Batman and Robin: Camping Near the Roots.
Does anyone remember having uncontrollable fun watching the 1960s Batman (Kane 1966) series? Wild costumes, crazy make-up and injected into all those WHACK! SMACK! BLAM! fist fights was the comical, clownish and often camp celebration of whimsical one-liners and colourful characters. Batman and Robin (Schumacher 1997), the fourth installment in Warner Bros caped-crusader series does not disappoint on any of these fronts. Director Joel Schumacher takes the reigns again after his previous cinematic spectacle Batman Forever (Schumacher 1995), only this time he has spoiled the audience rotten by raising the (colour) bar substantially and unmasking a movie experience to mesmerize, maybe even hypnotize many a sprouting Batman fan.
With a movie so saturated in bright detail and characters both florid and chromatic it’s hard to know where to look first. How does one take in all this kaleidoscopic exposition Batman and Robin has to offer? Perhaps it’s best to start with the hero. George Clooney plays Batman in what some may perceive as his most challenging role to date. He lends the iconic character a unique brand of humor and visual ostentatiousnesss, absent in Tim Burton prequels. Supporting Clooney with an unbelievable performance is Chris O’Donnell playing the infamous Robin, a hero whose distaste for criminals is measured only by his need to rebut anything and everything. And Alicia Silverstone, who trades the quick comedic wit of her Clueless (Heckerling 1995) days for some off-the-wall eccentricity, a quality more than compatible with her character Batgirl, the latest and arguably the greatest of Schumacher’s franchise re-workings. Together this trio takes on a cool new breed of bad guy and a fresh variety of villainess who is sure to grow on you.
Arnold Schwarzenegger comes into his own in his portrayal of a man both frozen with grief and filled with an icy remorselessness. Schwarzenegger’s character Mr. Freeze, though a villain, maintains the ambivalence of a man commissioned by twisted fate. There are moments throughout Batman and Robin when Schwarzenegger embodies his role so convincingly that a viewer might believe the actor himself has endured a whole collection of flawed circumstances (be them of the cinematic variety or otherwise). Another vibrant performance comes to the viewer by way of Uma Thurman and her flourishing embodiment of the comic villainess Poison Ivy. Like Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy is the byproduct of an envenomed fate and is fuelled by revenge that grows stronger with each saturated frame, making her a formidable organism, which in turn exhibits Thurman’s unrivaled portrayal of a poison-lipped eco-terrorist. But, no leafy Villainess is complete without her over-sized accomplice Bane, played by former WCW wrester Jeep Swenson (aka The Final Solution). Originally penned as one of Batman’s more physically and intellectually powerful foes, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman delivers a version of Bane that seems well aligned with Schumacher’s second entry into the Warner-owned franchise, and though Bane maintains his bulk in this 1997 version, his intelligence is not a property to fear.
Batman and Robin is packed so full of action and ludicrous energy, it’s practically bursting at the lycra seams. The opening alone (a chromatic homage to the opening scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), plays out like a steroid pricked, hallucinogen spiked Disney on Ice. The perpetually cold, Mr. Freeze is attempting to steal an elephantine diamond from Gotham Museum when Batman bursts through the roof, slides down the elongated tail of a dinosaur statue like some ‘adrenaline-junkified’ Fred Flintstone and throws a Batarang in Freeze’s works. Robin soon joins the party; crashing through a wall on his customized motorbike and knocking the enormous diamond from Freezes’ grasp. What follows is an all out disco battle with, as Robin classes them, ‘the hockey team from hell’ (Schumacher 1997). As Batman and Robin battle the onslaught of crazed ice skaters, Freeze attempts to escape in a rocket but his ultimate escape is foiled yet again by the persistent heroes. This amount of action could be watered down and used to fuel a cross-country circus tour but Schumacher manages to squeeze it all into the first 15 minutes of the film.
In assembling such a collection of heroes and evildoers to battle it out in a new and re-grooved Gotham City, Schumacher has done a brave thing painting over Burton’s darkly gothic 1989 version with a bombardment of energetic colour and razzle-dazzle. Where Burton’s Batman merely touched on comical possibilities, Batman and Robin takes full advantage of an open-minded audience, and armed with a variable string of untouched one-liners which include cheerful throwbacks to American literary classics such as Eugene O’Neill’s 1939 play The Iceman Cometh, and an acute awareness of prehistoric history, Schwarzenegger chews the dialogue and discharges it toward an audience with chunky pronunciation and naive charm. Batman and Robin also boasts colourful and interesting costume alterations, a remodeled Batmobile complete with disco engine, and a whole host of amusing gadgetry including a Batlaser for melting ice (and whatever else), and a reconditioned Grapple Gun for the more fashion-conscious caped crusader.
Schumacher’s latest version of Batman with its colourful tones, morally and cinematically ambiguous villains, playful dialogue and equally jaunty fight scenes, returns the franchise visually and thematically back to its 1960s roots.
For those of you who chuckled uncontrollably as Caesar Romero flashed his painted Joker smile and jigged about in pink lapels, or delighted as Burt Ward’s Robin struggled to abbreviate his astonishment, and maybe even punched the air when you read the brightly-coloured onomatopeias that flashed across the screen, then WHAM! BAM! …Thank you ma’am, Batman and Robin should definitely offer the same caliber entertainment and representation of the classic DC comic character that you’ve enjoyed on daytime television (a long time ago).
Heckerling, A 1995, Clueless, Paramount Pictures.
Kane, B 1966, Batman, 20th Century Fox.
Schumacher, J 1997, Batman and Robin, Warner Bros.
Schumacher, J 1995, Batman Forever, Warner Bros.
Spielberg, S 1984, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Paramount Pictures.