Ah, the mighty apex of Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman series of films. Batman & Robin is a flick that is almost universally reviled among Bat-fans, those dark denizens of comic book mischief. Some might say that the revulsion over Schumacher’s colourful, homoerotic, innuendo-laced tale of woe and latex is well-placed, but – holy campfest, Batman! – I actually kind of like this movie.
With the success of Batman Forever, Warner Bros. hopped on the Batwagon once again and commissioned another film in the series. Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman were back on board and the project was fast-tracked for a 1997 release. The filmmaker floored it and finished two weeks ahead of schedule, assembling a cast of heroes and villains that would boggle Bat-minds around the world.
This time, George Clooney gets the coveted Bat-role. Chris O’Donnell is back as the now-entrenched Dick Grayson/Robin. Almost immediately, Batman and Robin are dispatched to stop the man Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) introduces as “a new villain” in Gotham City. It’s Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a terrifyingly frozen individual with a killer hockey team and a pun for all seasons. Turns out Mr. Freeze is terrorizing Gotham because he’s trying to find a cure for his wife’s condition.
In South America, a botanist is transformed into the erotically-charged Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) after a mad scientists’ creation goes haywire. She adopts a henchman, the massive Bane (Jeep Swenson), and takes to Gotham in an effort to get her hands on Bruce Wayne’s chemicals. This leads to an eventual team-up with Mr. Freeze and, naturally, the arrival of Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone) as the niece of Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough).
Clooney is often considered the worst of the film Batmans. That’s probably true. He doesn’t even attempt to “do the voice” and his pretty boy posturing never ceases, even in the cowl. Clooney is an insanely casual Batman, sauntering around in the suit during the day to solve crimes and even showing up at a charity event with the Boy Wonder to raise some cash and bid on an attractive green lady with his Batman credit card.
In terms of eye candy, Schumacher tries to dole out the goods to all orientations. That the film begins with dual shots of latex-covered asses and codpieces is no accident. And Ivy is easily the sexiest of the Batman females, writhing around in her impressive glory and dropping incessant sexual innuendos with nearly every line of dialogue she coos (“How about ‘slippery when wet?’” or “My garden needs tending,” for instance). Silverstone’s Batgirl gets her own erotic suit-up scene, although there are no nipples – just points.
Batman & Robin very often feels like a superhero movie piloted by Mel Brooks. From Mr. Freeze’s corny one-liners, delivered with a special slice of insanity from Schwarzenegger, to the campy sound effects that occur when bad guys or cops go flying, this flick is a virtual send-up of superhero movie tropes. Schumacher knows exactly what he’s doing, too, turning the toyetic into an adult-oriented stew of innuendoes and teasing, cheesy moments. Alfred’s closing line (“We’re going to need a bigger cave”) is the perfect capper.
At the same time, I can see the case for the disdain. Batman is, after all, a beloved character of the shadows and this movie differs so greatly in tone from the others, even the silly Batman Forever, that the shift may seem confusing to some. Still, Batman & Robin is a lot of fun to watch. Packed with groan-worthy moments and oodles of latex and camp value, Schumacher’s last kick at the Bat makes for a “cool party” indeed.