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With The Dark Knight Rises heading into theaters next week, concluding Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, we here at Cinema Blend have decided to take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of the Caped Crusader’s previous films. We'll be posting a new Batman Rewind article each day, and you can revisit all the previous installments here.
Poor Batman & Robin. Nobody else on the CB wanted to claim the last gasp of the 90s-era run of Batman movies, which meant it was assigned to me by default. But I was admittedly curious to revisit this much-maligned 1997 bomb, the only Batman movie I remembered seeing in theaters before the Nolan movies, and the one I'd heard trashed so often throughout the years I barely had any of my own memories of it left. I remembered the nipples on the batsuit, Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, and the odd addition of Alicia Silverstone about Batgirl, but that was pretty much it. Could Batman & Robin really be as awful as everyone said?
Well, yeah-- it's pretty awful. Director Joel Schumacher seriously went off the deep end with this one, establishing a series of enormous action set pieces that are way more interested in showing off the elaborate sets than action, and threading the thinnest, most predictable plot that zaps all potential tension or stakes in the story. He cranks up the jokiness of Batman Forever to 11, mostly thanks to Mr. Freeze, who runs through so many ice puns that he eventually resorts to nonsense like "It's a cold town." Is that even a saying?
It's the scenes with Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy where the movie really goes bananas, and actually starts to accomplish a level of camp greatness that I wasn't expecting. She's effectively playing a drag queen, with a garish wig and pointed eyebrows and a ridiculous sultry purr, and the fact that Batman & Robin spend the movie fighting over her affections only heightens the homoeroticism of their relationship-- there's no way Schumacher wasn't doing that on purpose. Thurman's saddled with as much awful dialogue as everyone else, but she sells the hell out of it, all hooded eyelids and slinky walks, and she nails the campy absurdity of the film in a way no one else does-- a movie starring her could actually be some kind of midnight movie standard.
But instead it stars George Clooney, who looks so bored and actively hostile toward the material that you wonder if Schumacher was holding his family hostage somewhere to get him to take the role. He sucks the air out of the movie's glitter-filled balloon, and if he'd just given the kind of arch, Adam West-style performance the movie clearly calls for, it might have ruined his career but it at least could have made Batman & Robin a whole lot less dull. In fact, if you fast forward through all the scenes in Wayne Manor, the movie is pretty fantastic, in a "who let this happen" and "I can't believe this is real" way. It's far less boring than many more straight-faced superhero movies, and for its batty point of view and commitment to utter cheese, Batman & Robin is its own kind of weird lost classic.
How Does It Lead To The Dark Knight Rises?
I had no memory of Bane being in Batman & Robin before this rewatch, and now I'm not sure I'll ever be able to look at The Dark Knight Rises the same way again. I imagine Nolan did serious soul-searching before deciding to include Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and do it right this time, and comic book fans must think he's righting a great wrong. Batman & Robin's portrayal of Bane, as a roided-up lunkhead in a Mexican wrestler mask who speaks in barely verbal grunts and repeats whatever Poison Ivy says-- "Ahhhh, monkey work!"-- is basically a textbook of what Nolan won't do with Bane. Though I admit, I kind of want to see the eventual mash-up where Bane's Dark Knight Rises scenes are put into Batman & Robin, and Tom Hardy's Bane just kills everyone onscreen before things can get too ridiculous.
And despite all the hopeful rumors, it seems pretty clear that Robin won't appear in The Dark Knight Rises-- and Batman & Robin is a great example of why he shouldn't. The movie is bogged down horribly by the rivalry and squabbling between the two, and you never understand why a prickly loner like Batman would agree to take on a sidekick in the first place. It makes even less sense for Nolan's take on the character, and for everyone who asks him why he won't include Robin, he can just point to this movie and explain everything.
And A Few More Things…
Most Illogical Moment Sure, there are a lot of them in this movie, but nothing beats the opening scene in the antiquities museum, where Mr. Freeze stops for an ice pun-- "What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!"-- then shoots a dinosaur skeleton with his ice gun, sending it crashing down. And yet, he had Batman & Robin standing right in front of him-- why not just shoot them? Was the ice pun just too good to pass up?
Best Cameo If you need any more evidence this movie was made in 1997-- Coolio makes an appearance, in the totally unnecessary motorcycle race scene. To be fair, he and his hair fit right in with the insane costumes every biker gang is wearing-- some are wearing Louis XIV wigs, some are dressed like Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Seriously.
Worst Scene Like I said, every scene in Wayne Manor is skippable, but the heart-to-heart between Bruce and what we think is a dying Alfred is the low point-- show someone this scene in 1997 and then flash them forward to George Clooney winning an Oscar, and watch their brain explode.
Best Reason To Watch This Movie An incredible number of elaborate sets were built for this movie, from Poison Ivy's Turkish Bath lair to the enormous observatory where the final fight scene takes place, and it's probably the last Batman movie we'll ever see with so many lovely practical sets. They're garish, of course, and many get destroyed in the service of terrible action scenes, but they're also gorgeous and nostalgic in their own way, a relic of a kind of a superhero movie that no longer exists.