Batman and Robin (United States, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

With Batman and Robin, the fourth entry in the recent Batman movie series, the profitable franchise appears poised to take a nosedive. This film, which places yet another actor in the batsuit, has all the necessary hallmarks of a sorry sequel -- pointless, plodding plotting; asinine action; clueless, comatose characterization; and dumb dialogue. Sadly for all the batfans who have been waiting with baited breath for this one, Batman and Robin has become the latest blight on the long summer movie season.

Fetishists will probably love Batman and Robin. There are rubber nipples, crotch and butt shots as the dynamic duo (and later Batgirl) suit up, bikers and crooks decked out in kinky, Clockwork Orange-like regalia, and Uma Thurman dressed and acting like a dominatrix. It all goes nicely with the film's attempt at sensory overload. Director Joel Schumacher has taken Tim Burton's dark vision of Gotham City and shifted it into overdrive. This is a weird, wild, wacky world where gothic skyscrapers reach like twisted fingers into the clouds, and where the batsignal shines brighter than the moon. However, like the movie as a whole, this aspect is as briefly captivating as it is hollow and soulless. It quickly becomes clear that the picture's lone selling point is that it looks great, but, in an era when blockbuster budgets are routinely topping $100 million, that's no longer special.

Never has Batman been less believable or human. It's not actor George Clooney's fault -- he gives it a game try, but, really, his function is to provide a body to put into the costume. We see even less of Bruce Wayne's heart than we do of his face. Gradually, over the previous three movies, bits and pieces of Batman's character began to surface. Not so here. All attempts at development are obligatory, perfunctory, and not terribly convincing. The same is true of Chris O'Donnell's Robin, who comes across more as a spoiled brat with an ego problem than an integral member of an unusual family. Then, to further complicate matters, yet another cardboard-thin hero is added in the person of Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone), who equals her caped cohorts when it comes to a ready supply of wisecracks and a lack of personality.

In the previous Batman movies, the villains took center stage. First it was Jack Nicholson's Joker (Batman), then Danny DeVito's Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman (Batman Returns), followed by Jim Carrey's Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face (Batman Forever). Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman add Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy to the roster. These are the two least-interesting bad guys to date. Schwarzenegger, aside from looking like a cross between the Michelin Man and Robocop, appears totally confused about what he's doing. Sometimes he's in Terminator mode; on other occasions, he's chomping on a cigar like he's back in Last Action Hero. Meanwhile, Thurman manages to do a pale imitation of Carrey. Her character is essentially a female representation of the Riddler (scientific experiments gone awry give a mentally-unstable nerd extraordinary powers), only far less engaging. There's also a hulk of a creature called Bane (Jeep Swenson), who's reduced to playing Oddjob to Poison Ivy's Goldfinger. His fate is rather pathetic, which proves that it doesn't pay to be the henchman in a movie like this.

There's actually a poignant story behind Freeze. He's a one-time peace-loving scientist who became obsessed with saving his terminally ill wife, regardless of the cost. The forces driving him are, therefore, incredibly complex -- too complex for Schwarzenegger to convey effectively (wasn't there a point when Patrick Stewart was being mentioned for this role?) or for Schumacher to care about exploring. As a result, Mr. Freeze ends up being a frustratingly incomplete brute who's out to smother Gotham City under a blanket of ice.

Old friends like Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) and the ever-reliable Alfred (Michael Gough, gamely trying to give a serious performance amidst all this silliness) are back. Both of these men have kept the same face while the lead character has gone through three changes. Supermodel- turned-actress Elle Macpherson is one of many newcomers, but her role as Bruce Wayne's girlfriend is so small that she's reduced to a background decoration.

At times, Batman and Robin comes close to matching the tone of the '60s TV series. Only two things are missing: the on-screen cartoon captions ("pow!" "bam!") and an Adam West cameo. Meanwhile, anyone who comes to Batman and Robin expecting great action sequences will be disappointed. The fight scenes aren't interesting -- they're poorly choreographed, badly edited, and interrupted by too many one-liners. The "hockey team from hell" sequence is a perfect example: it seems to go on forever, but we're never really sure exactly what's happening (or why it's happening, for that matter).

Batman and Robin moves at a dizzying pace, yet goes absolutely nowhere. Somewhere between the quarter and mid-point of this film, things turn repetitious and tedious. We see basically the same fight scene re-enacted three or four times -- and it isn't all that impressive on the first occasion. We become numb to the glitz and glamour, but, looking beyond it, we see only a vacuum. In trying to put the "comic" back into "comic book", Schumacher has reduced Batman to the equivalent of a daily newspaper strip -- disjointed and painfully shallow. The character probably deserves more respect, but, in Batman and Robin, he doesn't get it. And, for that matter, neither does the audience.

Batman and Robin (United States, 1997)

Run Time: 2:06
U.S. Release Date: 1997-06-20
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1