Published July 1, 1997
. .And speaking of witless sequels, Batman and Robin directed by Joel Schumacher is a pathetic document—un-clever and un-funny. And being un-clever and un-funny are the two cardinal sins for any such obvious attempt at postmodern filmmaking as a Batman sequel. Given that we’ve got to watch this kind of garbage (since Hollywood hardly knows how to produce anything else anymore), at least we ought to have the compensation of being able to admire the visual and verbal inventiveness of, say, a Luc Besson. His Fifth Element has more wit in its trailer than Batman and Robin has in its whole, intolerable 99 minutes.
For worse even than being un-clever is trying to be clever and failing. For example, at the very beginning a spoiled teenage Robin (Chris O’Donnell) whines as he admires the Batmobile: “I want a car. Chicks dig the car.”
Taking up his assigned role as the exasperated papa Batman (George Clooney) says in a broad aside to the audience: “This is why Superman works alone.”
Apparently Schumacher and Co. thought this so funny that they put it in their own trailer, but it just falls flat to my ear. Too predictable. And, indeed, the film is pushing the “family” line throughout, as the ancient family retainer, Alfred (Michael Gough), is sick and like to die and not only summons his own, hitherto invisible, family in the form of a sexy niece called Barbara (Alicia Silverstone) but keeps trying to patch up the differences (all of them similarly typical of pushy teenage kid coming up against reluctant dad unwilling to give him responsibility or, as the kid sees it, to “trust” him) between Batman and Robin in the name of family. “Despite all your talents,” says Alfred to Batman, “you are still a novice in the ways of family.”
We should be grateful, I suppose, that the propaganda, pathetic as it is, is at least on the side of something worthwhile. Likewise, we should be surprised and gratified that the worst of the bad guys is not only a gal, Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) but also an environmentalist! When she takes Batman to task for his scientific experiments and proclaims her radical green sentiments, Batman politely points out to her that her way would mean no more heating oil or refrigerants and millions would die. “Acceptable losses in the battle to save the planet,” she says airily. There could have been an interesting point made of Poison Ivy as the representative of “Mother Nature” (as she claims to be)—the classic and misogynistic combination of femininity with images of danger and predation. Like Keats’s portrait of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” this gal has a deadly poison in her kiss! Vanquishing her thus involves us in an unexpected reversion to the old-fashioned view of nature as something to be tamed and subdued, rather than a frail thing to be protected by the enlightened remnant of ascendant mankind.
But her villainy is overshadowed by hulking Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Mr Freeze,” a completely uninteresting figure about whom there is a typically hokey and sentimental story cooked up of a beloved wife whom he is trying to save from fatal illness by freezing until he, a brilliant scientist, will have discovered a cure. It is never quite made clear why his concern for his wife should also have made him don a ridiculous silver suit and run around freezing everyone with a sort of ice-gun. Crazed by grief, I guess. Vaguely we are told that there was an accident with the freezing process and “somehow he survived” to become a supervillain. But this is a serious weakness in such a film: though the explanation is an absurdity, it has to be given in great detail. So far as we can tell, Mr. Freeze’s scientific brilliance consists of his saying things like: “In this universe there is only one absolute: everything freezes.” Huh? What about everything boils?
More seriously, Alicia Silverstone’s embryonic Batgirl, a student in the “computer science division” of “Oxbridge Academy” in England, is also a bore. She races motorcycles against boys and does all the things we would expect a Hollywood girl-superhero to do. Naturally, she competes fiercely with the Boy Wonder, who is instantly smitten with her (as well as, more interestingly, with Poison Ivy). All this is as predictable as the final forging of a Hollywood-style voluntary family in the end, consisting of the three bats and Alfred ( “We’ll have to get a bigger cave” says he) But she does have one very funny line when Poison Ivy is finally vanquished, ticking her off for “using feminine wiles to get what you want. Read a book, sister; that kind of passive-aggressive stuff went out years ago.” In fact, I would have said that this is the only really funny line in the picture, but for the fact that I’m not entirely sure it is meant to be funny.