This is the fourth part of our ongoing ‘Batman Week’ series where we review several Batman films leading up to the release of Batman: Arkham Knight. To read the previous reviews and to check the schedule, click here.
(C) Warner Bros.
It’s quite hard to write a review for Batman and Robin without retreading on the ground laid out by previous reviewers. This film is renowned for being the train-wreck that derailed the Batman franchise whilst spitting out ice puns and blinding viewers with neon colours, but I’m going to try and keep this original.
In Batman and Robin, Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) are still disputing whether or not the bird-boy should be allowed to fight alongside the Caped Crusader. However, when Victor Fries/Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) teams up with Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) to destroy Gotham City, they will need the help of not only each other, but also trusty butler Alfred (Michael Gough) and their new ally Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) to save the day.
The plot of Batman and Robin is one of its biggest downfalls. There is an array of sub-plots going on throughout the film, one of which is substantially better than the rest, involving Alfred dying, which is the source of the film’s most heartfelt and character-driven moments. The main plot, however, involves Mr Freeze trying to steal enough diamonds to help save his wife Nora, whilst trying to plunge Gotham into a new ice age, and Poison Ivy enlisting the help of Bane to allow plants to take over the world. It’s bizarre that the two characters work together since their motivations are completely contradictory, and the plot is so rushed due to exposition-filled dialogue that it’s hard to pick up on their motivations. The plot is otherwise paper-thin, having no real drive aside from the villains and the aforementioned Alfred sub-plot, and ends up feeling like a series of clunky dialogue scenes leading up to the next dreadful action scene. However, I felt that the subplot involving Alfred’s deteriorating health was one of my highlights of the film. It is the only time where I felt for the characters, and a few minor plot conveniences not withstanding, prevents the film from being completely awful.
The characters are also very disappointing, and it is clear from the portrayal of such legendary characters that director Joel Schumacher has no respect for their comic-book origins. Batman himself is wise-cracking, witty and light-hearted – or at least is supposed to be – but anyone that has ever read a contemporary Batman comic or seen Burton’s previous films will know that Batman isn’t like that any more – maybe in the 1960s, but not in the 1990s. Robin is forgettable and isn’t half as charming as in the first film, and it’s surprising that the film is called Batman and Robin, since the only time they are properly united and working together is at the very end. Mr Freeze, as many reviewers before me have remarked, is dreadful, and once again nothing like the comics. I don’t mind a bit of deviation from the comics – Bane in The Dark Knight Rises worked for me – but when Mr. Freeze, an intellectually advanced scientist driven by passion, retorts cheesy ice-puns throughout the film, I have to put my foot down. Poison Ivy is closer to her comic-book origins, using her feminine allure to seduce her enemies into doing what she wants, but the portrayal of Bane here is simply awful. He was the man that broke the Bat, a feat very rarely achieved, but here is shown as a brainless brute, only good for smashing obstacles and brawling. It is clear that Schumacher has never read a Batman comic, or the representations of these characters wouldn’t be so abysmal.
Performances are on the whole terrible as well. Headliner Arnold Schwarzenegger is horrendous as Mr. Freeze, lacking any of the depth of previous villains of the franchise, and ends up being lifeless and solely there to vomit out poorly-written ice puns. Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy is mostly the same, with a surprisingly one-dimensional performance when considering her standout film Pulp Fiction had only come out three years prior to this. George Clooney – while still being easily the worst Batman – is less terrible than the villains. He manages to handle himself quite well during the action scenes, and when playing Bruce Wayne, is actually quite decent. My standout performer however is Michael Gough as Alfred. He is one of only two actors to weather the entire quadrilogy, and gets the most screen-time in this installment than in previous ones, even with his own subplot. He is one of the few performers that you can tell is actually putting effort in, which I commend.
From a technical standpoint, Batman and Robin is just as appalling as everywhere else. Joel Schumacher’s direction is worse than in Batman Forever by quite some distance, with even more of those godforsaken crotch shots and grappling hook shots than before. There is clearly not a morsel of innovation or effort here, and it makes the film even lazier than it already was. The score is one of the better elements of Batman and Robin, and although not a patch on Danny Elfman’s original score, manage to drag this film ever so little from the festering pit it dug itself into. The design of Gotham has been completely altered, even from Batman Forever, and now consists of mostly neon, nothing like the gothic city that has been shown previously, and it is really disappointing that the franchise was taken in this direction. The fight scenes are also poorly directed, rarely keeping up with the action, and it is clear that they take place mostly indoors to allow play-sets to be produced and sold.
The best word to describe Batman and Robin is ‘lazy’. It is lazily written, with a terrible and convoluted story, lazily acted, with the film’s highest-paid stars clearly not even coming close to trying, and lazily made, with a director that clearly doesn’t care for the source material or fans of the previous, far superior, films. Never before have I completely decimated a film in a review, but with one as lazy as Batman and Robin, I have absolutely no regrets.
I give Batman and Robin 3 out of 10.