It’s time to see what Batman is all about or in this case, what he isn’t.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga is the only Batman I’ve ever known. I was more than content to enjoy the bliss those masterworks provided. I still am, but as a critic and cinefile, I have to step out of my comfort zone and discover what was. Batman is a wide personality, one that can be portrayed in a number of ways without being incorrect. That’s what’s great about theater, film, art, writing. It can be performed and manifested in a multitude of mannerisms and manipulations.
That’s why it’s hard not to excoriate George Clooney for yet another insipid tour. Clooney is one of my least favorite actors and a film like Batman & Robin gives me more than enough scrap metal to start tossing his way. Batman is a hero, an inspiration to the city of Gotham and yet Clooney couldn’t be any less inspiring. Every line is a force feeding of a nauseating entrée created in an Easy Bake Oven as much as it is an incessant reminder that Clooney is getting paid to portray Batman like a thoroughly disinterested bachelor.
Clooney might be the least interesting Batman of all time because of the lollygagging Schumacher lets him get away with in this caricature. There’s no moral dilemma, troubling past, battle of wits, questioning of self-worth, future uncertainty or intimidating action sequences to lynch onto. Clooney would serve better as a piece of wall art than he would a superhero, he’s so disengaged. What is driving Batman here? Hell, what makes him Batman aside from a flimsy rubber suit?
Batman & Robin fails in a lot of areas, with Clooney’s Batman one of the most egregious errors. It’s impossible to take him seriously nor are we ever witness to why we should fear the caped crusader. The problem with this is further explored because Clooney isn’t any fun either. You can’t laugh and the exhibitions of a high school drama club aren’t appetizing.
I really can’t say enough about how bad Clooney is here. He’s excessively awkward, displaying such a disconnect between the Batman character and Bruce Wayne that someone unfamiliar with the hero would have all the right in the world to question what makes Batman special or why Wayne is a notable person. There are no golden nuggets of dialogue and not an action sequence that can get past the outdated gaucherie of a corny 60’s comic nor can it find the heart to say anything in terms of theme aside from a kindergarten scolding to get along with your friends. It’s either unknowingly patronizing or outright ignorant of its storyboard. Every plot point finds a way to be trivial if not plain irrelevant like most of Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl role. This is made worse when she takes time away from our main character, Batman, although given how clueless Clooney is here, that might have been a mercy.
No performance from any of these characters hits with the exception of Michael Gough’s Alfred. Alfred Pennyworth is the best written character in a movie that includes Batman, Robin, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze and Batgirl and Gough is the best actor in a cast that includes Clooney, Schwarzenegger and Thurman.
Batman has never been more useless in his own movie before while Chris O’Donnell’s Robin makes Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like a godsend. Schwarzenegger gets some punny jokes to showcase once again but feels aimless in his performance. Mr. Freeze’s moral compass doesn’t arise aside from a quick atonement line at the end of the film that feels thrown in for giggles, leaving Schwarzenegger close to nothing to build to
Thurman’s Poison Ivy is the most complete character of the main cast but even her role feels over the top at points and sprinkled too heavily with the “Earth=good, people=bad” cliche given to radical environmentalists, leaving her too easy to understand and a character base that doesn’t carry enough complexity to stir any interest.
Bane, who Tom Hardy seemed to so effortlessly dive into in The Dark Knight Rises, is left a practically braindead meathead, which means no character. I understand the technique in drawing a character like this but have yet to find the execution of such a practice beneficial in film. John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men is an example of how to do it right. There are qualms and questions regarding Lennie’s character and often we even sympathize with him. Why do we fear Bane? He’s huge. What else? Nope, that’s it. Pretty basic comprehension of a villain, a character that should demonstrate as much complexity as humanly possible and at times be farther down the road then our heroes.
Then there’s Joel Schumacher. The idea I’m gonna have to watch what could be another discombobulated orchestration of capable actors in Batman Forever thrills me, especially when the casting of Jim Carrey as the Riddler, on paper, is genius. I hate to see a film with so much promise and yet so little payout as much as the next moviegoer.
Batman & Robin is that guy. It’s that stubborn guy who picked the wrong puzzle piece and rather than go back and find the right one, he smashes it into the crevice, leaving a deformed piece meshed where it doesn’t belong, an obvious blight on what is still a forming picture. Over the course of an hour, he’ll do this a couple more times. The finished product, a disarray and disorienting mess, is only a few pegs better than when the pieces were piled in a heap. It’s the millennial stereotype that we only do what it takes to get things done, that our goal is to get it finished, not finished well.
Look at these clips:
I’m unsure what Schumacher’s game plan was here. Batman & Robin isn’t arcane. It’s just flat-out obfuscation. Schumacher seems more apt to cause us to respond with vulgar bewilderment than provide us with genuine entertainment. I’m still struggling, days after my viewing, to get #13 to make any sense to me. Mr. Freeze, in polar bear slippers and a robe, conducts his henchman to sing “I’m Mr. White Christmas, I’m Mr. Snow”. This is one of the most awkward scenes my memory can recall. Schumacher was insistent. This had to make it in. I don’t know if Schumacher has a peculiar sense of humor or if he’s so off-base in his style that it seems impossible to indoctrinate it. #10 is so misplaced it’s cringeworthy and the suit up scenes have an uncomfortable sexual undertone to them. Those suit up scenes are the first images we get in Batman & Robin. Of all the selections he had to choose from, that was the first impression he went with.
One could argue this is an ode to the old comic book style but if it were, why does it feel like it was hastily made in a factory? What made the aged comic book style fun was its naturalness. It gave the notion of a childlike creativity, a sense of wonder that Batman is capable of something more. Those films and television shows were easy to poke holes in but no one ever did. They never did because they believed in the ideals that Batman personified. There was a sense of awe.
Schumacher long ago lost that childlike talent to believe in anything. Most adults do, which is ostensibly why this film doesn’t stir those emotions. That’s why it’s easy to pick holes in this. It’s because we’re never given a reason to believe that Batman & Robin gets shanked to death.
The set designs aren’t bad and Schumacher’s visual technique is the only thing I can outright commend. There a few dialogue transactions between Alfred and Batman that hold some purpose but don’t carry enough weight to be impactful. Props for Mr. Freeze’s costume design. If only his character could have been shown as much care.
Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.
80-89 It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has Fallen, The Cable Guy, The Cabin in the Woods, Tears of the Sun, Edge of Tomorrow)
60-69 It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (The Crow, Hardcore Henry, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2)
50-59 This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (X-Men: Apocalypse, D-Tox/Eye See You, Constantine, Race, Everest)
40-49 This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Bloodsport, War, The Ridiculous 6, The Lost Boys, Zombeavers)
30-39 Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (The Crow: City of Angels, Centurion, Planet of the Apes, Stonados, Redemption)
0-19 Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie Stoner, The Forbidden Dimensions, Cyborg, Outcast, Sabotage)
My score for Batman & Robin: 44.
A film with no heart, Batman & Robin struggles in nearly every department. With the cast list and characters it had at its disposal, there’s no excuse for this film’s descent into directorial madness.