by Kayla HurowitzBatman & Robin is the fourth (and most hated) installment of the Burton/Schumacher Batman film series. As a child, I enjoyed the movie, watching it on VHS almost every day. Because of my personal relationship with the film, I felt that I should try and find as many positive aspects in it as I could. But despite my best efforts, most of the positives I found were tenuous points at best. My preconceived bias could not help the experience, as my latest rewatch revealed an unequivocally terrible film. A lot of the blame for Batman & Robin’s quality seems to rest on the shoulders of director Joel Schumacher, who decided to make the movie lighter and more comedic than previous chapters in the series. While this isn’t inherently a problem, his misguided direction makes the film a mess.
Batman & Robin follows Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (the alter egos of the titular characters) as they fight crime and deal with personal drama in typical superhero movie fashion. George Clooney provides an uninspired take on the character of Batman. He never adds anything to his interpretation of the character and delivers most of his dialogue without emotion. As Robin, Chris O’Donnell is irritating, as the majority of his dialogue consists of complaining and bickering with his comrade. Alicia Silverstone plays Barbara Wilson, the niece of Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred. Silverstone’s character never finds any purpose within the film’s plot, and the actress has difficulty portraying basic emotions in the role. She also attempts to give the character a British accent, but it’s inconsistent. The best performance in the film comes from Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth, who appeared in the three Batman films prior to Batman & Robin. His experience with the role shows.
Among the many conflicts our heroes face are the main antagonists, Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman). Mr. Freeze is a delightfully silly villain, who Schwarzenegger plays in a campy manner. Unfortunately, Freeze’s humorous nature undercuts the tragic backstory that the villain is supposed to have, making it difficult to take him seriously. Poison Ivy acts as the femme fatale of the film, effectively seducing both of our heroes. But Thurman doesn’t sufficiently convey the attitudes of a seductress in her performance, and so the character of Poison Ivy comes off as stiff and emotionless. These two antagonists decide to work with each other, despite not sharing any commons goals or reasoning for their actions. Mr. Freeze’s motives are to freeze the world and save his dying wife, while Poison Ivy wants to save the environment by having plants take over the Earth. Both villain’s plans conflict with each other, so it feels like they were put in the film on a whim for no legitimate purpose. The screenplay tries to explain how their plans could benefit each other, but the explanation is completely illogical. Their different backstories also add to the films already cluttered narrative.
Batman & Robin has many subplots that complicate what should be a straightforward story. The film deals with Alfred’s terminal illness, Bruce’s fear of commitment to his girlfriend and Barbara’s role in an underground street racing ring. With the exception of Alfred’s illness, these subplots never reach a satisfying conclusion, and they don’t add anything to the film’s narrative. Even more problematic are the throwaway scenes that appear sporadically throughout. A good example would when Poison Ivy and Bane (Jeep Swenson) have a fight with a gang of bikers. Nothing is accomplished in this sequence and it just serves to pad out the film. The only decent scenes are when Alfred and Bruce are talking about Alfred’s illness. These moments have their fair share of flaws, but the scenes do a good job of informing the characters’ relationship and the actors put forth a strong effort to display a real connection.
The film’s dialogue, in large part, consists of banter between our protagonists and antagonists. While interplay between characters is expected from most superhero films — especially considering the substantial size of the cast — the conversations here come off as unoriginal, stilted and fake due to the insufferable amount of one-liners squeezed in.
Meanwhile, Schumacher shows his love of colorful visuals, which backfires because the film winds up being garish and ugly. Some questionable lighting choices are employed, such as a constant use of green and purple. So many colors are used on the characters and backgrounds that it’s hard to decide what to focus on in many of the shots. The cluttered, cheap-looking costume designs and overreliance on Dutch angles make the film even harder to look at.
In the end, Batman & Robin deserves most of the criticism it receives. The film feels much longer than its two-hour runtime suggests, lacking focus in its plot and containing several scenes that could’ve easily been removed. It’s numerous basic errors are inexcusable for a film with such a large budget. Worse movies do exist, but from a major studio undertaking such as this, we should expect better.
1 out of 5 stars