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Batman and Robin

(1997)
Yes, that Batman film, the one everyone hates, which suspended the franchise for several years until Christopher Nolan could sweep in and deliver the serious Batman all the fanboys still spooge over. I dont hate it like everyone else does, but theres a lot to dislike here, if Im being honest. I dont hate campy Adam-West-type Batman the way Batman fans do, so Im not personally offended by this film. I knew what I was getting into the second Batman (George Clooney, can you believe?) and Robin (Chris ODonnell) click their heels together and skates pop out of their boots. Lets face it, its not like the Burton Batman films were exactly exercises in restraint, and this can hardly be considered worse than Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones chewing scenery with abandon in Batman Forever. But this film feels really weird after sitting through nine hours of Nolan treating the material like Wagner, and a viewing now, more than fifteen years after this was released, mostly makes one scratch his head and ask, What exactly were they thinking? Well, they were thinking that since Burton was sort of (sort of???) campy with his films, they should turn it up to eleven and make it as shamelessly campy as possible. Thats an approach that could have worked if either played straight (like Adam West did) or way-out zany, but aside from Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy), no ones really willing to wholly commit to the camp, with the result that the movie, while neon-glow-lit and energetic, kind of sits there. I maintain that Clooney could have been a good Batman in a better film (I like his Bruce Wayne, even though he mostly stalks around the mansion in a fluffy black bathrobe), but he seems sort of lost here, wondering what the hell he got himself into. Chris ODonnell is enthusiastic enough, but nobody really likes Robin (in fact DC Comics actually held a poll once and the readers voted to kill the character off. Bloodthirsty lot, these Bat-fans). That leaves us Thurman, whos so far over the top she starts coming back up from the bottom, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose Mr. Freeze is the character most point to when airing their hearty disdain for the movie. I actually like this version of Freeze; yes, hes unapologetically campy (like the rest of the film), and no one ever correctly accused Arnie of being a great actor. But his bald blue pate and almost glowing blue eyes are unintentionally creepy, and hes strangely able to wring a little bit of pathos out of his odd make-up. Some of the lighting effects render Schwarzeneggers dome a huge cerulean skull, eyes blazing out of the dead sockets. One can only imagine, if Schumacher could summon up that imagery, what Nolan could have done with the character. Naturally we would have lost all the Ice to see you, puns, which is part of what makes this Freeze so enjoyably awful. Oh, yes, theres also Alicia Silverstone, cast at the height of her cuteness, fresh off Clueless and some Aerosmith videos; shes not very good here, but then no one really is, so shes right at home. She was cast for her looks (duh), and gets to dress up like a schoolgirl, a leather biker, and a superhero. If they could have squeezed in a cheerleader outfit they would have covered their bases entirely.

Despite all the fanboy venom spewed over this film, I maintain its possible to enjoy it if youre in the right frame of mind, campy puns and all. Only a very unusual few could openly embrace this film, and a lot of it is pretty bad (its almost painful to see the mighty John Glover cavorting around like an idiot, and I wont even mention Bane, a terrible concept in the comics that not even Nolan could entirely pull off); but in some ways its like watching a train wreck. You know youre witnessing something tragic and awful, but you just cant take your eyes off it. This film didnt derail anyones career (except maybe Schumachers), so theres no permanent harm. Id only recommend this to die-hard fans of the Adam West flavor of Batman, most of whom have probably died off by now, either from old age or from having been hunted down by fundamentalist Nolanists. September 18, 2013

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