Welcome to the Waiver Wire’s EVERY BATMAN EVER MARATHON. In the weeks leading up to the release of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ I will be watching and analyzing every feature film based on the Caped Crusader. The Batman film franchise is an old one with roots stretching all the way back to film serials produced in the 40′s. The first feature film came about in 1966 and our love affair with The World’s Greatest Detective has continued on ever since. Check back every Wednesday for the newest installments and I encourage you to join in and do the marathon with me. Here’s the schedule (click on the date for past installments):
Intro: 5/23; Batman (1966): 5/30; Batman (1989): 6/6; Batman Returns (1992): 6/13; Batman Forever (1995): 6/20; Batman & Robin (1997): 6/27; Batman Begins (2005): 7/4 ; The Dark Knight (2008): 7/11; Recap/Rankings: 7/18; The Dark Knight Rises (2012): 7/25
Batman & Robin (1997)
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Pat Hingle, Michael Gough
Plot: This film has more subplots than a soap opera so let me start with the very basic plot. Mr. Freeze (Schwarzenegger) needs to steal diamonds to power his suit so he can hold Gotham ransom for the billions of dollars he needs to find a cure for his wife’s terminal illness. While searching for said cure he had an accident that causes him to keep his body temperature below zero degrees. It also made him blue and insane. Meanwhile Dr. Pamela Isely (Thurman) is working in a South American lab where she discovers her insane boss (played by John Glover aka LIONEL LUTHOR!!) has been using her research to make a super soldier serum called Venom which he injects into a convict creating the mindless monster Bane. Bane destroys the lab, Pamela is thrown into a vat of something that makes super villains and emerges as Poison Ivy. She takes Bane as her weird driver, butler, bodyguard…thing and goes off to exterminate mankind for the good of plants everywhere. She eventually manipulates Freeze into thinking their plans can work together. And, of course, Batman (Clooney) and Robin (O’Donnell) have to stop it.
Here’s a quick rundown of the subplots. Batman has trouble trusting Robin to do things on his own which Robin does not like. Alfred is concealing a terminal illness which is causing him great pain. Bruce Wayne has a girlfriend who wants him to commit to a more serious relationship. Alfred’s niece, Barbara (Silverstone) visits Alfred, lies about getting kicked out of school, enters street races with the cast of Labyrinth and eventually becomes Batgirl.
Production History: After the financial success of Batman Forever, Schumacher was hired to film the sequel on a budget of $125 million. George Clooney was hired to replace Val Kilmer, who Schumacher famously clashed with during B & R’spredecessor, and Warner Brothers decided to involve toy companies in the decision making for some of the film’s visual elements. Schumacher set out to make an homage to the camp style of the 1960’s Batman and famously told people on set before each take, “Remember, everyone, this is a cartoon.” The film opened strong, earning $42,872,605 in its opening weekend. But negative word of mouth saw a 63% drop in the film’s second week and it was a relative disappointment in domestic markets but after international sales still earned a worldwide total of $238.2 million.
The film is also notorious for temporarily derailing the franchise. Clooney publicly promised to refund ticket prices to anyone who asked him for the money back and critics slammed the film. Warner Brothers had hired Schumacher to make a follow up, Batman Triumphant, but cancelled the project. The series wouldn’t resume until 2005 when Christopher Nolan rebooted the franchise with excellent Batman Begins.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Schumacher seems to be a one trick pony in that this is his second Batman film to open up with Batman (and this time Robin) leaving the Batcave while Alfred makes a snarky remark to see them off. Except this time there are obligatory raised stakes for the sequel so the joke is followed by Alfred letting on that he’s in agonizing pain. We’re also treated to some quick cuts to Batman’s costume nipples and well defined ass. The film really starts off with about 20 minutes of nonstop insanity. First, Mr. Freeze is stealing a giant diamond and throwing one liners out so fast that I literally had to pause the film so I could write them down as they happened. I still undoubtedly missed some. His heist is assisted by an army of hockey playing demon thug type dudes or, as Robin calls them, “The hockey team from hell.” I’m curious what sort of salary these men get. One thing that sticks out and I’ll talk about later is how deeply unlikeable Chris O’Donnell is. Every moment that he’s on screen I’m rooting for Robin to die, he’s that bad as an actor and as a sidekick. After an atrocious CGI escape featuring Mr. Freeze’s butterfly wings we’re treated to Poison Ivy’s quick origin story.
This, along with Batman Returns, was one of the Batman films I watched most as a child so throughout it I couldn’t help but get carried away with nostalgia. For all of the film’s crimes it is certainly not lazy. Everything is extravagant and overdone and the production design all looks like it took forever. Even the atrocious script seems like the extremely hard work of someone trying to make a movie that is campy and cartoonish yet features giant movie stars and has dark source material. It’s no wonder they failed but the sincere efforts of this film to be a big silly Batman adventure earn it alot of fun points. Quick example: There is an auction scene in which a fundraiser for the Gotham Botanical Gardens features a bunch of dancers and two huge furry gorilla suit clad people shuffling around. Nothing like giant great ape suits to get people in the auctioning mood! Turns out the people in those suits were Bane and Ivy because the best way to avoid being noticed is to cover up your supervillain costumes with absurd animal costumes. (Also Ivy sort of roofies the entire party with her love gas. Yeah, that’s what all the smooth operators call it.)
Still, the film has a horrible aesthetic and looks like a toy commercial. Throw in the neon fueled, ecstasy meets Mad Max look that Gotham has and wacky sound effects at every turn and you have a decent idea of what to expect. It’s the bizarre version of Gotham that stands out most. At one point Barbara (pre-Batgirl) is revealed to be involved in street races and the gang she’s racing against look like the love child of an 80′s hair metal band, the aforementioned Mad Max, Power Ranger villains and people attending a post-apocalyptic rave. One thing I will say is while this movie is technically worse than Batman Forever it’s considerably more watchable on a “so bad it’s good level.”
THE BAT: Clooney is actually a decent Batman, if a bit bland. His jaw line looks sort of perfect under the cowl and the detached manner he has throughout the film (aka Clooney wasn’t trying) kind of works as a take on the Dark Knight. He’s probably the most noticeably skilled fighter of any of the Bats I’ve reviewed so far. That detached manner doesn’t serve him as well in the role of Batman’s alter ego…
THE BRUCE: Yikes, Clooney really phoned it in for this one. He, and Bruce, doesn’t seem to give a shit about anything that is happening. There is one deeply affecting scene where he and Alfred discuss Alfred’s impending death but otherwise Clooney breezes through this one to collect a paycheck and little else. He’s certainly not tortured and brooding like Keaton, not deranged like West and not acting extremely poorly like Kilmer was. I get the feeling that early on he understood how bad the movie would be but couldn’t say no to the mega salary he was likely offered.
THE SUIT: For some reason Schumacher decided that Batman and Robin’s suits needed to be anatomically correct with fully defined buttocks and nipples to go along with more pronounced cod pieces (which are totally anatomically correct and what all men have down there, right?…Right!?). It’s a shame because otherwise I like this Batsuit the best of any featured in the films to this point. It has a more natural, armory look to it and it doesn’t look like a latex costume someone made for a film. Well, that is until the last battle. After defeating Ivy, while in regular costumes (for Batman, Robin and the just introduced Batgirl) they race off for a climactic showdown with Freeze in the Gotham Observatory. When they arrive they are all wearing ridiculous gray and black versions of their costumes. They make no mention of them being anti-freeze suits or anything like that. They just felt that a wardrobe change was appropriate for the final battle. That’s the sort of movie we’ve got on our hands.
THE CAR: Batman Forever‘s car is still in use here, despite being blown up in the last film. Nothing remarkable happens with the Batmobile and this film breaks the streak of consecutive films in which a villain sabotaged the car as a plot device.
THE ROGUES’ GALLERY: Arnold is giving exactly what you expect here. His gift and curse as an actor is that there is no way for him to disappear into a role because he is so iconic in both his look and his voice and Mr. Freeze could really just be described as Arnold Schwarzenegger covered in Lindsay Bluth’s diamond cream. He kills people without a second thought, seems to write down one-liners so he can shout them out at an insane pace. His fatal flaw seems to be that all of the technology he invents runs on diamonds. DIAMONDS! He’s a genius capable of inventing futuristic technology but he couldn’t find a fuel even slightly cheaper or more accessible than diamonds. I guess we all have our shit.
Uma Thurman saw Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns and thought “You want a frumpy girl that goes crazy? I’ll show you frumpy girl going crazy.” She doesn’t really have any classic Poison Ivy powers like control of vines and plants (though they do aid her.) Instead her breath makes men want to do the horizontal mamba and her lips are poisonous. This of course culminates in her kissing Robin who cleverly covered his lips in plastic. When thin strips of plastic are your weakness you may want to find another profession. Quick Sidenote: Ivy is the second Schumacher villain who casually switches between regular hair and bright red hair. I’m pretty sure he has a low opinion of gingers.
THE ONE LINERS: There are too many to choose from so I’m just going to throw in every single one that I managed to write down during the onslaught of Schwarzenegger’s ice cold witticisms:
- Batman & Robin
- Robin: “I want a car! Chicks dig the car!” Batman: “This is why Superman works alone.”
- You’re the common cold, we’re the cure.
- Let’s kick some ice.
- Poison Ivy
- (to Freeze): Talk about your cold shoulder.
- Some lucky boy’s about to hit the honeypot.
- Mr. Freeze:
- The iceman cometh!
- My condition has left me cold to your pleas of mercy.
- You are not sending me to the cooler!
- What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!
- Freeze well! (instead of sleep well)
- Stay cool, bird boy.
- Can you be cool, Batman?
- Alright everyone, chill.
- Allow me to break the ice.
- Always winterize your pipes!
- To Ivy: (we’ll be like) Adam…and Evil
- If revenge is a dish best served cold then put on your Sunday’s finest because tonight, we feast!
- Tonight, hell freezes over.
- Tonight’s forecast, a freeze is coming.
- Freeze in hell, Batman!
- Prepare for a bitter harvest, winter has come at last.
THE SIDEKICK(S): I don’t know if I adequately expressed myself before but I hate Chris O’Donnell. He is so smug and unlikeable and talentless in this movie and Batman Forever. There’s a whole subplot about him being too reckless and Batman not trusting him and it’s unbearable because it’s easy to see why Batman wouldn’t trust this smarmy jerk who basically snuck his way into being a sidekick. His costume is also the worst of both worlds. It’s unfaithful to the source material (no speedo thank god) but the new version is even dumber. It’s gaudy yet unmemorable.
Batgirl is a stranger beast because Alicia Silverstone really phones in her performance throughout the movie (not that she’s a thespian) but provides the most eye candy which, for this film, is sort of the whole point. Her subplot is equally boring though she has a decent brawl with Poison Ivy and engages in the single most boring motorcycle chase ever filmed.
THE VERDICT: As I said earlier, this film is quite watchable. It’s far less boring than its predecessor even if it is far worse from a technical standpoint. Much like Batman (1966) I hate this as a take on Batman but really enjoyed it on the silly terms it demands you adapt to. By no means was Schumacher successful but his sincere efforts result in a memorably bad film that gives us some really delicious (and stupid) moments from big Hollywood stars/former governors.
Next Up: Batman Begins (2005): 7/4