Batman and Robin

reviewed by Roy Fisher

Let’s start with the good parts.The costumes look great. For Batman and Robin, they’ve deliberately highlighted the fetish aspect of superhero myth. Four stars out of the big five—Batman (George Clooney), Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone), Robin (Chris O’Donnell) and Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger)—look like they just walked off the pages of Boudoir Noir. Even the mask of a minor villain, Bane, gleefully copies the gimp from Pulp Fiction.
Uma Thurman, arguably the only genuine actor in the main line-up, is also the only person who looks like she’s having fun. A couple of her scenes actually work as high camp—like her big entrance as Poison Ivy, where she walks across a dance floor on the oiled backs of prostrate bodybuilding beefcake. Similarly, Michael Gough who plays Alfred is the only one who retains any semblance of dignity.A couple of the set pieces look pretty neat, as do a few of the outdoor shots of Gotham City. Um... the opening credits are pretty impressive. Is that it?Think so. The rest is horrible.First the plot. Dr. Fries was your normal cryogenics research scientist when his wife came down with a (fictional) disease called MacGregor’s Syndrome. (Through an astounding coincidence, this is the same disease Batman’s butler Alfred suffers from throughout the film.) Fries froze his wife to buy time for a cure, but fell into a vat containing a mysterious liquid nitrogen compound. The resulting Mr. Freeze (a) requires sub-zero temperatures to survive, (b) has supposedly lost all empathy for mankind and (c) spends his time spouting lines like “Your compassion is your weakness, Batman—with my cold heart I cannot help but triumph.”Meanwhile, back in the jungle, Dr. Woodrue tries to kill his research assistant, plant-lover Pamela Isley. Unfortunately for him, she falls into a table-full of chemicals meant to create animal-plant hybrids. The resulting Poison Ivy (a) has phenomenal pheromones that can kill with a kiss, (b) has a pathological hatred of all animals and (c) spends her time spouting lines like “Ah, Batman and Robin, the militant arm of our mammalian oppressors.”In case you hadn’t guessed, the script is a major honker. The stilted dialogue consists almost solely of hoary clichés, patched together with lame one-liners that I assume were supposed to be funny. It doesn’t help that everyone (with the exception of Thurman and the guy who plays Alfred) delivers their lines with such stiffness you know they’re just itching for the scene to be over so they can get out of that damned suit.Direction is sloppy. The action sequences are clumsy, illogical and just plain stupid. Even the stunts are terrible—you can practically see the wires “assisting” the stuntmen when they leap across the room. Then there’s the scenes that are just plain silly, like when Robin leaps onto Freeze’s rocket (riding it into the stratosphere from the outside) and later surfs—yes, surfs—his way down to the ground. Physics lesson for the scriptwriters: a human body falling from the upper atmosphere will always go splat, even if it is riding a surfboard.While some of the sets are cool, most are not. Apart from a few scenes, Gotham looks like exactly what it is: a bunch of sets constructed so they can be easily destroyed. The special effects are equally bad.But the movie’s biggest flaw is that it takes after the Adam West/Burt Ward TV show. There’s no echo of the darkness of Frank Miller, or the twistedness of Tim Burton. Schwarzenegger even wears the same bathrobe outfit worn by the TV Mr. Freeze, who wasn’t played by Liberace, but does look very, very much like him.I haven’t even mentioned the Virtual Alfred in the Batcave computer, Batman and Robin’s stupid Freudian father-son jealousy conflict over Poison Ivy, Elle MacPherson’s gratuitous appearance as Bruce Wayne’s “Let’s get married” girlfriend. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Pointless, too.For comic book fans who were excited by the appearance of Bane on the movie posters: it’s only Bane by name. In the comics, Bane was a brilliant criminal mastermind who was the only villain to actually defeat Bruce Wayne. In the movie, he’s a dumb, hulking brute whose most intelligent line of dialogue the movie is “Boooooommmbbb...”Ultimately, we have a blatantly fake plot where fake-looking characters acting in fake-looking locales, fighting fake-looking fights surrounded by fake-looking special effects and speaking fake-sounding dialogue while Alfred suffers from a fake disease. How are we supposed to care what happens?

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