BATMAN ON FILM, since June 1998!
REVIEW: BATMAN & ROBIN


Author: Bill Ramey, Founder of BOF
Email: BATMANONFILM@MSN.COM
Posted: February 15, 2005

Finally, after all these years....

It is no secret to anyone who has followed BATMAN ON FILM over the years that I dig BATMAN FOREVER. Sure it has its faults, but overall, it was a fairly decent Batman movie. It got the Batman franchise back on track after 1992's disappointing Bat-outing BATMAN RETURNS (Yes, I know many of you love this film - I'm speaking from a historical POV). Unlike the three-year gap between Bat-films, there would only be a two-year turnaround between FOREVER and the fourth installment, BATMAN AND ROBIN. This was a good thing I thought. I was ready for another Bat-film and I'm sure Warner Brothers felt the same way.

THE HISTORY AND THE HYPE

As a result of the short amount of time before the next movie, news about it trickled in almost immediately after BATMAN FOREVER finished its run at theaters. Director Joel Schumacher was set to return and Akiva Goldsman would fly solo on the screenplay this time around (Goldsman came on board FOREVER after several drafts of the Batchler script). Like the previous two Bat-films, there would be two baddies - Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy. And it was believed that most of the "regular" cast of FOREVER would as well, and most did. Except for the lead role.

For the third consecutive film, there would be a different Batman. Val Kilmer - who had replaced Michael Keaton in 1994 - would not return for a second go-around as Bruce Wayne. Kilmer either, a) left because of a scheduling conflict due to his role in THE SAINT. Or, b) He was fired by Joel Schumacher for being an "A-hole," as the director put it. In my opinion, it was a little of both. I'm sure that Kilmer wasn't too keen on doing any ice-skating and diamond hockey playing (Can you imaging the look on Kilmer's face when he read that scene in the script!), while the director didn't want to hear Val complain about the direction the film was taking. I've always chalked it up as a "mutual decision." (There must still be bad blood between the two as a source told me that they didn't even acknowledge each other while found in the same room when working at the same studio recently - Val on ALEXANDER and Joel on PHANTOM.)

Nonetheless, I was a bit disappointed that Kilmer dropped out, but his replacement - I thought - just might work. George Clooney had recently reached the status of "hot property." He starred as Dr. Doug Ross on the tremendously successful ER of television, and was making his first forays into films. His performance in a recent flick was the main reason I - and many others as well - thought Clooney might make a kick-ass Batman. That film was the Robert Rodriguez directed FROM DUSK 'TIL DAWN. In it, Clooney gives a good, dark performance as a violent criminal who sort of becomes the hero when he's caught at night in a bar full of vampires. Sounds strange, but it worked. Anyway, I was ready to give Clooney a chance.

The rest of the cast soon fell in order. Chris O'Donnell would reprise his role as Robin, while Michael Gough and Pat Hingle were set to return as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon respectively. The rumors of Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy were correct with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman filling the roles. There was also going to be another "hero" added to the mix - Batgirl. Alicia Silverstone nabbed the part. "Why the hell are they putting Batgirl in this thing?" I recall thinking at the time. But I did sort of like Arnold as Freeze and Thurman as Ivy. It was on! Summer 1997 couldn't get here fast enough!

My first look at the upcoming film took place in the early spring of 1997. I still didn't have access to the internet at that time, so as it had been in the past, news items were few and far between. But I happened to be watching ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT and saw that they were premiering the new trailer for BATMAN AND ROBIN! So I actually put a tape in the 'ol VCR and waited.

The clip began with Schwarzenegger as Freeze descending down a frozen set of stairs - "My name is Freeze. Learn it well. For it is the chilling sound of your DOOM." Uh, ok. I actually could live with that, and I thought he looked alright. I then watched in horror at the remainder of the clip. A look at the Clooney-Batman - "Hi Freeze. I'm Batman!" This looked flat ridiculous with the actor using his famous Clooney "head-bob" and no "Batman voice." "Batgirl? Not very PC," wasn't a line of dialogue that should be coming out of the mouth of the Dark Knight. Once the preview ended, I sat there for a moment in disbelief. "There is no way this BATMAN AND ROBIN can be as bad as this trailer," I thought. I then began convincing myself that looks can be deceiving and that this new film would end up being BATMAN FOREVERish.

How wrong I was.

WATCHING BATMAN AND ROBIN

On the night of the June 20, 1997, I arrived at the theater very early to find a huge line had already formed for the new Batman film. I recall talking to several people in line and all were looking forward to watching the film. Many of the girls/women confessed that they were there to see George Clooney as Batman. But overall, a good pre-movie buzz was in the air. I bought my ticket, wandered inside, and took my seat in a packed theater.

The film's opening was very similar to the last Bat-film, BATMAN FOREVER. You had some over-the-top graphics displaying the credits accompanied by the Elliot Goldenthal score. Then cut to the Batcave where this time, both Batman and Robin are suiting up. Again, not too bad (except for the double butt-shot), just almost exactly like its predecessor. You get a first look at O'Donnell in his new Robin outfit - which basically was the comic book Nightwing costume, but done in black and orange. Clooney's Batman didn't look too bad. It was very much like the "Panther" suit Val Kilmer wore in FOREVER, but all black - no yellow on it whatsoever. It also had a bluish tint to it and included cape clasps. Both suits had nipples, of course. But the problems really began when these two opened their mouths and started to recite the ridiculous dialogue provided for them by Akiva Goldsman:

Robin: "I want a car. Chicks dig the car, right?"

Batman: "This is why Superman works alone."

Batman then climbs into a stupidly long convertible Batmobile, Robin jumps on his "Redbird" motorcycle, and both speed off out of the Batcave. "I'll cancel the pizzas," says Alfred. Why didn't they just cancel this friggin' movie?

By the time the opening sequence was over, I had had enough. Here are the gems that Akiva and Joel provided for us:

Batman and Robin playing hockey - yes, ice hockey - against a bunch of Freeze's goons, using an obscenely large diamond as a puck….

A giant, dildo-shaped rocket, taking-off out of a museum, and then heading for outer space with Freeze at the control, Batman iced-up (and I don't mean bling-bling) inside, and Robin clinging on outside….

Batman and Robin "space-boarding" their way back to Earth after abandoning the rocket without any realistic means of slowing their descent….

Freeze with his ice-inspired one-liners ("The Iceman cometh") and stupid dialogue ("Kill the heroes!") - enough to make one want to gag.

By the time Batman was thawing out the Icegun-blasted Robin, I was ready to walk out of the theater - and I eventually would. I hung on until the beginning of the third act when Batman, Robin, and Batgirl came riding in together clad in their darkblue and silver costumes. At that point, I stood up and got the hell out of there.

WHY?

I'm not going to waste your time - nor mine writing this - rehashing the plot of BATMAN AND ROBIN. We all know that it was nothing more than a extremely camped-up, absurd retread of BATMAN FOREVER. I'm going attempt to discover the reason just why and how this abomination of a film got made.

First of all, I think the studio fell victim yet again to "Tim Burton Syndrome" - this time with Joel Schumacher. I've named this affliction after Burton because this originally happened with him and his Bat-sequel, BATMAN RETURNS. It is pretty simple actually. Since BATMAN FOREVER was a decent Bat-film and a box office success, Warner Brothers allowed Schumacher more control over the sequel. Perhaps they didn't feel the need to look over his shoulder, so to speak. But this approach had burned the studio before when Burton was cut loose and provided them with the dark, macabre, and bizarre BATMAN RETURNS. Figuratively, even though burned before, they stuck their hand back into the fire.

"OK, they let Schumacher do his thing," you may say, "but didn't they see this coming? Didn't they read the script?" Fair questions, and BATMAN AND ROBIN isn't all on Joel Schumacher. Obviously, Warner Brothers read the script - which was written exclusively by Akiva Goldsman. Goldsman had written BATMAN FOREVER with Lee and Janet Scott Batcher, but this one was his baby. So yes, the studio should be help accountable for greenlighting Goldman's script. But if you have read scripts, they can read a whole lot different than what ultimately ends up on screen. In my opinion, I think the studio thought they were getting BATMAN FOREVER 2. With Schwarzenegger, Thurman, the returning O'Donnell, and "hot property" George Clooney on board, this thing looked to be a sure-fire hit. Perhaps they thought some of sillier and campy parts wouldn't end up in the final cut of the film. But I think it is safe to say that the studio didn't realize until it was too late just what they were getting with BATMAN AND ROBIN.

Remember those early screen test reports that hit the Net in early '97? Can you imagine the panic that overcame the studio when the test audience graded the film being, well, terrible? Man, there must have been a scramble! And don't forget that BATMAN AND ROBIN was actually given further edits to remove silliness and camp! As a result, we missed -among other things - witnessing Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) humming the 60s Bat-them while at fisticuffs with Poison Ivy.

Was what ended up on screen what Warner Brothers had imagined? I would guess no. Perhaps they even misjudged the Batman audience. Maybe they let their desire for merchandising, toy, and fastfood tie-ins get the best of them. Nonetheless, it was the studio that gave director Joel Schumacher more creative control. The studio OK'd the Goldsman script. Ultimately, the studio must be given their fair share of criticism for BATMAN AND ROBIN and accept part of the blame.

IS JOEL SCHUMACHER THE DEVIL?

Joel Schumacher - the scorn of Batman fans. For the last eight years (and 10 for some Batman fans), the director has been blamed for the demise of the Batman movie franchise. But just how much blame should be set at Schumacher's feet? All of it, as many of you all would give him? No. As previously stated, fault lies at Warner Brothers' feet as well. But Mr. Schumacher gets the majority of the blame from this reviewer. As director, he was responsible for what ended up on screen. He could have said "no" to ice hockey - sky boarding - the Bat-card - silly dialogue - the sexual subtext - and the camp. If he had just kept it like its predecessor, it might have worked. But he didn't.

For the life of me, I can't believe that Mr. Schumacher thought that this vision of Batman was going to work. And if he did, he greatly misjudged not only Batman fans, but movie fans in general. Even if Warner Brothers did mandate that BATMAN AND ROBIN be "family friendly," Joel went overboard. Plus, that doesn't wash when you account for all the blatant sexuality that permeates this film.

What is troubling is that Mr. Schumacher is a good director. I've enjoyed many of his films - including his BATMAN FOREVER. He has recently been the target of some positive run due to his directorial work on PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. So it is not as if he was totally incapable of making a quality Batman film. Or maybe he just didn't "get" Batman. Perhaps he was just incorrect with his assessment of what Batman fans wanted. It is not like he set out to make one of the worst films in history and kill off the Batman series. In my opinion, most of the blame for this film should be directed at Mr. Schumacher as he allowed all that is bad about BATMAN AND ROBIN to happen - it was on his watch as the director. Hey, he just simply blew it. As Harry Truman said, "The buck stops here" - and "here" is with Joel Schumacher.

ANY GOOD AT ALL? YES, ACTUALLY

As I said at the beginning of this article, I walked out of the theater on BATMAN AND ROBIN. In fact, I only watched it from beginning to end in one sitting just a couple of months ago. I wanted to see if there were any redeeming qualities in this film. About the only thing positive I can say about it is that the Bruce/Alfred scenes were fairly well done. And unlike BATMAN FOREVER - which I like and gave a grade of C+ - this movie is unsalvageable. There are no cut scenes in this film that would improve it as is the case with FOREVER. On the surface, one would consider B&R to be a complete waste. But if one looks deeper, you may be able to see the good of B&R.

This film provided the blueprint on what NOT to do in a Batman film. It showed Warner Brothers that Batman fans were not going to sit on their hands and accept crap stamped with "Batman" as a Batman film. Movie fans proved that they too wanted quality in a Batman film, not mindless drivel. It led to the formation of the website you are currently reading. And in a weird sort of way, BATMAN AND ROBIN spawned the upcoming BATMAN BEGINS.

B&R is BATMAN BEGINS' DADDY! - SORT OF

One could argue that if B&R had been a FOREVER-like success, it is likely a fifth film would have been produced around 1999/2000. Five Bat-films would have been a lot - perhaps ending the series without the production of the definitive Batman film. However, once B&R flopped, Warner Brothers canned the planned Schumacher-helmed sequel, BATMAN TRIUMPHANT. Schumacher then changed gears and pitched to WB the idea of a Bat-prequel, to be based on the comic book arc "BATMAN: YEAR ONE." Although Schumacher was relieved of all Bat-directing duties, the idea of an origin film for Batman intrigued the studio. Eventually, the gig went to Chris Nolan and the rest - as they say - is history.

"Jett" is the founder and editor-in-chief of BATMAN-ON-FILM.COM,
BATMAN-IN-COMICS.COM, and ON-FILM.NET.

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