Batman and Robin: The Trainwreck to end all Trainwrecks

Hey Everybody! Welcome to another review at Flickmuncher.com. I apologize for getting this review up so late. Things have been particularly crazy this last week. I will be putting up my Jungle Book review tomorrow at the usual schedule.

Today I’m going back in time to look at the movie that singlehandedly changed an industry and is widely recognized among movie-goers as a singularly unusual achievement and will forever be remembered both by those who worked on it and those who watched it. So without further ado, I give you Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin.

Hmhmhmhmhehehehaheeheeehahahaha ohohohohoho heheheeehehehe, ahah-hah-hah!

Excuse me while I catch my breath [wheezing].

My apologies for that opening line of hideously written laughter. I have a tendency whenever I watch this film to fall into episodes of Jokerish insanity. For the sake of all of you out there I will try to avoid this happening again. But I make no promises!

So what about this film inspired me to become a full-blown psychotic(which, for those who know me, doesn’t take that much doing)? Well, let’s take a look at the story first.

The film surrounds the adventures of our titular duo as they fight crime throughout Gotham City, whose artists seem strangely obsessed with neon paint for some reason. A new supervillain appears, calling himself Mr. Freeze(Arnold Schwarzenegger) who plans to freeze Gotham and hold it for ransom. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a botanist by the name of Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman) appears with a desire to eliminate all living animals [read: people] from first Gotham “and then THE WORLD!” As if that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that Batman’s faithful butler Alfred (Micheal Gough) is dying from a degenerative disease right as his niece Barbara shows up on Wayne Manor’s doorstep. On top of all this Robin(Chris O’Donnell) has decided he is tired of living in Batman(George Clooney)’s shadow which leads to a division between our dynamic duo.

I first saw this movie in 1998 while on a trip to Washington D.C. with my Grandpa. I was six at the time and my exposure to film at that point was largely limited to Disney flicks, old World War II films, and Westerns. So I was watching television after a long day of seeing the sights and Batman and Robin was on. Being a young, impressionable lad I completely ate it up. I loved the neon colors and semi-gothic CGI sets even though I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening on the screen. Looking back on it now almost twenty years later though, I appreciate this film in an entirely new manner.

Batman and Robin has a reputation among many movie-lovers as an abomination that should never have come into existence and has no redeeming features whatsoever and helped to ruin a much beloved franchise. It is a film that is so terrible, sooo glorious in how bad it is that, strangely enough, it can actually be entertaining at times. But first lets look at the stuff that is legitimately terrible.

Let’s start with the action. As a super-hero movie you can expect a fair amount of action and boy is the action in this movie terrible. Batman and Robin fly around the screen like amateur trapeze artists. You can even see the wires in several shots. Now I’ve seen wirework in action movies done quite well. The X-Men franchise is a great example. Another thing is how, in the opening sequence of the movie, the Dynamic Duo is fighting Mr. Freeze and his goons in a museum that has been completely iced over. What starts as a rather mundane action sequence turns into a bizarre—yet no less violent—hockey game that uses a ridiculously large diamond as the puck. I feel sorry for Canadians everywhere who probably had to pick their collective jaws off the floor from the absurdity.

It doesn’t get much better going forward. There’re only three other major action sequences all of which feature the same boring wire-work and fake punches that are uninteresting to watch.

Then there are the subplots. Oh, the many, many subplots. I’ve already given a rundown on some of these in the story summary so I won’t waste time by repeating myself. To be clear, I’m not against subplots on principle. In many cases they can be quite useful in enriching the overall narrative and adding moments of characterization that the main story wouldn’t normally allow for. However, too many subplots can cause your story to lose focus and become less engaging for the audience. Such is the case with Batman and Robin. The subplot with Alfred is understandable because of how it ties back into Mr. Freeze and his attempts to find a cure for the disease afflicting both his wife and Alfred. But the Robin, and Batgirl subplots really add nothing to either the plot or the characters. In fact, I’m pretty sure Robin’s subplot makes him look worse as he ends up acting more like a petulant child than the Batman’s reliable partner. And as for Batgirl, why was she in this movie again? I’m serious, I honestly can’t think why she would be in this movie.

It doesn’t help that Alicia Silverstone’s is barely given anything to do beyond look cool and be Batgirl which is no fun for us as an audience. Speaking of acting though, that’s another thing that’s terribly lacking throughout this movie. Most of the cast knew how bad of a movie this was and so most of them just sound like they’re reading lines from a script and that’s because…they are just reading lines from a script. This is the movie where George Clooney famously quoted after filming wrapped, “Well, that was a disaster.”

The one bright spot in all of this is Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. His puns in this film are the stuff of legend. Remembered by movie-goers long after the movie is over.

Yes they are absurd and corny to listen to but Schwarzenegger delivers them with such conviction that I’m personally convinced he was the only one having fun filming this movie. He’s like that kid who thinks, “Oh my gosh, I’m actually in a Batman film” and then makes the most out of everything he’s given. He just wants to enjoy himself in spite of how terrible the part was written.

Contrast that to Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. She has arguably as many puns as Freeze does but she just looks bored in her delivery. On top of Thurman’s delivery is the notion of Poison Ivy as a character which basically makes her into a pretty eco-terrorist with little to no motivation for actions like attempting to kill Nora Freeze or seducing Robin or Batman. It’s similar to my issue with Batgirl. Why is Poison Ivy in this movie? What does she add that couldn’t have been accomplished with just Mr. Freeze? I will admit though that I was glad she was admitted for one reason:

John Glover who plays Dr. Woodrue is AMAZING! When I rewatched the movie for this review I had to pause the video because I could not stop laughing at his psychotic scream when he kills Pamela Isley. He falls into the category of being so over-the-top crazy that if this was a comedy, he would be the funniest character in the entire film. For that matter, he is the funniest character and he’s only in the film for two minutes.

Then there’s Micheal Gough as Alfred. I feel bad for the poor man. He was with the Batman franchise right to the end when Joel Schumacher drove it straight off a cliff. He’s since passed away, but I can only imagine what it must have been like watching something that he put so much time and effort become a parody of itself. In any event he still attempted to bring a modicum of dignity to his performance as Alfred and I respect his tenacity if not the results.

Finally, there’s the set design and to be honest some of it actually looks quite interesting with the gothic underpinnings that Gotham became famous for with Batman ‘89. However, this was done at a time when studios were doing everything, especially backgrounds and environments in complete CGI, probably resulting from the success of Independence Day which came out a year before this. And to be honest, there are some shots that are so terribly rendered that they are almost painful to look at because you can tell right off the bat(hahaha, bat-pun, heeheehee. Ahem, excuse me) that everything on screen was generated in a computer. The big deal with this is that CGI is dependent on you as an audience member accepting what you’re seeing on screen even when you know it isn’t real. It’s a visual type of “suspension-of-disbelief”. That’s why movies like Avatar work so well. When you cease to accept it, then the CGI is completely pointless because you’re no longer engaged in the experience.

Conclusion:

So is Batman and Robin a terrible film? Absolutely! But I don’t think that means its entirely without merit. No movie is completely terrible just as no movie is completely perfect. Citizen Kane, widely regarded among movie critics as the best movie ever written has a major flaw. The titular Kane says his final word, “Rosebud” on his deathbed. Everyone spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out what that last word meant. The only problem with this is that if you watch the movie, no one was in the room to hear him say that last word, making the entire story a moot point.

Batman and Robin is an awful film but I think its biggest crime is that it is just boring. Beyond a few bright spots that I mentioned earlier, it just is uninteresting. Yet those bright spots still exist, just as the flaws in Citizen Kane still exist.To deny that fact would be completely hypocritical when deciding what makes a movie worth our time.

Also, I think fans and casual movie-goers alike owe this film a debt of gratitude. Its well known that Batman and Robin was a box-office bomb that killed the Batman franchise as well as superhero movies in general for the next five years. But people forget that at the time Superhero franchises weren’t about the movies; they were about how many toys they could market from those movies. This movie effectively killed the idea of superhero movies as large toy commercials and when they did come back, we got the X-Men, Spiderman, The Dark Knight Trilogy, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Would any of those have happened if Batman and Robin had been a hit? I don’t think so. At least, not as we know them today.

So the next time you see a super-hero movie that you’re really enjoying and then see someone bash Batman and Robin you might want to remember that you owe the existence of that good film to a movie you might hate. I certainly will, and for that I will always hold a special spot for this candy-colored trainwreck of a movie.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see a therapist for these psychotic episodes!

What do you think of Batman and Robin? Let me know in the comments below or contact me on twitter @Lightwielder524. Have a great day and, as always, May the Flick be with You!

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