) were just tips of the iceberg with that era. But who looks at something kitsch like that and seriously expects it to do well for a MASSIVE audience? Nobody’s combing through portfolios in Hollywood right now looking to find the right guy for the star of Speedy the Alka-Seltzer Boy: The Movie!!! Nobody’s hiring Darren Aronofsky to do a 3 picture deal for Archie and Jarhead: The Legendary Journeys! And Schumacher must certainly have known this. The studio who pressured him to making the characters more action-figure friendly must have known this. Everyone knew it, but they just decided that people will go to see it anyway, which they did, but not to their glowing expectations.

The acting is bad, across the board. Nobody stands out as bad more than anybody else. I’ve tried in vain to find out who was the worst in the cast, and while Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze might win for the most horrible lines ever uttered anywhere at any time, George Clooney wins it for his subdued and impotent portrayal of a HERO. While Chris O’ Donnell wins it for the most whiny and ineffectual sidekick, Uma Thurman wins it for the most over the top villain for using the phrase “CURSES!” in a big budget Hollywood movie. It’s a clusterfuck, and I know this isn’t Shakespeare, but these actors shouldn’t have checked out BEFORE the action started, and they shouldn’t have been there JUST to collect a paycheck.

I’d go on, but I would never stop. I’ve always had a secret anger for this particular film. While I generally regard it as one of the unintentionally funnier movies I’ve ever seen in my life, and I still try to catch it when it comes on, it simultaneously pisses me off by reminding me that I was robbed of more Batman movies then there currently are. Who knows how good those films might have been, but I could picture at least one or two other films to come out before Batman Begins changed everything. But, alas, Batman and Robin killed the franchise for a number of years, and while it has since recovered, I’ve always had a lingering bit of resentment over the years. Now that it’s out I can be free!!!! So boo to Schumacher, boo to the cast, crew, and studio that begot this putrid little piece of excess, but yay to Batman for recovering in the new millennium. I give Batman and Robin 2 rubber lips out of 10. What, is that low rating too COLD for a movie of this caliber!?!?!?!

Tomorrow I return with another review from Japan! That’s right; it’s time for Wild Zero!!!




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