I have held off on reviewing this, the last of my reviews of the 80’s/90’s Batman flicks for some time. My review of Batman (1989) was attacked by fans while Batman Returns (1992) attracted almost no interest. Batman Forever (1995) remains the most popular of these reviews, which confuses me.
Tim Burton’s Batman movie showed beyond the shadow of a doubt that a deeply complex and sophisticated film could be made based on a character popularized to most by the William Dozer TV program starring Adam West. The three sequels rode the success of that movie and the final outing was like a dying gasp of an idea that had run its course. This is due in part to the involvement of corporate executives and the glaringly obvious opportunity to make lots of money.
The movie isn’t really a movie at all, but a very long and painful commercial for other products. After Batman Forever was a roaring hit with moviegoers, Warner Bros. rushed a sequel into production. As Joel Schumacher worked on making one of the most spectacular films of that period, he was visited daily by representatives from every conceivable vendor or marketer who would take numerous photos of Batman and Robin, the Batmobile and whatever else was around in order to create replicas and collectibles. In fact, Schumacher was advised to craft the movie so that it was ‘toy-etic’ in vision and it really shows.
Batman & Robin trailer
Val Kilmer had intended to reprise his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but given that the studio wanted to rush into production, he was tied up with other projects and missed the chance. This led to George Clooney taking up the part. While he may be (to date) the most unpopular Batman ever, it impressive to learn that he was working on TV and on film straight through Batman & Robin. It’s just a shame that he is smirking throughout the whole movie, completely devoid of any emotion other than being amused by how bad it all is.
By sharp contrast, O’Donnell reluctantly came back to play Robin. His career was taking off at the time and he viewed another Batman movie as a project with not much to offer, but money and his agent were both very persuasive. Possibly the best actor of the bunch in this or the last film, O’Donnell clearly has reservations about being in this kind of thing, but he gave it his best shot. The character of Robin is given a surprising amount of development and even gets his own arsenal of weapons and gadgets. His redesigned costume closely resembles the one worn by Nightwing in the comic books, which is almost interesting.
Guest-starring with Chris and George is Alicia Silverstone who is so obviously out of her depth it’s hilarious. She is crammed into an unflattering rubber outfit and her chubby face is pursed at the viewer throughout… and I’m really not sure what to make of it. Is she meant to be sexy? She’s more of a wholesome character, so why is her ass all but spray-painted black and her bust pushed up? This is due to a major misconception of the film and one that makes it such a disaster.
The costume designers and Schumacher were of the opinion that the superheroes were sexually expressive abstractions of the human form (hence the nipples on Batman and Robin’s costumes). The outfits were designed to be incredibly erotic, yet on set Schumacher began each scene by shouting through a bullhorn, ‘Remember! We are making a cartoon!’ which begs the question… does he really understand what that means? Even though no one involved with the film saw anything wrong with the bulging cod pieces and nipples on Batman and Robin’s costume (‘Since when is the male nipple so taboo?’ Schumacher asked), when Silverstone’s Batgirl came to be made a bra was designed over her breasts and her uniform made less erotic.
As far as stunt casting, this movie suffers more than any of the previous one. Nicholson and DeVito are strong actors, so giving them a monstrous villain to play prompted them to rise to the challenge. That said, it was obviously the studios intent to draw in viewers with the big names on the marquee. Tommy Lee Jones obviously had no idea what movie he was in when cast in Batman Forever and Jim Carey made the best of it by rocketing into stardom as the Riddler. This time around, Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger were brought in to recapture the ‘magic’ of Batman Forever and it was a total backfire.
Story goes that Schumacher was so intent on Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Mr. Freeze that he claimed there was no movie without him. Seeing that he would be killing the film if he declined, Arnold accepted, but the strange fact is that he is barely even in the movie. Co-star Chris O’Donnell has said that he never did a single scene with Arnold and that most of the time Mr. Freeze is on camera, it is a stunt double. When he is on screen, Schwarzenegger mugs to the camera, camps it up and plays a buffoon. He could care less. Yet we are told that he is doing all of his nefarious deeds out of love for his wife, forever preserved in a floating tank. I wonder why, then, he chortles with laughter through the entire picture and makes ice/cold-related puns.
Additionally, Uma Thurman has little to nothing to do in this movie and once again, Batman and Robin look like man-shaped Popsicles, she is instead at her unsexiest. Don’t believe me? Her first ‘sexy’ appearance as Poison Ivy is done while performing a strip tease through a massive gorilla costume. All of the characters get several costume changes (for no real reason) and hers at one point includes a pair of what look like bulky gardening gloves with red tips painted on the fingers simulating nails. At the time, she was a major sex symbol, but you’d never know it from this flick. Her every move is accompanied by a cartoon-like jazz tune signifying sex which… is not sexy.
The entirety of Batman & Robin is slapstick and stunt spectacle, reminding me of a live show performed at an amusement park rather than an actual movie. The plot is paper thin, characters announce themselves with hardly any impact, ‘Hi, I’m Batman.’ ‘I’m Poison… Poison Ivy.’ etc… The script seems more rushed than any other part of the production which is telling as the movie looks insanely expensive.
During production, security took up most of the attention of the crew who were busy running everyone through a metal detector to confiscate hidden cameras. Each scene, from the opening fight in the frozen museum to the slugfest in the Turkish bath is an enormous set piece that bleeds money onto the screen, but it is so poorly performed and set up with absolutely no drama that it doesn’t matter. Added to this the tragic story of Alfred’s dying from a rare disease which coincidentally only Mr. Freeze can cure and I’m left throwing my hands up into the air with cluelessness.
Michael Uslan, the godfather of the Batman movies, has said that each of the 80’s/90’s Batman movies reflects a particular period of the comic book (Batman 1989 is a vision of the 1930’s Batman, Batman Returns 1992 is the 1990’s version, Batman Forever 1995 is an ode to the 1950’s and that leaves the 1960’s for Batman & Robin. I can see why he would say that s the movie is very camp, but it never really goes far enough into the realm of the absurd and silly to fully qualify. It’s mired in dark, poorly lit scenes, lousy special effects and uninspired acting. It’s clear that no one knew exactly what Schumacher wanted and just did their best to say their lines, collect their checks and scrub the stain of Batman & Robin from their souls.
The Batmobile, Robin Cycle, and whatever the hell else people ride in this movie are very well designed and stagger the imagination… but they also look like what they are, large scale toys. I give full appreciation to the designers for making these fanciful vehicles, but this one just looked far too silly.
I’d love to see the success of Batman & Robin, as I’m a big fan of this series. I saw the movie in England and nursed a scotch right beforehand which helped ease the impact… a little. There are so many places one can point a finger at here as to why this film is so poor, but for me the fault lies with the studio itself which pressured the crew to make a movie far too quickly and cash in while they could.
The less said about Bane, who sounds and acts like Cookie Monster, the better.
The sad truth is that a fifth Batman film, Batman Triumphant, was planned by Schumacher. This could have starred Nic Cage as the Scarecrow and seen Nicholson return as the Joker. It would be many years before a Batman movie would once again surface in the shape of Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins. A journey that ends tonight… so sad.
Yes, I am attending a midnight showing of Batman The Dark Knight Rises. Expect a full report soon.