Batman & Robin (1997)

The moment has finally arrived. This weekend saw the release of The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s final installment to his epic, game-changing Batman franchise and with it a chaotic few days of good news and bad. The good news is that (in this viewer’s eyes) the final film fully delivers and more on what has become one of the greatest film trilogies in cinematic history. The film debuted with 249 million dollars worldwide and counting, making it the 3rd highest debut for an opening weekend and the highest for a non-3D movie (suck it post-converted Avengers!).

The weekend unfortunately has also brought with it tragedy in the form of a mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. The act is equally unspeakable and devastating. The theater to many is like a temple, a place for people to come together and share in amusement. The fact that someone would destroy the sanctity of that amusement with such a heinous display of selfishness, immorality and pure unjustifiable evil is unbearable.

I was hoping to have finished off the Batman posts last week as a lead in to the opening day’s premiere. However between a much needed beach vacation, the post-vacation scramble to catch up, and the business of working at a theater for a movie like The Dark Knight Rises time is not something I’ve had in bucket fulls. Throughout the week I’ll be posting the last of the Batman run including a full (and very spoiler-filled I’m sure) review on The Dark Knight Rises and featuring a new Batman header by our own Adam Baldwin.

When we last left the franchise Batman had defeated the likes of The Joker and Catwoman but couldn’t defeat his greatest nemesis yet: Joel Schumacher. The studio had scrapped Tim Burton’s Gothic, Frank Miller-esque version for a more family friendly, “campy” model. As I stated in the Forever post the film has a lot of opportunities for a more serious tone and disappointingly chooses to neglect them. The 1997 follow-up on the other hand is a total disaster: both production wise and box office wise. It can also be an extremely guilty pleasure.

Immediately following Batman Forever‘s heavy box-office debut in 1995, Warner Bros quickly commissioned a sequel with director Schumacher and writer Akiva Goldsman. Val Kilmer was ditched for rising ER star George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell reprises his role as Robin. The rest of the casting went bigger. The top billed Arnold Schwarzenegger sinks his teeth and proceeds to chew (or perhaps mangle) the scenery as Mr. Freeze, Pulp Fiction‘s Mia Wallace herself, Uma Thurman, hams it up as the venomous vixen Poison Ivy and Clueless superstar Alicia Silverstone squeezes into the suit of Batgirl.

The entire production was a tangled mess. O’Donnell claims to have never met Schwarzenegger until the opening night premiere of the film. Despite having numerous scenes together all of Schwarzenegger’s dialogue and action was shot separately from the other actors and Clooney and O’Donnell actually spend the majority of their time chasing the stunt double for Mr. Freeze. The script essentially became a 2 hour toy commercial. One evening Schumacher was presented with a series of new toy designs for snowbound Bat-vehicles known as the Bat Blade and the Bat Sled. Schumacher said “These vehicles aren’t in this movie” to which the merchandisers replied “They are now”.

The set was a total free-for-all. Clooney and O’Donnell compared it to being in a circus. Supposedly every actor and actress in Hollywood was bringing their young kids to the set to watch the filming and therefore the sets and locations were constantly overloaded with people. Could you imagine attempting to pull off the cheesiest of one-liners in a unbearably hot and suffocating costume all the while seeing Tom Hanks and his kids standing by and taking pictures? John Glover, who plays a diabolical scientist responsible for Poison Ivy’s transition, said Schumacher would scream before each take “Remember people, this is a cartoon”. This pretty much gives you an idea of what direction this film was consciously heading.

The plot is pretty much non existent. Mr. Freeze wants to cover everything in ice, Poison Ivy wants to cover everything in plants and somehow they feel their plan will work even better when merged together. Ivy has a brute of a sidekick, Bane, who tromps around like a brain-dead gorilla. Quite a step down from the near genius, South American mercenary we’ve come to know from the comics and Nolan would deliver in Rises. Ivy also has a love potion #9 that sends Batman and Robin head over heels for her and constantly at each other’s throats. And Wayne Manor’s resident butler Alfred Pennyworth (the late, great Michael Gough) is dying of a disease known as McGregor syndrome just as his long lost niece Barbara arrives. In no time at all Barbara discovers the Batcave and is clad in her own voluptuous Batsuit.

As notorious as this movie is for temporarily killing the Batman franchise and sitting in the middle of Jingle All The Way and End of Days as that triple threat that killed Schwarzenegger’s career, I actually find this movie much easier on the eyes than Forever. It is by no means “good” but it borders on “so bad that its good”. The abundance of ice and cold related references “Your not sending me to da coola” “Freeze in hell, Batman!” “The Iceman Cometh” are the best fodder for a drinking game. You would be hammered within 30 minutes. Uma Thurman is incredibly hot in her Poison Ivy gear and reason enough for anyone to watch it once. Clooney, god love him, makes the best out of catastrophe. His delivery of lines like “She’s trying to kill you…Dick!” is so tongue-in-cheek that you know deep inside he’s laughing along with you. And a small handful of action scenes actually sort of hold up, in particular the opening sequence in which Batman and Robin “air surf” away from an exploding rocket ship.

The film failed critically and in a summer full of blockbusters was overshadowed by the success of movies like The Lost World, Men in Black and Face/Off. We were thankfully spared the third follow-up Batman Triumphant which would have had Clooney or Kurt Russell as Batman, O’Donnell and Silverstone again as Robin and Batgirl, and the trio would have taken on The Scarecrow (John Travolta, Kevin Spacey, Viggo Mortensen, Nicolas Cage and Marilyn Manson were all in contention) and Harley Quinn (Madonna, Sandra Bullock and Selma Blair were considered). It would be 8 years before the Caped Crusader would soar again.

-John

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