Jul 192012
 

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HCF GUILTY PLEASURES: BATMAN & ROBIN [1997]

AVAILBLE ON DVD AND BLU RAY

RUNNING TIME: 124 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

In Gotham City, Batman and Robin attempt to stop Mr. Freeze from stealing a cache of diamonds.  After a lengthy chase, the supervillain freezes Robin and flees, warning Batman he has eleven minutes to thaw Robin. They learn that Freeze was a scientist named Victor Fries.  He became dependent on a diamond-powered subzero suit following an accident in a cryogenics lab he was using to find a cure for his wife, Nora,  who was suffering from a terminal illness called MacGregor’s Syndrome.  Meanwhile, in South America, botanist Dr. Pamela Isley is working under Dr. Jason Woodrue, a mad scientist who recently had his funding cut by Wayne Enterprises and is experimenting with the strength serum Venom.  After Woodrue subjecting a diminutive convict to the experiment, transforming him into the muscular Bane, Isley refuses to join him and Woodrue overturns a shelf of various toxins onto her. Rather than dying, she transforms into the seductive Poison Ivy out for revenge on both Woodrue and Bruce Wayne, AKA Batman…………….

Batman & Robin is better than The Dark Knight!

Whenever I say this, I am constantly met with incredulity.  “Am I joking”?   “How could I think that”?  I’ll go further and say it’s better than Batman Begins too.  Christopher Nolan’s Bat outings are constantly praised for their supposed realism, but I have never understood why if a film is more realistic and ‘dark’, it is somehow better.  It’s the same with the Bond movies, where the more fantastical outings are looked down upon and the more down-to-earth ones are far more widely praised.  Batman & Robin is intended as nothing more than a piece of colourful kid-friendly fun, and on that level it succeeds.  It also has considerable heart.  Given the choice, I’d much rather watch it again than Nolan’s dull, drab films.  Now of course I am not claiming it is the best of all Batman films; for me Tim Burton’s films reign supreme and show that Batman can go dark while still remaining entertaining.  Batman Returns is actually a stunningly audacious and beautiful combination of art movie and blockbuster which has style and artistry that Nolan can only dream of, at least the Nolan who makes Batman films, not the other Nolan who made the very fine Inception.  And anyway, in terms of realism, how real can a Batman film be? It’s about a man who dreses up as a bat to fight crime!

The general impression is that everywhere you look, Batman & Robin is regarded as a piece of crap, a travesty, the lowest a Hollywood blockbuster can go, though actually it does have its likers if you look on sites like the IMDB, but unsurprisingly they are afraid of being torn to bits by the hoardes of Nolan fan boys if they talk too much!  Every time I watch the film, I think of dozens of worst films in just the first five minutes.  Batman & Robin is a blast. Saying that, I’m not going to admit that it isn’t heavily flawed.  That would be stupid!  Warner’s decision to make a film that was, above all, “toyetic”, an invented word that means containing lots of potential toys for kids, resulted in having toy companies make decisions on things in the film so they could start making their toys early, which is surely not a way to proceed with a film.  In fact, it seems that the studio controlled every aspect of the film very closely and director Joel Schumacher just decided to ‘go with it’ and make what they wanted; a live- action cartoon not that far from the 1960’s TV series.  The script by Akiva Goldsman is frankly a mess but a great deal of stuff was cut out of the film including anything that could be considered not family friendly, such as Poison Ivy killing Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend, helping to severely reduce Elle Macpherson’s role.

Despite what you may have heard, Batman & Robin did not flop. It was a hit, just not as big as expected, and is a good example of a blockbuster where excessive, in-your-face marketing may have backfired and turned people off the film.  Another example is the 1998 Godzilla, though Batman & Robin is infinitely better than that!  The key to enjoying is to just take it on the level it wants you to, as a ridiculous, action packed, light hearted romp.  The first fifteen minutes never fail to impress me with their inventiveness, as Batman and Robin battle and chase Mr Freeze all over the place.  What happens when Mr Freeze falls out of a plane and sprouts butterfly-like wings?  Why, Batman and Robin jump out of the plane after him on aerial roller skates of course!  It’s absurd and unbelievable, but fun if you just switch your brain off.  In any case, this lengthy opening sequence probably contains more action than all of The Dark Knight and afterwards you’re never ten minutes away from something else happening. When I see a Batman film I want to see him being Batman and kicking lots of butt.  I don’t want to see lots of scenes of people in rooms talking.

The inexhaustible of array of gadgets and amazing vehicles perhaps does get a little much but when you have such wonderfully crazy scenes such as an ice hockey battle and a vehicle chase down a statue, it really doesn’t matter, and, besides, visually the film is quite something, cinematographer Steven Goldblatt creating quite beautiful compositions from three main colours; red for Batman and Robin, blue for Mr Freeze and green and Poison Ivy.  Barbara Ling’s production design is even more  impressive, from the observatory held up by a huge statue to Arkham Asylum, which looks like a nightmare version of Notre Dame Cathedral replete with jutting serpents replacing the gargoyles.  When you add visual references to films like Blonde Venus and The Black Cat ’34, which are not the best known movies about, you cannot say that a great deal of thought has not been put into at some aspects of the film, and I haven’t yet got to Elliot Goldenthal’s score, which is amazingly rich and diverse [it has two themes for Poison Ivy alone, a vaguely Middle Eastern dance-like piece and a sultry saxophone ditty] and really shows up Hans Zimmer’s work on the Nolan films for the dreary, monotonous mediocrity that it is.

Of course certain elements are botched.  Alicia Silverstone’s presence as Batgirl isn’t really justified and she becomes very annoying with her plentiful semi-feminist lines designed to make young girls cheer.  Poison Ivy’s creation is a weak rehash of Catwoman’s and it’s never clear what her powers exactly are, while Bane is wasted and is a character that will probably be done better in The Dark Knight Rises though I doubt little else will. Mr Freeze is rather good though, despite some inconsistences such as him constantly smoking cigars despite having to remain at freezing temperature constantly.  Acted with a surprising amount of emotion by Arnold Schwarzenegger, he may be saddled with every pun involving the words cold, chill and freeze you can think of but is a fully rounded character with a rather sad aspect.  When he talks to his wife, who is being kept alive, just about, in a glass cell, it’s rather moving, and another subplot involving the possibly dying Alfred is nice too, making this a Batman film that contains more humanity and feeling than certainly Nolan’s efforts and maybe a couple of the others too.  Schumacher always wanted to make a serious Batman film, and there are traces of that here and there in Batman & Robin, not just in the deleted scenes of Batman Forever!

I haven’t yet mentioned the much discussed gay element which, frankly, apart from the tongue-in-cheek ‘suiting’ up bits, seems to me more a case of something you notice once you know it’s supposed to be there, rather than something that automatically jumps out at you.  The acting overall is a mixed bag with George Clooney somewhat better than normal [I’ve never really rated him] though Uma Thurman is all over the place.  But really, this film isn’t so bad.  Forget Nolan’s ‘oh so serious’ films. Give me Mr Freeze freezing everything in sight while saying “the ice man cometh”.  Give me Bane bursting into Mr Freeze’s prison cell with a shopping trolley with his suit and Freeze saying; “at last, a laundry service that delivers”.  Give me be vehicles going about 70 mph down a statue and being able to stop dead in their tracts, regardless of such scientifically proved concepts as speed, velocity, gravity. Give me Batman, despite having years of detective skills and deductive reasoning, having trouble identifying people who change their hair colour, stop wearing glasses and wear a mask that only covers the eye area. Give me Robin making a Robin-signal shaped hole in the wall with his gun. Give me a building which is really small from the outside but inside is fifty times bigger than the Tardis. Give me water glowing red when it heats up. Give me…..the nipples…….

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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  4 Responses to “BATMAN AND ROBIN [1997] [GUILTY PLEASURES]”

  1. Well done, Doc. A very interesting analysis on a cheesey classic Batman. I must admit if it’s on TV i give it a watch for a giggle.

  2. juanvasquez

    In a way, I sort of agree with you. Batman and Robin is not the worst film ever, as it seems to be voted in a lot of polls. Batman Forever is a worse film, to the point where I can’t actually sit through the full film without wanting to gouge my eyes out. I do think Batman and Robin is reasonably entertaining. Despite it’s massive deviations from the characters actual origins etc from the comics, I think it’s more in keeping with the tone of the Burton films (well, stupid dayglo colours and bat-skates/credit card/nipples aside).

    But better than The Dark Knight? Dude, you trippin’! TDK is a crime epic. I’m not a fan of the Nolan films because of their ‘realism’, I like them because the tell a solid story, have some fantastic characters, and in TDK’s case, really pushed the envelope when it came to a massively iconic character like the Joker.

  3. If you want to write an article slagging off Christopher Nolan then just do it. Why dress it up as an apology for a film nobody likes…

  4. Well this is what the Guilty Pleasure section is for, us reviewing films that we like but the majority of other folk don’t. In any case, I did write an article about Christopher Nolan, click below, and I’m not apologising for my views, sombody once said opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one :)

    http://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2012/07/the-dark-knight-rises-and-why-such-a-hit-as-the-nolan-batman-trilogy-is-such-a-miss-for-dr-lenera-hcf-alternative-review/

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