Batman & Robin

"Strength. Courage. Honor. And loyalty. On June 20, it ALL comes together..."

I can't forget, so you don't get to either.
With two well composed, dramatic and suspenseful Christopher Nolan Batman movies behind us, and another hitting theaters later this month, it can be easy to forget that there was a time when the Batman franchise almost died, under the irresponsible care of Joel Schumacher. The sordid history of Batman as a movie franchise began in 1992, when Warner Bros decided that Batman Returns had under-grossed in theaters. For the record, Batman Returns gross 266 million dollars, which admittedly makes it the second lowest grossing batman movie to date after Batman & Robin. Also to be considered however is that Batman & Robin was made in 1998 with a budget of 125 million, whereas Batman Returns was made on a budget of only 80 million. In short, while it didn't gross nearly as well as the first Batman, it was still undeniably a financial success. (If you're wondering, The Dark Knight is estimated to have grossed in excess of a billion dollars worldwide, almost 200 million dollars more than the first 4 movies combined). Warner Bros. decided that the reason Batman Returns did so 'badly' was because it was too dark and violent. They decided that they needed a more 'family friendly' approach to Batman, resulting in the sharp turn the franchise took into Batman Forever, and the fiery crash that is Batman & Robin.

Pow! Crash! Bang! Shamwow!
This is a problem that was endemic until relatively recently, and effected any movies being made that were in some way related to comic books, superheroes and in a similar vein movies based on games. Many people did, and still do, carry with them the notion that all comics, because they are created in the same medium as the Looney Tunes perhaps, must be for children. This lead to two things: many movie ideas either never seeing the light of day, or being treated with a general lack of respect, and in some cases movies being diluted so that they were 'family friendly'. For some perspective, Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics in 1939. That means that, in all likelihood by the time Batman Forever was made in 1995 that an unlucky portion of the original 'kids' who liked Batman in the '40s had already had time to die of natural causes in their mid 60s. While I won't argue that Batman and other superheroes often see great popularity with a younger audience, the notion that comic books could only ever be bubbly kid's fare is plain stupid. This attitude probably wasn't helped by the campy Batman TV show from the '60s, but Joel Schumacher and Warner Bros. still have no excuse.

The dynamic...trio.
While Batman Forever was certainly a ridiculous piece of crap of a movie, it looks like a restrained masterpiece compared to Batman & Robin, a movie which was as frantically stupid as it was awful. Val Kilmer does not reprise his performance as Batman (mercifully) but is unfortunately replaced with George Clooney, who though perhaps proficient in other roles, is catastrophically miscast as a Batman of any sort. Chris O'Donnell does reprise his role as Robin, and the hero squad is rounded out by Alfred's niece, portrayed by Alicia Silverstone (A performance that earned her a Razzie for worst supporting actress). For leading villains, we have the profoundly unsexy Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, and perhaps best of all, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. His merciless application of ice related one liners keeps the audience on the ropes for the duration of the movie.

Time for Diamond Ice Hockey Batman!
Though the plot is perhaps passing adequate for a completely superficial action movie, the script is patently ridiculous, and the whole movie is played with so much camp that you can barely stand it for more than minutes at a time. Despite the threat posed to every living person in Gotham City, and also the life of Butler Alfred, the only conflict the movie seems to care about is that of Batman and Robin quarreling over Poison Ivy, threatening their weird buddy cop relationship. Some people have posited a homo-erotic dynamic between Batman & Robin in the Schumacher films, but I'm not going to go there. I do admit that I find the weird butt, nipplesuit closeup sequences weird, but I find them weird for Batgirl too. Admittedly, her costume is lacking the weird, bulging codpieces of Batman & Robin's suits though, so it weirded me out a little less.

I was equally offended by the movie's portrayal of Bane. For those who don't especially know or care, the Bane of the comic books is actually a genius, who is admittedly addicted to the performance enhancing drug known as Venom. He was a planner, a mastermind, with his own agenda and reason for fighting Batman. In the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises we will presumably see this character. In Batman & Robin, Bane is a mindless ogre that follows Poison Ivy around mindlessly, punching holes in walls and beating up the good guys. Having him in this role begs the question, why include him at all? You already have two deadly villains, did you really need a third who brings absolutely nothing to the proceedings?

Ultimately I guess we should be grateful that this movie was as bad as it was though. A fifth movie Batman Triumphant was already in the works, also under Schumacher's direction, when Batman & Robin hit theaters. The lukewarm grossing and completely negative reviews tanked that project, and the failure of the lighter, campier Batman approach was what led to the return of a darker, grittier, more complex Batman. The only other positive that resulted from this movie was The Smashing Pumpkins song The End is The Beginning is The End, which actually went on the win a Grammy despite being attached to this steaming shitheap. I consider it a much better contribution to the musical world than Seal's Kiss from a Rose, which was prominently featured on the soundtrack of Batman Forever.

Having now explored Batman's dark past, I hope that we will all be able to enjoy a thrilling Batman movie later this month, lacking any of the absurd aspects I have explored here. I leave you with my summation of the movie, in its entirety.

That one about the dinosaurs doesn't even make contextual sense Mr. Freeze!

On Thursday I take a break from movies that hurt our feelings and review a comic movie that I'm pretty sure a lot of people missed out on.

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