15 October 2000 | The_Movie_Cat
A pain in the ice.
Strangely enough, that's one ice-related pun that Mr.Freeze doesn't use in this film. Though it does adequately describe the movie. What was I thinking, watching Batman & Robin for a third time? Even worse, what was I doing actually starting to enjoy it?
Yes, there's something endearingly awful about a film that fails on almost every technical level. But it wasn't always so. The first two films in the franchise, anchored by the strong, and much undervalued lead of Michael Keaton, were enjoyable pop-art excursions by Tim Burton. The first, still by far the best, allowed Jack Nicholson to ham it up amongst retro stylings and the music of Prince. The second, Batman Returns, was a less successful effort to homage German expressionist cinema, the darkest of the four films, and struggled slightly under the weight of three villains.
The lesson wasn't learnt, and the usage of multiple baddies has been a fixed staple ever since. With the third, Batman Forever, the flat acting of new bat Val Kilmer was coupled with Joel Schumacher's garish direction and Chris O'Donnell's irritating Robin. Akiva Goldsman was now the writer, and any sense of depth had given way to trite puns and disjointed set pieces.
And so it was that everything that was symptomatically flawed with the series was expanded upon and magnified for the fourth, and by far the weakest, instalment. George Clooney has accepted a lot of the blame for this film, a humble admission but unfair. While he's clearly miscast as both Batman and Bruce Wayne, he doesn't give a bad performance per se. Rather, it's his back up that lets the side down. Uma Thurman (am I the only one who doesn't think she's that good-looking?) has a great time overdoing it as Poison Ivy, but she's joined by Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. Schwarz, not exactly known for his acting skill, is unrecognisable under his costume, so what's the point? He gets to call Batman "Batunbuuurg", refers to Robin as "Buuurd Bouy" and only has 100 lines in total. The fact that 26% of these lines are lame puns on the word "ice" that even a two-year-old would struggle to find funny is even more deplorable. And when you hear Freeze tell Batman "Yew arr not zending mee too da cooola" the urge to use the video's "stop" button is almost insurmountable.
Bane makes up the trio, a monosyllabic muscleman in a gimp mask. A completely unnecessary addition, he offers nothing to the plot and goes largely forgotten. The introduction of wonky-mouthed Alicia Silverstone as a fatuous Batgirl character is also grating. And why doesn't her costume come fitted with Batnipples like the rest?
Tiny traces of amusement can be gleaned from Ivy's dialogue, with her urges that her "garden needs tending" adding some form of adult tone to the humour. However, it's unrelenting innuendo - "I'll help you grab your rocks" - does start to wear thin very quickly. I did smile at Batman's cashcard: "I never leave the cave without it"; and it's also nice to see some small references from other films. Even if it is just a glimpse of the Riddler's costume from Forever, some guards paraphrasing Cobra or some street bystanders dressed as Clockwork Orange Droogs. In fact, the idea of a Batman film as completely OTT comedy send-up may have worked, were the rest of the humour more sophisticated. "It's the hockey team from Hell"; "So this is where you hang out"; "I'll cancel the pizza"; oh, how lame and functional the dialogue is!
The film wraps up with a rather pathetic plot contrivance, and George having to dish out bland platitudes. "Not all heroes wear masks"; "to give life... that's true power". Oh, it really is abominably bad. Batman & Robin exists as a classic example of the Hollywood system folding in under its own weight. However, the universal slating this one got neglects one factor: while the least successful, it still made over $230,000,000 at the box office. I wonder how many people would be satisfied with "failures" like that?