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Batman & Robin (1997)
Batman & Robin... and Batgirl?
Having firmly established a fan-base for the crime-fighting adventures of the Dark Knight in the late 80s and early 90s, I'm sure Warner Bros. released 1997's 'Batman & Robin' with high hopes. With a new Batman (George Clooney), two reliably nasty villains (Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Joel Schumacher - whose previous work included 'St. Elmo's Fire' (1985), 'Flatliners' (1990) and the previous Batman film 'Batman Forever' (1995) - once again directing, the premise looked good.
Unfortunately, the product did not live up to the expectations.
'Batman & Robin' is a shambolic mess of a comic book movie, with a lazy plot and an even lazier script. The thoroughly uninteresting story follows Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson - a.k.a. Batman and Robin - as they battle against the villainous Mr. Freeze, a doctor who once accidentally fell into a tank of freezing cold ice and water and whose life is now consumed by ice, from his secret frozen hideaway right down to his ice-covered dressing gown. Mr. Freeze is hell-bent on holding Gotham City ransom by covering it in impenetrable ice.
Things get worse for our heroes when Dr. Pamela Isley, a scientist, is consumed by her poisonous plants and turned into Poison Ivy, who somehow has the ability to seduce any man by blowing some chemicals in his direction. Ivy eventually joins forces with Mr. Freeze and aids him in his diabolical plans.
Meanwhile, Alfred the butler's niece turns up at Bruce's mansion and insists on helping the caped crusaders in their fight against crime. The point of this character is something I've yet to discover, other than to add another female presence to the story. Her character is eventually given an alter-ego - Batgirl. But by that time, the film has long developed into a farce, so the addition of this largely useless character is not surprising.
This film's problem - other than that plot - is that it leans too much towards the camp and comical stylings of the TV series from the 1960s. During the opening battle sequence with Mr. Freeze and his ice hockey-playing thugs, I half-expected the words 'POW!' and 'CLUNK!' to appear in big colourful letters across the screen. If the film was intended to be a comedy, this might have worked. But it insists on taking itself seriously, and thus causes its downfall.
Of course, this isn't the only problem. The script is appalling. Packed full of corny one-liners - the majority of them from Schwarzenegger ("Let's kick some ice!") - it almost makes you want to turn the sound off and watch the film on mute. The actors seem embarrassed when speaking their lines; most of all Clooney, who must have thought his career was all but finished after seeing the final cut.
Clooney himself is one of the few plus points from the film. He does what he can with the script, and it's an assured, reliable performance as Bruce Wayne. Regrettably, scenes involving Wayne out of his Batsuit are often spoilt by the irritating presence of his partner. No, not Elle Macpherson, the other one. Chris O'Donnell plays Robin like a spoilt, petulant child. A deeply unlikeable character that served as an annoying tag-along in 'Batman Forever', and simply as a nuisance in this film. If anything, I'm glad this ended up being the last movie in the run purely so we didn't have to see O'Donnell in the role again.
Schwarzenegger is his usual enthusiastic-but-clunky self, while Uma Thurman is uncomfortably and needlessly over-the-top and has her own share of cringe-worthy lines ("Come join me. My garden needs tending" is perhaps unintentionally hilarious).
Despite its obvious and numerous failings, the film does boast a few positives. The special effects involving Mr. Freeze's various ice attacks are nice to look at, and there is a scene towards the end with Bruce and Alfred that is genuinely touching.
These few high points, however, fail to disguise what a disjointed, lazy, and downright ridiculous film it is. Warner Bros. quite rightly cancelled plans for a fifth one after this. To be perfectly honest, it was one film too late.
And as for the Dark Knight himself... well let's say he has a certain Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale to thank for saving his image.