The Iceman Cometh…and the Audience Goeth!

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As we in the nerd community prepare for the end of an unbelievably brilliant trilogy of Batman films with The Dark Knight Rises, we have seemed to have forgotten about the 15th anniversary of the end of another series of Batman films. On June 20, 1997, Warner Brothers and DC Comics released Batman & Robin, the final installment of the….um, I guess we can call it “The Michael Gogh/Pat Hingle Quadrillogy” since by the time this series concluded, the element that stayed consistent were the actors who portrayed Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon were those two venerable character actors.

In the past few years, I have truly appreciated the personal touches given to well known comic book properties by some pretty skilled filmmakers. Directors like Sam Raimi (Spider-Man), Kenneth Branaugh (Thor), Joss Whedon (The Avengers), and especially Christopher Nolan (the aforementioned Batman series) have put a stamp on their movies that have made these big budget tent-poles seem at home within their film credits. Unfortunately, that can have an adverse effect, as in the case of Joel Schumacher, whose past as an interior and set decorator allowed him the “vision” to turn the once dark city of Gotham into a Day-Glo Rave. Gone were the gritty street fights, replaced with battles that would start with somebody crashing a tank into the 30th floor of a building (???), eventually result in a battle over 500 feet above said building, and end on the top of a giant, logistically impossible to exist, statue overlooking the entire city.

Much was made in Schumacher’s previous entry, Batman Forever, about the inclusion of nipples on the Bat-Suit, and not in a good way. In Batman & Robin, the nipples are still there, but were also paired with comically large codpieces, tight buttocked pants, and for Batgirl, stiletto boots, molded vinyl corset, and thong…which, I should add, was designed by her elderly uncle! The villains didn’t fare any better in the costume department either. Mr. Freeze’s outfit was large, clumsy, and didn’t make a whole lot of sense to the character. It was pretty hard to screw up Poison Ivy’s leaf-themed leotard, but the extreme eyebrows didn’t help!

As with the previous Schumacher film, the script was written by Akiva Goldsman, who would go on to win an Oscar four years later for A Beautiful Mind. Any evidence that we were listening to the words of a future award winner weren’t noticeable. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have to guess that most of the dialogue was improvised, as only somebody like Arnold Schwarzenegger would find a line like “What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age” would be amusing…especially since the dinosaurs were extinct long, long, long, before the Ice Age occurred! And terrible dialogue and one-dimensional characterizations go hand-in-hand with actors who look like they’re only there to collect a paycheck!

For the first time since the 1989 Tim Burton directed Batman, the actor playing the villain top lined the movie over the actor playing Batman. In this case, Arnold Schwarzenegger took top billing over George Clooney. He also pocketed $25 million for his troubles in the role of Mr. Freeze. Schwarzenegger could possibly be the worst choice for the role, as Mr. Freeze has always been depicted as a lean, mean, scientific machine! Schumacher thought that the character should look like he was chiseled out of a glacier (thanks IMDB!), with alternative casting choices being Sylvester Stallone and Hulk Hogan. All that is demanded of Schwarzenegger is to stand around, look menacing, and utter ice-related puns. Unfortunately, he seemed more interested in amusing himself with his performance that to amuse the audience.

And speaking of the worst choice for the role, why anybody who just watched Clueless would point to the screen and say “That’s it! We’ve found our Batgirl!” in regards to Alicia Silverstone should have their urine screened. Apart from the unforgivable deviation from the original stories that Batgirl is now Alfred’s niece instead of Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, she has also been cast as a thrill seeking tomboy instead of a brainy shut-in that Batman fans have known and loved for decades. “Suit me up, Uncle Alfred!” indeed!

Chris O’Donnell’s Dick Grayson/Robin was unwelcome in Batman Forever….moving on…

As to the two headliners who we knew could act, George Clooney and Uma Thurman, it seems that they’re suffering from the opposite problems. Clooney dialed down his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman to the point where they should have CTRL+F’ed the character’s name and replaced it with “George Clooney.” Thurman went in the opposite direction and dialed the performance of Poison Ivy up way too much! There’s so much scenery being chewed that we (almost) don’t notice that she’s somehow adopted Mae West’s inflection halfway through the movie (“Continuity? What’s that?”-Joel Schumacher, circa 1996).

There are also a series of supporting characters that, if Goldsman and Schumacher were meaning to create the most despicable, annoying, moronic people in the history of the Silver Screen, do a competent job in their roles. Search YouTube for any scenes involving Gossip Gertie or the “Dirty Fighter” scientist in the Gotham Observatory for more evidence!

Batman & Robin holds the distinction of a “Franchise Killer,” as the once profitable series was reduced to middling box office returns, and universal ridicule from fans and casual viewers alike. And in the history of awful comic-book based movies, Batman & Robin stands atop the heap due to its gigantic budget, marquee stars, and huge expectations left over from Batman Forever. The closest that a movie based on a superhero may have come to missing the mark this badly is Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, but that’ll have to wait until we see how Man of Steel is! It also may be the perfect “Bad Movie,” as there is nothing enjoyable about it!

Well, I’ve said my peace and given Batman & Robin the birthday present is likely deserves! Now here’s hoping that the post-Nolan iteration of Batman will fit in with some sort of Justice League scheme!

Go forth and be nerdful!

Andy

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