Saturday, September 27, 2014

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Batman and Robin (1997)

The other night as part of Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, we watched Batman and Robin, a film remembered so poorly that we couldn't find anybody willing to defend it. Here's the individual podcast. Our exalted host Nick had to do it himself. In this gem, Batman and Robin must fight on multiple fronts--not only Mr. Freeze, but also new villains Poison Ivy and her henchman Bane. Complicating things is the arrival of Alfred's niece Barbara, who has secrets of her own...

The Good

*The opening scene where Batman and Robin take on Mr. Freeze and his hockey-themed gang in a museum is entertaining.

*When Uma Thurman is in her Poison Ivy persona, she's not too bad.

*They had some nice tie-ins with Batman Forever,including seeing Two-Face and the Riddler's gear in Arkham Asylum and Poison Ivy and Bane having to run off the raver gang Robin fought when he stole the Batmobile in order to claim a new hideout. Robin invokes his family's circus act the Flying Graysons in a squabble with Batman as well.

*Chris O'Donnell is less intolerable as Robin this time around. Given the length of time implied to have elapsed between this movie and Batman Forever, it makes some sense that the character wouldn't be a teenager anymore and having an adult actor wouldn't be as obnoxious.

*They kept Mr. Freeze's more complicated and sympathetic back-story from the comics. Even though Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn't the best actor in the film, the problem with the character was his constant punning, not the character himself.

The Bad

Where do I begin? The movie was so poorly received the major Batman film series that started with Batman in 1989 ended and had to be rebooted by Christopher Nolan with Batman Begins years later. Not only rebooted, but rebooted in a Darker and Edgier way that repudiated the campiness of the Burton-Schumacher era. It was a straight-up Franchise Killer.

*So many butt and crotch shots of Batman and Robin, plus the infamous Bat-nipples and six-packs on the two. Given how movies often objectify female characters turnabout's fair play (and some of Myopia's female crew appreciated the view), but the way it was done was so groaningly unsubtle it was annoying.

*Campiness in limited quantities is funny. Campiness in the amount ladled on this film is just bad. The museum battle scene at one point featured Batman and Robin deploying ice-skates from their boots so they can engage Mr. Freeze's hockey gang on the ice. And the puns. So many puns. So many bad puns! I love groaner puns, but in moderation. This went way, way too far. Whether this is director Joel Schumacher's fault or the executives' fault I don't know, but either way it was very bad.

*Plugging in Batgirl the way they did was stupid. She's not British even though she's supposed to be Alfred's niece and a student at a British school, she's explicitly the daughter of his sister and not a great-niece (which would make more sense given the massive age difference between her and Alfred), and her disappearance from a big chunk of the film (so the viewer can be surprised she's a covert street-racer and her eventually becoming Batgirl is foreshadowed) could have been handled better.

Although her reasoning for being there is creative at least--Alfred apparently used his salary from the Waynes' employ to support her after her parents died and she wants to repay him so he can retire--she has absolutely no reason to think his situation is that servile and she just comes off as really rude. Alicia Silverstone is dreadfully miscast--she's not British, she doesn't seem to be in the physical condition needed to do the stuff she does, and even though Barbara's reason for being there is absurd, a better actress could have made her feelings more convincing. Could Keira Knightley have been a better Batgirl? She might've been too young at the time to (not creepily) have the romantic tension with Robin, but still.

*Per the Knightfall saga, Bane is not only a very powerful warrior but also very, very smart. In this one, he's basically Poison Ivy's semi-retarded henchman. According to TVTropes this is the studio bosses' fault and not Schumacher's--Knightfall wasn't that long before and they wanted to work Bane in somehow, so they basically replaced an established Poison Ivy minion with him. Children, this is why Executive Meddling is quite often a bad thing. The only thing they got right is that Bane is Latin American background instead of being Middle Eastern like in The Dark Knight Rises. However, the Batman animated series (which depicted Bane as this glorified Mexican wrestler with an obvious accent) did that better.

*In her deranged-scientist mode (when she's not being Poison Ivy), Uma Thurman is obnoxious and not very good. She's generally a good actress, so maybe really bad direction?

*The way Batman and Robin fight with each other, with Robin apparently honest-to-God thinking Poison Ivy actually likes him, is freaking stupid. If Robin were depicted as a teen played by a teen actor it might've worked--but played by the 20-something Chris O'Donnell it's obnoxiously bad. And the where Batman shuts down Robin's motorcycle so he doesn't try to jump between buildings and Robin screams at him as he flies away is unintentionally funny. But not that funny because then I might have enjoyed it.

*Where's Dr. Meridian, Nicole Kidman's character from Batman Forever? The end implied she and Bruce were now a couple, and since she knows he's Batman that's not going to be the kind of problem it'd be for anyone who isn't Catwoman. However, unlike Vicki Vale, she's gone without a mention. Instead he's dating this random woman and apparently has been for some time.

The Verdict

Let this franchise-killer lie dead and forgotten. 4 out of 10.

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