Here we are again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch a movie I own and blog about it. I'm currently making my way through every Batman movie, so we knew we were going to get here eventually. Time for Batman & Robin. This is originally in my notes at May 7, 2016.
Well, here we are. The franchise killer. The film, where, in the summer of 1997, people came out of the theatre going, "Dafuq?"
I was not one of them. I came out of the theatre in the summer of 1997 thinking it wasn't that bad...after Batman Forever, the writing was definitely on the wall as to where the franchise was going. But, as the summer went on, the bad word of mouth killed, not just the Batman franchise, but superhero films in general.
It fascinating watching the Blu-Ray bonus features. On the running commentary, director Joel Schumacher comes thiiiiiiiiiiiis close to apologizing for it. The closest he comes is he says, "In a movie, everything you see on the screen is there by the choice of the director. If a movie turns out bad, blame the director." The only cast member who consented to a new interview was Robin himself, Chris O'Donnell, and even then, he just contributes one line: "[Batman Forever] felt like I was making a movie. This felt like I was making a toy commercial." The only one who speaks positively is executive producer, and the man who technically owns the movie rights to Batman, Michael E. Uslan. He says it's a very good representation of the 1960s Batman.
And ya know what? I agree with him. That is most obvious in the performance of Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. There is no doubt in my mind that she modeled her performance on the classic Catwomen. The vamping...the voice...I swear, she comes thiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to purring.
Poison Ivy makes her presence known by crashing a costume party. She seductively strips out of a gorilla costume to reveal one of those classically skimpy Poison Ivy costumes underneath. This was before burlesque made its big comeback...it would be neat to see what a professional burlesque performer would do with that set-up.
Arnold Schwarznegger as Mr. Freeze. I remember there was some hype about this as it was the first time Schwarznegger played a flat-out villain since the first Terminator. I remembered that the ice puns were bad, but I didn't realize how bad. EVERY SECOND LINE IS AN ICE PUN! Thanks to Mr. Freeze's re-interpretation on Batman: The Animated Series, the popular choice among the fans was Patrick Stewart as Mr. Freeze. But Schumacher said that Mr. Freeze needed to be physically massive..."like he was carved out of a glacier."
And Bane is in this. Our first cinematic Bane. Totally wasted, as the supremely intelligent villain of the comics is reduced to nothing but mindless muscle for Poison Ivy.
Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. Has there ever been an actress more bored on the big screen? Her acting is so flat in this film, and she just radiates an aura of "I don't wanna be here." It's been acknowledged that the role of Batgirl in this film was written specifically for Silverstone, because Clueless had just been a big hit and they were hoping for some Clueless crossover appeal.
But you know what? I like our heroes. Chris O'Donnell really makes the role of Robin his own, and is out to prove himself as a capable hero on his own. And I like George Clooney as Batman. I know he's made it a recurring bit in interviews these days of apologizing for ruining the franchise, but he's a good Batman! After three films, it's nice to see a Batman who cracks a smile and enjoys being a superhero. He's a good Batman, but he's just stuck in a bad Batman movie.
Man if I thought Batman Forever was loud, this really cranks it up. Overbearing music, overbearing production design, half of Gotham seems to be designed about 100 foot tall statues, all lit with neon.
Seriously, this film is more of a cartoon than Batman: The Animated Series. All of our villains are ridiculously over-the-top. So much of this film is ridiculously over-the-top. The most over-the-top performance is John Glover as Dr. Jason Woodru, the mad scientist who creates Bane and Poison Ivy. (Fun easter egg: Dr. Jason woodru is actually Swamp Thing villain the Floronic Man.) Dear God, he's more Riddler-like than when he did the voice of the Riddler on Batman: The Animated Series. He has such a Frank Gorshin-like lilt to his voice.
You just look at this film and go, "Why?" It strayed so far from its dark origins in this franchise. Uslan is right. This is a good update of the 1960s camp. It's just not what people wanted in 1997.