It really takes a genius to undo all the work that went into making Batman more than just a hilarious joke. But it takes A GOD to bring an evolved franchise back 30 years in the space of one movie.
Now I have nothing against the old campy Adam West TV series but they really were the last word on that type of spoof/comedy take on the character. With Tim Burton's darker, edgier efforts it looked like we were finally getting to know the comic-book hero...
That is, until we realised that this was the type of guy who carried around Bat credit cards and had ice-skates built into his shoes in the event that an impromptu ice ballet might break out. Yes, Joel Schumacher, who had done rather well with the admittedly silly but completely entertaining Batman Forever, just couldn't resist the urge to Adam West the franchise to the max. The result was, fair enough, pretty darn funny but at what cost?
Joke or not, Batman & Robin is one astonishingly dire effort on every conceivable level. From the plot to the acting to the very sets, this is an ill-judged attempt at a kid-friendly Batman flick to say the least which makes the Super Mario Bros. movie look like Sunset Boulevard. Listing the film's shortcomings would take days but suffice it to say that miscasting George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger (as Batman and Mr Freeze respectively) whilst giving Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy) her all-time worst performance to date and shattering Alicia Silverstone (Batgirl) & Chris O'Donnell's (Robin) careers is not a good start.
The look of the film is like a cheap-ass version of Batman Forever: you've got the same neon-lit, larger-than-life Gotham except everything this time is clearly made of either plastic or cardboard. Every viewing brings forward more and more visual facepalmisms, take the plastic stalactites for example, or better still Robin's bike bursting through a wall leaving a perfect Robin sign carved on the wall behind him. Very early on it becomes quite clear that we are in fact watching a Road Runner cartoon episode. And not a very good one.
This is one awful script. Probably one of THE worst scripts ever written. Every line, every joke (read: pun) is a disaster. It's actually impressive in that sense. Again, every viewing reveals more and more:
And that's far from being all of 'em!
Schwarzenegger is usually remembered as this film's biggest fail but his endless ice-puns are nothing compared to Thurman's lack of any comic timing whatsoever. It's a masterpiece of a performance which makes Silverstone's subtly terrible turn as the unnecessary Batgirl look nuanced in comparison. Then there's George Clooney who not only looks silly in that Bat-nipply outfit right off the bat (pun intended) but smiles his way through the whole thing making such small matters as Alfred's possible death feel about as heartbreaking as a blueberry muffin. Kudos to Michael Gough, by the way, for being the only cast member to retain most of his dignity throughout the film.
You could argue that this is really made for kids and shouldn't be compared to previous instalments but you could also argue that regardless of whom it's made for: Batman & Robin is a poorly made, very expensive disaster. Frankly, kids deserve better. Hell, I watched the first 3 Batman films as a kid and had a ball!
The key to making a good Batman film, or any good superhero movie for that matter, is to find a perfect balance between the silly, guilty pleasure nature of the material, a specific look worthy of the concept and a consistent, more grounded tone. Modernising the Batman films visually wasn't a bad idea and worked somewhat in Forever but the lack of effort and care is more than palpable in Joel Schumacher's second, and last, Bat-outing. It took 10 years for the franchise to recover and its easy to see why.
Overall, indeed the worst thing to happen to Batman since... ever. BUT, having said that, there is a lot to enjoy here: the pace is fast enough that there's very little time to be bored and it's one of those so-bad-it's-good type of deals where no matter how cheesy it gets there's always a lol here and there to keep you entertained.
Bad, very bad. But geniusely so.
*for bad movie fans.