More noise than signal

Batman & Robin

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

The fourth film in the Batman series does so many thing totally wrong it’s difficult to know where to start.

If nothing else Batman & Robin launches straight into the action, unfortunately with Schumacher’s lurid neon filled vision of the Batman franchise it’s such a shock to the system that it can’t quite recover from it. With no setup whatsoever the dynamic duo have to stop Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) stealing some diamonds for a nefarious and stupid plan. We’ll get to that later, but the first thing you’ll notice is that Batman looks a little different this time round.

Val Kilmer isn’t in the suit after the last outing, Batman Forever. Whether or not he could have been a decent Batman we’ll never really know thanks to the quality of that affair, but at least when suited up he looked the part, although his Bruce Wayne act was a little stilted. Michael Keaton fit the tone of the first two films perfectly, and would be a hard act to match if the tone of the series had remained the same. However, it didn’t. Everything’s gone all 60’s TV series retro, right down to the overbearing awfulness of it all. Into this breach steps a puzzling choice: George Clooney.

Nothing against the man, but he’s about as far away from Batman as it’s possible to be, and he fails miserably both in and out of the rubber Batsuit. Without having someone conniving in the lead role suspension of disbelief automatically flies out the Bat-window, dooming this effort to a dismal failure from the off. It’s almost as if everyone else realised this and started going out of the way to make the rest of it awful in sympathy.

It all stems from a god-awful script by Akiva Goldsman. Action scene follows action scene with scant regard for any linking with the plot, the dialogue lies somewhere between shocking and unbelievably poor, the plot, even by comic book standards is unspeakably stupid. Any of the nuance present in vanishingly small quantities in his script for the previous outing are absent completely. Calling it ‘writing’ seems very, very wrong, it’s more of a haphazard patchwork of laughably terrible dialogue and horrific plot devices so abjectly absurd it’s no surprise that this had record numbers of people leaving the cinema before the credits roll.

I suppose there’s the chance that he actually turned in a deep and thoughtful script, but if that’s the case Schumacher didn’t read it and went off creating his own terrible vision of a Batman film. Much like the last film but more so, this is full of garish colour, neon and headache inducing brightness. There’s no character shown at all by anyone, reducing them to little more than puppets jerking around to the strings of a drunken master, to action figures manipulated by an unimaginative child.

The loosely defined plot involves Ah-nold seeking to hold the city to ransom for the cash to finance his research into McGuffin’s disease (or McGowan, McRoberts, McRichardson, something like that). His wife developed the incurable syndrome back in the days when he was plain Dr. Fries, so he pops her in a handy cryogenic chamber until he finds a cure. An unfortunate lab accident later leaves him mutated an only able to survive in the extreme cold. And turns him into a supervillian, apparently as Mr Freeze starts his reign of terror. As a concept for a character it has promise, given that his acts are only there so he can save his wife, but from the very first scene it’s difficult to take him seriously in the slightest. A picture tells a thousand words, and from the screen grabs you can’t need me to tell you how daft Arnie looks in his suit. As if the cheap shininess of it isn’t enough for Schumacher he has to have it backlit with blue LEDs to accent the shoddiness of it.

It’s not enough that he looks like a joke, but the script forces your hero and our, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to sound like an absolute tool. His pay off lines are so horrifically uninspired that Arnie’s stilted, mumbling delivery doesn’t hurt them, because they were already dead. It’s an awful performance by Arnie in a film full of them, so at least he doesn’t look out of place. Lines like ‘Chill Out’ are so tired and unimaginative that they’re guaranteed not to raise a chuckle, and as Schumacher seem to want to be playing everything for laughs this is another major problem in a film that already has more of them than it can handle.

Into the mix steps Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) and her pet muscle-bound sidekick Bane (Jeep Swenson). She’s a nutter with a pheromones powder that causes men to fall in love with her and lips fused with venom, powers acquired after another lab accident where brainless super soldiers like Bane were being made. Her previous occupation as a ecologist has left her wanting to wipe out humanity so her own bizarre plant/animal hybrids can rule the earth. Whatever. Thurman’s unhinged seductress character is probably the least bad character here, but that’s a damning with faint praise. Bane is a monosyllabic lunkhead who has the juiced up physical menace steroid abuse type scariness thang going, and as such he’s probably the only character that truly achieves what was intended with them, although in his case the target was so low it’s be difficult to miss.

Through the usual series of convolutions they end up teaming up in a new plan to freeze the entire world using Mr. Freeze’s new Freeze Engine and a series of geostationary satellites, a plan so insultingly stupid that only Batman’s plan to undo this can be worse, beaming sunlight using said satellites from the other side of the world to save Gotham. At least this occurs at the films conclusion, so in all likelihood I’m the only person that’s seen it, as any sane person would have been reaching for the off switch maybe ten minutes in.

The Boy Wonder is back again, with Chris O’Donnell returning and ruining the decent first impression from his first attempt. The script has him swinging between petulant schoolboy and camp 60’s sidekick and it’s a horrifying sight that unfolds before our eyes. They try desperately to play on the developing trust (or lack thereof) between Batman and his junior crime fighter, but it’s horribly handled and abysmally scripted so the whole affair is just annoying.

I’m almost tempted to abruptly stop here otherwise I’ll have to bust out a thesaurus for more synonyms of ‘bad’.

The other characters in this mess are Bruce’s faithful manslave Alfred (Michael Gough, returning again making him the only character to be portrayed by the same actor throughout the series) and his niece, Barbara (Alicia Silverson). In a horrible stroke of what I guess was meant to be irony Alfred is struck down with McGuffin syndrome. Barbra is a similarly rebellious teen as per Robin but with bigger breasts, and if anything less characterisation. She is similarly annoying whether in motorbike punk or eventually Batgirl getup. Her role is thankfully spartan, although it’s as poorly written as anything else in this travesty.

Schumacher has ditched all of the gothic elements that Burton focused on to stamp his own identity on the series, and his defining characteristic appears to be neon. The weird looking neon warriors make a comeback, sans your other hero and ours, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson this time. The intent would seem to be to transplant the colour and vibrancy of the comic but he’s failed, and failed badly. It looks cheap and tacky, and while it perhaps fits with the blatant overacting of cast it’s not what audiences wanted to see at the time, with the freshness of Burton’s original approach being replaced with the stale odour of the television series that was cancelled because people were sick of it. As a side effect it makes the sweeping orchestral gothic score used for the theme and instrumental music terribly jarring as well.

It’s not all bad, it does end. Eventually. After two hour of completely unabsorbing, non-engaging, flat, uninspired crap. The action scenes are so badly handled that they’re plain and boring, the dialogue abysmal, the characterisation non-existent, the motivations questionable and Mr. Freeze is so preposterous that it makes his preposterous plan even more preposterous. There’s a scene in The Running Man where Jesse Ventura walks in wearing a boxy chrome suit that Killian is trying to make him wear for a fight with Arnie, and he has the most perfect expression of disgruntled, disbelieving disgust at the costume. I can only hope it’s what Ah-nold thought of before the millions of dollars convinced him it was alright to slip it on.

Strangely George Clooney seems to be the only one who hasn’t had their career dragged down as by this millstone. Even Arnie’s had to go back to his Terminator roots to get the same level of recognition after a series of poorly received films. Uma Thurman managed the impossible in appearing in a worse film after this (The Avengers, although there was the fantastic Gattaca in-between), but she should redeem herself in Tarantino’s upcoming Kill Bill. This is unfortunate, as in terms of the actors it’s Clooney’s fault that this has failed. He just isn’t Batman. Of course, even if there was a real Batman he wouldn’t be convincing in this mockery of a tale.

At the time of writing this is nestled in at number 94 of IMDB‘s worst 100 films, and it’s entirely justified. Even it’s defenders say it’s hokey and over the top, although to be fair there aren’t many foolish enough to defend this. There really isn’t a single positive thing in it. I may have to revise my rock bottom rating for Cybertracker because it’s actually better than this.

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