Batman and Robin (1997)

Holy fishdicks, Batman!  This week’s B-Movie Enema feature is, without a doubt, one of the most reviled comic book movies ever.  This (along with another fourth movie in its franchise I’ll be talking about later this summer) effectively killed a relatively popular and very profitable Batman franchise.

Since it turns 20 this week, and this is a summer in which I’ll be focusing on those movies celebrating anniversaries, of course I’ll be featuring Batman and Robin.

But maybe a good question to start with is “Why?’  Why am I featuring this movie on a blog called B-Movie Enema?  Well, yes, most of the movies I write about could be labeled as a “B” movie – a label given to low budget movies (or, more classically, a shorter, cheaper movie to accompany a more prestigious one in the old double feature era of theaters).  Hell, some of them go much further down the alphabet than that.  I also look at the overall quality.  If the movie is overly melodramatic or exploits anything in any way, it could potentially fit that “B-movie” feel.  Granted, there are movies that are exploitation or go so over the top that they end up being silly, but there’s also a feel to the movies that gives your gut and brain all the indicators that you’re watching what can only be described as a “B” level movie.

That’s what we have here with Batman and Robin.  It’s pretty common knowledge now that director Joel Schumacher’s vision and ideas for his two Batman movies were far different than Tim Burton’s.  Schumacher seemed to not even watch Burton’s ’89 classic or ’92 sequel.  He decided that his Batman films would be much brighter, grander, and utterly insane in how it was acted – particularly by side characters and the villains.  Schumacher was going for more of the campy 60s style of the old TV version of the character.

All that led to what we have here – something of a beautiful disaster.  I make it very well known that I do actually like Schumacher’s first Batman film, Batman Forever, much more than Burton’s second, Batman Returns.  I’m not going to go too far into my reasons why, but a lot of it had to do with the script for Returns and Jim Carey’s kooky Riddler in Forever.  I still say that I was completely floored by Batman and Robin.  We saw the trailers.  We knew something seemed odd about it.  Never mind that George Clooney was now stepping into the cowl as Batman (marking the third Batman in as many films behind Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer).  That’s okay.  I’m a James Bond and Doctor Who fan.  I can handle casting changes.  The trailer should have warned everyone that this movie was out of its mind.

It’s like you’re walking down the street and you see a possibly homeless, but definitely unbathed, fella with a sign about how doomsday is coming and you need to repent your sins.  He’s missing important teeth and shouting crazy stuff at people while spittle flies through the gaps made by those missing teeth.  You know you shouldn’t let him stop you and force you into a conversation about whether or not you think you’ve already been saved by Jesus.  You know what will happen if you engage this person.  You just know what will happen if you give the fella any of your attention.  So what do you do?  You walk straight up to the guy and tell him you’ve not been saved by Jesus.  This turns into a pretty painful 125 minutes of your life you will never get back.

That’s what Batman and Robin is.  You walked straight up to that motherfucking box office, bought a ticket, you even smiled when you handed over your money, you went to the concession stand and ordered popcorn and a soda, and engaged the crazy to the point that you wanted to claw the skin off your fucking face.

And I’m about to do it all over again…  Roll film.

Right out of the gates, in the opening credits, I think it is a very worrisome sign that FIVE people’s names all appear before the title.  That’s way too many even for the fourth entry in a series.  That does nothing but tell me you have too many main characters.  And yes, also in the opening, we see the infamous nipples on the Batman and Robin suits, but I’m not going to harp on that.  It was a stylistic choice that doesn’t really fit in any aesthetic but the Schumacher Batman films.  I don’t really care that much about it.  I kinda understand that they were trying to make the outfits seem either skin tight or like they weren’t wearing anything.  I get it.  It’s dumb, but I’m not going to say anything else about it.

However, what I will harp on is what we see in the first five minutes of the movie – every other stylistic choice.  Allow me to provide some visual evidence:

So, just look at the above images.  Any one of the images looks cool without any reference.  They look cool in a production design concept or in a comic book.  However, images like these don’t look like they come from a movie that cost $125 Million to make.  That amount back then would have been something like $300 Trillion today.  Everything in this movie looks like it is taking place on a set.  Not just any set, but one put together by a high school drama class.  This is why this is a B-movie.  Nothing here looks like an actual flagship film for a studio for that year.

I’m a comic book fan, and I know that I like visual references to specific comic stories, or characters, or settings, etc.  However, what I also want is something that looks like an actual movie made by real people.  It’s like Studio 54 did a shitload of cocaine one night and farted out a completed two-hour movie that starred Batman, Robin, and Mr. Freeze.

Look!  There’s all the coke Studio 54 did before making this movie!

Okay, so I jumped right into one of the biggest problems with this movie, the look.  Oh, now what the fuck is this shit???

Seriously, this does not look like a real place.  It looks like a set for a bad movie.

Ugh.  Anyway, as I was saying before I was rudely interrupted by whatever insanity the above is, I dove straight into problems with the movie before I even explained what was going on.  Batman and Robin was called to a museum to stop a new villain named Mr. Freeze.  Yes, Commissioner Gordon exposes all that in his message – new villain who calls himself Mr. Freeze.  It’s a bad set of lines that is laughable.  Robin is too quick to go after Freeze when the villain makes off with a giant diamond and gets frozen.  To save Robin, Batman has to let Freeze go.  Now we are in some jungle castle place with Dr. Pamela Isley who is working on some sort of “venom drug” but another scientist she’s working with, Dr. Jason Woodrue (in the comics, a SUPER cool bad guy named the Floronic Man, but in the movie, a complete fucking waste), keeps leaving with her work to… somewhere.  She eventually sees Woodrue trying to sell the drug to the “Un-United Nations” (fucking sigh), and, to demonstrate it, pumps a serial killer full of the drug to make a musclebound monster named Bane.  But not the Bane who talks funny.  The Bane that is completely wasted in this movie (like Woodrue).

She gets discovered and when she refuses to join Woodrue because he’s perverted her research on plants for his schemes.  He throws her into a table that is loaded with snakes, plants, and chemicals.  She sinks into the ground because…  Whatever.  The end result is a super sexy villainess, Poison Ivy.

Told ya.

Now that we have her backstory, we learn about Mr. Freeze’s origin from security footage showing the then Dr. Fries trying to find a cure for an ailment that is killing his wife.  He has her cryogenically frozen and when an experiment went a little haywire, he falls into the freezing liquid that he happens to have a giant pool-sized vat of, and it turned him into Mr. Freeze.  He has to wear a suit, and it’s powered by diamonds.  Batman knows all this because the Batcomputer has ALL of this shit in its databanks.  How did he get all that info?

Whatever.  Let’s just move on.

As we move through the movie, a lot of people bag on George Clooney as a bad Batman.  I don’t know if I can go that far.  I think he was a better Batman than Bruce Wayne – kind of like how Val Kilmer was probably the best Bruce Wayne and not so great Batman.  He’s doing the best he can with what he was given.  He’s probably a tad too young in this part at this stage because he also needs to try to act as a father figure to Dick Grayson/Robin.  That’s another thing, Chris O’Donnell was a decent Robin.  Granted, we have no other frame of reference because he was the only Robin ever, but he fit the mold as an impetuous young adult who was often cocky and really hadn’t yet learned how to be the hero Batman was.  Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman were directly poorly.  They were these broad villains that were far more goofy than challenging.  Not once did I think these bad guys stood a single chance against, well, anything.

Really…  Who is this movie for?

I often wonder if these people knew what they were doing here.  I mean the actors – Schumacher didn’t know what he was doing.  Did they know this was an utter shitcake they were baking?  Did they really not think that?  Did they think that these movies were just for kids and adults weren’t watching these movies?  For that matter – who was this movie made for?  Because every word that Uma Thurman says as Poison Ivy is dripping wet with sex.  It’s like her head was replaced by a g-spot.  Then there’s Vivica A. Fox as Mr. Freeze’s “sexy assistant” who parades around in lingerie.

Then Alicia Silverstone shows up as Barbara…. Gordon?  Nope.  Just Barbara.  Alfred is her uncle.  He’s like 400 years old so how old was his sister when she birthed Cher from Clueless?  The picture of her mom on Alfred’s desk was taken in the 40s – for real, it’s black and white, and looks like it was taken just as World War II started.  So she’s like 200 years old and Barbara is in college.  Old enough to be lusted after, but way too young to be birthed by someone who was a 30 year old woman in 1940.  She talks like a bimbo whenever she has dialog with her “Uncle Alfred” and I suppose I could mention that this character will become Batgirl and is named Barbara, and is not related to Commissioner Gordon.  I can deal with a little changes to the characters, but this choice was weird.

A bunch of bullshit happens in this part.  Poison Ivy shows up in Gotham to speak to Bruce Wayne about funding or something.  He turns her down which gets her laughed at when she says that the plants will someday take over the world again.  He does invite her to a charity diamond auction that just so happens to benefit the Gotham Botanical Gardens.  This is also successful in luring Mr. Freeze for Batman and Robin to fight again.

The charity ball is insane.  Like it has people dressed up like jungle people and people in gorilla costumes and an auction for rich old men to buy women for the night.  It also has the somewhat famous reveal of the full on Poison Ivy look, which causes all the guys to go nuts for her, Batman and Robin to fight each other, and shows how Freeze can resist her charm.  It also leads to Freeze and Ivy teaming up and the insanely dumb reveal of the Batman American Express card.  Why describe it when the way too long scene can be watched below?

Doesn’t that not look like a real movie that cost a ton of 1997 money?  It’s utterly insane.  I don’t think I’ll even go much into the bad dialog, even for all the stupid cold/ice/freeze puns, the credit card, the crazy gossip columnist lady that appears throughout this movie, and the talking aroused vagina that is Poison Ivy’s mouth, I don’t think I can even get into that.

But it does help me illustrate my point that I don’t know who this movie is made for.  I mean, it looks like a comic book.  It’s colorful and has Batman and Robin and Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy and Bane in it.  The movie employs a bunch of Loony Tunes sound effects.  So I guess that’s for kids, right?  Right?  But then there’s Poison Ivy who is just made of every wet dream I ever had.  That’s probably for guys…?  Like teenagers who are just bursting at the hormonal seams?  Oh!  And Batgirl is around and she’s like the cute sexy.  So that’s for the parents who like their kids’ babysitter?

Goddammit, this movie tried to be for everyone, but ended up being for nobody.

Here are things that are in this movie too.

Elle MacPherson is in this movie too.  She’s Bruce’s girlfriend and wants him to marry her.  Alfred thinks Bruce should be a father to Dick.  On top of all those other subplots, Alfred is dying.  Yeah, in our big, bright, colorful movie, there’s a subplot about Alfred being sick and dying.  That also causes Bruce to reminisce about being raised after his parents died.  These are all lost in the bullshit of everything else.

You know something else that happens?  There’s a motorcycle race with Batgirl, Robin, and a bunch of other street toughs.  Coolio runs it.  Yeah, rap superstar from the 1990s Coolio organizes the street races in Gotham City.  The people who go and watch are girls in red wigs and leather greaser jackets, guys dressed up like the droogs in A Clockwork Orange, and people dressed like Beethoven.  What?  Was this sequence necessary?  Nope!  It’s just a giant middle finger from Warner Brothers and Joel Schumacher.

Have you ever gone to a KFC?  Have you seen those bowls they serve that is like a little bit of everything on the menu in one Frankenstein monstrosity of a dish?  They toss mashed potatoes and gravy in there because people love their potatoes and gravy.  Then they put corn in there because corn is generally awesome.  There’s chicken included.  Duh, it’s KFC, of course there is chicken.  Shredded cheese?  Yeah, that’s tasty.  Toss it in!

See what I’m getting at?  There are exactly 143 and two-thirds ideas in this movie’s screenplay.  People like Poison Ivy, throw her in!  People think Arnold Schwarzenegger would be a cool Mr. Freeze, get him on the phone!  People have dads and nieces and adopted sons who are their wards.  Make sure to have that family drama stuff in there!  Bane?  Why not!  Vivica A. Fox will walk around in lingerie?  Guys will like that!  Batgirl?  In!

But when they got all this signed, sealed, and delivered to the local high school auditorium sets, everyone showed up and asked, “So, do we get scripts for this or something?”  That’s when they realized there were no scripts, and no real plans.  All they had were toy contracts and Taco Bell kids’ meals to fulfill.  All of a sudden it became this:

“I’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake…”

Back to the actual movie.  At this point, about 90 minutes in, Poison Ivy thinks she’s killed Freeze’s wife to push him over the edge to make him want to take over the world.  She wants him to kill everything in a big ice age and let her restart life by way of a Garden of Eden like thing… I think?  I don’t know.  She’s evil.  He’s mad.  Bane is there.  This is a supervillain team-up sort of made in heaven.  Batman and Robin realize Freeze’s wife is still alive and can maybe help him help her.  They also found out that Alfred is dying from the same thing she is.  Maybe they can also help Freeze help Alfred too!

Meanwhile, Barbara figures out the password on a CD that Alfred asked her to give to his brother in India.  That unlocks all the secrets of Batman and Robin in a neat little animation that is goofy as shit.  Batman and Robin go to fight Freeze, Bane, and Poison Ivy who have taken over the Gotham Observatory to freeze the whole city.  While they are off to do that, Barbara finds her way into the Batcave where a computerized Alfred welcomes her and tells her he’s prepared her a Batsuit.  Not sure when he ever would have had the opportunity to craft her a skintight Batgirl suit perfectly set to her measurements, but whatever.  No.  Not “whatever”.  What the fucking fuck?  So she, without any training of any kind, aside from the ability to drive a motorcycle super fast, is now a superhero?  At least Dick was an acrobat with enough muscle and pluck to win in a fistfight.  She has nothing.  She still talks like a bimbonic piece of jail bait.  Oh…  Wait.  That’s her appeal here.

Guys…  This movie might not be very good.  I was originally holding out hope this might turn around and I see that one thing I didn’t 20 years ago, but I don’t think that piece of the puzzle exists.

Nope. That puzzle piece most definitely does not exist.

Batgirl and Ivy fight.  Stupidly.  Ivy is defeated when she is kinda eaten by one of her venus fly traps.  Then there is witty dialog between Batman, Robin, and Batgirl as they become best of friends to stop Mr. Freeze from putting Gotham on ice. They get to the Observatory and figure out how they can realign the satellites positioned in orbit to reflect sunlight back into Gotham to melt the ice.  That’s a thing here – space satellites that can be used to melt ice.

While Batman fights Freeze, Robin and Batgirl are able to kick the tubes that are feeding Bane all that venom juice and disconnect him.  He immediately shrinks down to his original skinny self.  Batman uses the sunlight reflected from all these orbiting satellites to save Gotham by firing a sun laser through the city which surely fried everyone who came in contact with the beam.  Batman just murdered Gotham City.

Freeze sets off some bombs causing the observatory to come crashing down.  When the Dynamic Tr… Trio…  The Terrific Trio?  The Tit-tastic Three?  The Terrible Title Characters?  Anyway, when they find Freeze dying from exposure to temperatures above zero degrees, Batman offers to help him find a cure for his wife which will help Alfred as well.

Wait.  Batman doesn’t help Freeze, but asks him to help him and tells Freeze he saved his wife.  Was he going to let Freeze die if he didn’t agree to help Alfred?  He did nothing to help Freeze get cold again.  Even after Freeze gave him the cure for Alfred’s disease, Batman didn’t act with any haste.  I think Batman was kinda okay with Freeze dying slowly and painfully in the relative heat.  Holy fuck, Batman.  You’re a goddamn murderer, Bruce.  You just need to sate your goddamn bloodlust.  You monster.

Anyway, Alfred is saved.  Freeze goes to Arkham and shares a cell with Poison Ivy.  He promises that will be a living hell for her.  Batman, Robin, and Batgirl agree to be crime fightin’ partners and thus begins the long, ongoing adventures of our trio of caped crusaders as the run toward us, ready to spring into action to save Gotham City because I’m sure Warner Brothers was exceptionally proud of this movie and pleased with the box office receipts!

Okay, so this ended the Batman franchise until Christopher Nolan came along and breathed new life into the character and the superhero genre as a whole.  I can remember seeing this movie in the theater.  I was there for the very first showing.  I was there with mouth agape, wondering, begging when this movie was going to get better.  My best friend, Andy, kept saying, “Any minute Jack Nicholson is going to pop out as the Joker and make this better.”  He said that like fifteen times during the movie.  Personally, I know I was so disheartened.  I felt betrayed by DC and Warner.  I thought they believed me to be a child.  A child who needed a cartoonish, two-hour toy commercial slammed into my face.  They didn’t think grown-ups were watching the Batman movies.  Maybe DC and Warner kinda thought maybe adults were driving the sales of tickets, but Joel Schumacher certainly did not think that.  He thought all the camp from the TV Batman show was what we liked the most about the character and that’s what we wanted to see in the movie.  It’d be one thing if it was subtle and almost a satire of that, then you might have had something.

Watching the movie now, I admit that I mostly remember my frustration over how the movie played out, but I can look at it slightly differently.  Oh, it still sucks donkey anus, but I’m not as mad at it as I used to be.  One thing about this movie that surfaces for me now is how a series of things occur in this movie, but nothing actually happens.  It reminds me of how me and some of the other kids would play at recess.  First you do this.  Then that happens.  Then this other thing over here is going to happen.  I am going to go over here and figure out what this guy is up to.  You go over there and get knocked out.  We all fight the bad guys.  Those are all things that can take place and require some semblance of a “scene”, but when you piece it all together, it’s just a bunch of kids running here, there, and everywhere.  That’s Batman and Robin in a nutshell.  They are just a bunch of people in goofy costumes running here, there, and everywhere.  There’s no actual plot that threads them all into an actual cohesive story.

It’s all just a commercial to sell some toys, soundtrack CDs, and kids’ meals.

We now live in a world of superlatives and internet opinions.  Guys who spend their nights writing online are all assholes.  Trust me.  But everything is either overly loved or overly hated or so “meh” that it makes people overly hate it.  I know I wasn’t the biggest of fans of Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman, and Dark Knight Rises had some serious plot hole problems.  No matter the varying degrees of dislike I have for those three movies, every time I see someone going off about how those movies were simply the worst superhero movies they’ve ever seen.  I just want to punch them in the face with a wadded up poster for this movie.  This isn’t the worst Batman has ever been.  Go find some of the Italian and/or Turkish Batman ripoffs made back in the 70s.  This isn’t even the worst American superhero movie that’s ever been made.

Oh…  I will be visiting the movie that gets that distinction later this summer.

For next week, what do you get when you mix Mad Max with Rocky Horror Picture Show with a dash of Xanadu and give the hero a flying motorcycle and bad special effects?  Megaforce!  So come back around and see what I think of the Barry Bostwick/Michael Beck/Persis Khambatta action spectacular!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s