Batman Week Day 4: Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin

Today I watched Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin (1997)

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In all honesty, revisiting the reviled entry into the Batman series for the first time since childhood is a large part of why I chose to do this particular theme week.  This awful and bizarre film continues where Forever left off with Batman struggling to work together with his new partner Robin.  They do battle with the ice based villain Mr. Freeze and Robin’s hotheadedness is driving a wedge between the two crime fighters.  Further exacerbating this issue is Poison Ivy, a plant based villain who uses pheromones to make men desire her to unreasonable extremes.  Said pheromones further deepens the rift between our two titular protagonists by creating an artificial love triangle.  Meanwhile Alfred is dying of a terrible disease that Mr. Freeze has been working on a cure for, Freeze has a wife on ice whom he hopes to cure one day.

This film feels like two fairly average to poor quality films smashed together into a truly terrible whole.  Firstly Joel Schumacher was obviously trying to channel the camp of Sixties and Golden Age Batman with all the dumb humour, absurd over acting, and hyperactive visuals.  Meanwhile there is this attempt at a serious theme concerning family and trust, centered around Alfred’s illness and the arrival of his niece Barbara, who will become Batgirl.  Firstly I don’t think that either of these halves would make a particularly great film if divorced from their other half, especially the serious angle because they fail to come up with conflict between Batman and Robin without making them both come off as stupidly petty and petulant.  But in theory the pure camp angle , while it certainly would not have made the film more profitable or more critically respected, may have led to the film finding a positive re-appraisal in the future.  But the two being smashed together as gracelessly as they are here yields a hilariously awful mess.

In this mess almost every performance feels incongruous, almost none of the performances feel like they are from the same movie.  Equally incongruous is the film’s sense of drama and pacing, which goes from comic absurdity to true human drama in scenes between Batman and Alfred, both serving only to make the other seem more out of place.  The only actor who seems to inhabit this world is Arnold Schwarzenegger as Freeze, whose films have often had strange attempts at real drama bolted on to dumb action flicks, so that experience pays off here.  But then you get the dichotomy of George Clooney’s Batman and Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy, Clooney is totally serious and subtle, with such affectations as the awkward half smile to cover up the trauma of Alfred’s illness, Thurman on the other hand chews scenery like no one’s business.

The only truly good thing about this movie is Schumacher’s evolving cybergoth vision of Gotham, while the people who inhabit it may deliver absurd Z-Grade performances, this movie still looks incredible in numerous ways.  Honestly though, this film being so much worse than it’s predecessor makes it significantly better.  After reviewing over 400 movies in almost as many days let me tell you, the worst film is a boring film and this film, in it’s conflicted and poorly conceived existence, is far from boring.  While I have heard many people comment on this being one of the worst films ever (they are wrong by the way) I posit that this is actually an imminently watchable, if slightly low grade film of the so-bad-it’s-good variety, it’s no Battlefield Earth or Samurai Cop, but it is fascinating from beginning to end.  3/5

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