Batman and Robin
Screenplay : Akiva Goldsman
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Arnold Schwarzenegger (Mr. Freeze/Dr. Victor Fries), George Clooney (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Chris O'Donnell (Robin/Dick Grayson), Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy/Dr. Pamela Isley), Alicia Silverstone (Batgirl/Barbara Wilson), Elle Macpherson (Julie Madison), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth)
How does the old adage go? Two's company, three's a crowd, and four is really pushing it?
Such is the case with "Batman and Robin," proof positive that only a select few movie series can survive past a third installment without going stale. Director Joel Schumacher (who reinvented the series in 1995 with "Batman Forever") pours on the same tricks thicker and heavier than ever, but all to no avail. Despite its lavish costumes, gargantuan sets, and technical wizardry, this movie is dead in the water.
Stepping into the shoes previously filled by Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer, George Clooney assumes the role of Batman alongside Chris O'Donnell in his second turn as Robin. One of the main complaints of the series has been that Batman is a bore as a character, and here he hits a new low. Clooney as an actor can't be faulted because the screenplay gives him nothing more than a few campy lines and some melodramatic moments with his butler Alfred (Michael Gough), who is slowly dying. At least Keaton was allowed to brood and Kilmer got to trade psychobabble with Nicole Kidman. In his best scenes, Clooney gets to argue with O'Donnell about why there isn't a "Robin Signal."
As before, the villains make the movie, and this time we are offered nothing less than Arnold Schwarzengger as Mr. Freeze. Freeze was once a nuclear physicist, but because of an experiment gone wrong, he has to keep his body at zero degrees in order to live. He maintains this temperature by wearing a huge, metallic suit that fuels itself by burning diamonds. Schwarzenegger's costume design is a delight to behold, and he makes the most of every cold-related pun known to man ("Chill!," "Cool," "I'm cold to your pleas").
Freeze, however, is not your typical maniacal maniac because he has some purpose behind his criminal activity. His wife was dying of a strange disease (conveniently, the same one Alfred has), so he cyrogenically froze her until he could find a cure. It is never readily explained what this cure is, but Mr. Freeze has to steal huge diamonds to complete some device that could save her.
Since the last two "Batman" movies had more than one villain, Schumacher also gives us Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, a good case of rampant environmentalism gone bad. Also the result of some messy lab work, Poison Ivy can kill with a kiss, and bring men to their knees with a special aphrodisiac dust. Thurman scorches the screen in her green spandex, leafy leotards, and blood red hair, making her one of the movie's few saving graces. She vamps it up in the cold style of the best femme fatales, using her alluring appeal to weaken her enemies, including Batman and Robin.
Of course, with two villains, we need more heroes, so the movie conveniently throws in Alicia Silverstone as Barbara Wilson, Alfred's wild niece who emerges at the end as Batgirl. Although Silverstone looks good in body-hugging black rubber, her character is at best ill-defined, and at worst, ridiculous. She more or less takes the same path that Robin did in "Batman Forever": she comes to live at the Wayne manor, shows her wild side by racing motorcycles and hanging out with Gotham's wild set, discovers the Batcave, and, at Alfred's bidding, dons a mask and joins the fun.
But despite all these new characters, the movie is lifeless -- all spectacle that is more headache-inducing than exhilarating. Most of the blame for the movie's limpness is the inept script by Akiva Goldsman (who also co-wrote "Batman Forever"). It is as disjointed and unformed as a screenplay can be, giving you the feeling that the sets were being built long before he had a finished draft. He pays only minor lip service to anything resembling plot or character, and instead strings together a bunch of action sequences that Schumacher directs with over-the-top gusto that results in more confusion than excitement.
A perfect example of the screenplay's weak idea of character: Bruce Wayne is dating a beautiful woman named Julie Madison (supermodel Elle MacPherson), yet they appear in only three short scenes together, only one of which they have any kind of conversation. I think the idea of Bruce Wayne balancing romance and secret crimefighting is a fascinating plot element that could be developed to give the movie some depth and feeling (not to mention eroticism outside of black rubber), but nothing is done with it. We have one scene where she tells Bruce she wants to marry him, then the whole plot line is dropped and never picked up again. Why even bother in the first place?
This only one reason why "Batman and Robin" suffers from a bad case of inertia. The filmmakers obviously don't want to go any deeper than Tim Burton did in his darker two installments, so they opt to go back to the glossy, camp style of the 60's TV show. Burton's style was more film noir than action movie, but at least it had some ambition. Schumacher did a good job breathing new life into the series two years ago, but instead of trying something new, he pounds us with the same effects: bright lights, frantic editing, MTV music, and so many close-ups of rubber-suited buttocks, crotches, and breasts that it becomes outright laughable.
Maybe Schumacher thought that if he numbed the viewers from the onset with his techniques, they wouldn't notice this movie is empty and void of life, despite its upbeat attitude. Let's hope he doesn'tdo the same thing with the inevitable "Batman 5."
©1997 James Kendrick