Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Batman and Robin

Grade : F Year : 1997 Director : Joel Schumacher Running Time : 2hr 5min Genre : ,
Movie review score

This is the first time in 20 years that I’d seen Joel Schumacher’s franchise-killing monstrosity of a Batman film. I watched it once on opening weekend in the summer of 1997, and I was bored senseless. I haven’t seen it since. I rewatched Schumacher’s “Batman Forever” last year for the first time in two decades, and, while deeply flawed, it was better than I remembered. The same, however, cannot be said for “Batman and Robin.” This is an absolute mess.

Let’s start with George Clooney. He famously regretted the decision to take on the iconic role of Bruce Wayne/Batman after the fact, and he’s not wrong to do so. He didn’t have the swagger yet to play this character, although he wasn’t far off (the next year he starred in “Out of Sight,” and it was off to the races for him), but it’s hard to fault him completely. The screenplay by Akiva Goldsman is a disaster in every way, and the way Schumacher directs the film, it’s very hard to find a normal human moment taking place. There’s something to be said about a “no fat” approach to popcorn filmmaking, but superhero movies can’t really do that. You need some type of emotional arc to anchor this, and while Goldsman’s script has some friction between Wayne and Robin (Dick Grayson, played, once again, by Chris O’Donnell), none of it reads as genuine tension, and it doesn’t work. Clooney isn’t great in the role, but he isn’t the only reason it doesn’t work here.

A thought that occurred to me during this movie was, if Schumacher and co. had come out and flat said they were looking to do a fresh take on the tone and color of the ’60s TV series, I think people might have been more receptive of what this film was doing, because honestly, that feels exactly like what they were doing. However, stretching the film out to 2 hours is not the way to do that film, and it doesn’t account for the holdover of actors like Michael Gough (stranded in his final performance as Alfred, even with Alicia Silverstone’s niece(?) Barbara coming into town, and an illness to play with) or O’Donnell from the previous film as Robin, or Pat Hingle (once again playing Commissioner Gordon) or Elliot Goldenthal recycling Danny Elfman’s iconic theme. If you’re going to do something like the TV series as a movie, you need collaborators who would fit that tone, and no one here does. Unfortunately, this is meant as a “serious” effort, and it doesn’t land a punch, because you can’t take anything in this film seriously, not when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s every line as Dr. Freeze is some sort of pun or joke and Bane is a cartoon of a tough man. It’s ironic that 2017’s “The LEGO Batman Movie” does what “Batman and Robin” tried to do exceptionally better than this film did in making a fun, but also weighted, take on DC’s Caped Crusader.

In 1997, I held on to the fact that Uma Thurman was enjoyable to watch as Poison Ivy, that she seemed to find the right balance between fun and sexy Michelle Pfeiffer found as Catwoman in “Batman Returns.” While Thurman certainly fits the role visually, as with everyone else, she is hampered by a screenplay that strands her into playing a cartoon more than a character. Her performance, like her co-stars, doesn’t work dramatically because she isn’t playing a human being, or behaving like a human, even a villainous one, would. Goldsman’s screenplay is a nightmare for an actor, and I don’t envy any of these actors what they were given, but it’s hard to feel sorry for any of them, either. They had to figure what they were getting into with this film, and they have to shoulder some responsibility for how it turned out. They have, certainly, over the years, but that didn’t help dull the pain for audiences who hoped for more after such a promising start with Burton’s first two Batman films. Like with Superman in the ’80s, this franchise had a short shelf life at the time, and would need fresh eyes to really get things righted. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and 2013’s “Man of Steel,” they’re still waiting.

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