Smith’s Verdict: *1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith
The best thing I can say about “Batman and Robin” is that it looks good. The sets, the locations, and even some of the effects help make Gotham City into a colorful, weird, wacky world that looks great. It seems as if director Joel Schumacher and his crew put almost every ounce of their budget into the production design. But unfortunately, this brings me to the film’s first failing: it’s overdone in its colors and cartoonish imagery to the point where it doesn’t even look like it should be Gotham City, meaning it doesn’t look like it belongs in a “Batman” story. But at least it matches the tone, which is more lighthearted and goofy (even more so than Schumacher’s 1995 predecessor to the saga, “Batman Forever,” which was a hit with audiences by playing to a younger demographic) to the point where it seems like a big-budget version of the campy 1960s TV series starring Adam West. Gone are the dark, complex aspects that made the original Bob Kane comic book series and Tim Burton film adaptations so compelling, because now we have a special effects extravaganza with no interest in diving into Batman’s world but instead showering us with exaggerated visual style and lots AND LOTS of cheesy one-liners (most of which centered on ridiculous unfunny puns). Even if you’re a fan of the series this is clearly trying to resemble, I still wouldn’t recommend “Batman and Robin.”
The film on its own is soulless and not much fun. You’d think such an outrageous environment our heroes live in wouldn’t be in a film this dull. There’s so much asinine action that it’s hard to tell what’s going on half the time and, more importantly, why. The characterization is close to nonexistent. The dialogue is godawful with all those lame wisecracks, puns, and double meanings constantly scattered all over the film and spouted out by all heroes and villains. And there’s a whole subplot that would be emotional if it wasn’t centered around a character with very little screen time and nothing in terms of character interaction. That character is Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, Alfred (Michael Gough), who seems to be dying from McGregor’s Syndrome. Not much is made of this subplot. It doesn’t seem to be psychologically hurting Bruce except for a couple moments when it’s simply referred to but hardly discussed. And it leads to a payoff that’s too easy to spot coming so that the whole thing not only becomes less heartfelt; it’s pointless.
George Clooney dons the cape and mask as Batman and the similar dark attire as Bruce Wayne, and if people thought they knew very little about Michael Keaton’s portrayal, I can’t imagine anyone knowing any more about Clooney’s. Clooney has the sardonic side down and has a great amount of dry wit, and to be fair, it’s not his fault the performance doesn’t work. He’s got nothing to work with.
Some of the film’s “dramatic conflict” (I use quotations to emphasize weakness) revolves around the rivalry between Batman and Robin (played by Chris O’Donnell). I liked Dick Grayson/Robin in “Batman Forever”; the character was interesting and his story was effectively handled to be taken even a little seriously. But here, constantly alongside Bruce Wayne/Batman, there’s no depth or growth in his character. Instead, he’s just an egotistical brat who mostly whines throughout the movie about how he gets very little respect as Batman’s sidekick. I guess we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, but I was wondering when Bruce Wayne would kick spoiled Dick Grayson out of Wayne Manor. And to make matters worse, he’s an idiot. That can only explain how he constantly must be reminded by Bruce that he shouldn’t fall for Poison Ivy, an obvious villainess. This is why Gotham residents will always call on Batman first instead of Robin.
Speaking of Poison Ivy, she’s one of the two main villains in “Batman and Robin.” Played by a lanky Uma Thurman doing her best to imitate Jim Carrey’s Riddler from the previous film, she’s a perfume-dispensing femme fatale who loves plants more than people (and even has a man-eating plant in her hideout) and contains a special poison that makes men fall for her and even kills them with her lips. She teams up with Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger, completely over-the-top), a scientist turned madman who wears a special freeze suit that helps him survive being permanently doused with some sort of “ice chemical.” He carries around a gun that freezes things and people, and his mission is to (what else?) take over the world. These two villains pair up to take down Batman and Robin and recreate their world in their opposing visions (I wasn’t quite sure what they were going to do with plants and ice; you tell me that).
Oh yeah, and I should also mention Alfred’s niece, Barbara (Alicia Silverstone). I’ll neglect the fact that she doesn’t have a British accent despite having lived in London, but she doesn’t have the slightest bit of personality. Her line readings are very stiff and there isn’t much for her to play with either, even when later in the film, she suits up as Batgirl.
When “Batman” is done right, it’s dark, gritty, and complex, but it’s also creative, clever, and compelling. “Batman and Robin” doesn’t even qualify for any of those six adjectives. It’s a goofy, clunky, colorful mess of a movie that reportedly even the makers of the film weren’t very proud of. In fact, there’s a DVD audio commentary by Joel Schumacher in which he talks about what went into making it and why he made the choices he made, and almost midway through it, he acknowledges the harsh criticism he received from fans and apologized for not pleasing them. He even takes the blame himself, stating that he, as director, had full responsibility. If a film is so disappointing that even the director can’t deny it, that’s saying something.