The Dark Knight Or The Dark Shite? BATMAN & ROBIN Gets The Take Two Treatment
In the latest of our Take Two series, we reexamine Batman & Robin, the sequel we watched so you don't have to.
Welcome to Take Two, the series that’s big enough to hold up its hands and say “I was wrong.”
From your first watch to your second, has a movie gone from marvelous to meh? Has an initial viewing ever left you cold, only to later warm the cockles of your heart? Have you ever been so stubborn, “anti-mainstream” and cantankerous that you’ve point-blank refused to admit that a certain film has any merit at all whilst everyone else claims it’s the cinematic second-coming? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Critics, haters and click-baiters are circling around DC’s Justice League like vultures. So what better time to remind DC fans; “you think this is bad?”
With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, this month’s Take Two is Batman & Robin.
The First Take
Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) had established The Dark Knight Detective as a brooding, introverted everyman. Well, an everyman that was filthy rich. Michael Keaton‘s nuanced performance was the perfect counter-balance to Jack Nicholson‘s scenery-humping Joker. Along with gothic 1950’s-esque comic book backdrops, it struck a delicate tone in taking itself seriously whilst also well-aware that it was tongue-in-cheek.
Batman Returns was darker still: doubling-up on villains, violence and Burton‘s vision of Gotham. However, this alienated the casual fans and sponsors, leading Batman’s Box Office and merchandise sales to go from Kaboom to Crash! So it was Tim Burton out and Joel Schumacher in. His Batman Forever featured an insufferably smug Val Kilmer as the Caped Crusader who was pitted against (a feuding IRL) Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Jim Carrey as The Riddler. Lightening the mood by edging closer to the original 60’s tv series, it could fairly be described as a romp. And just like that, Batman had gone from comic to comical.
Outperforming Batman Returns and more importantly, shifting a shed-load of Happy Meals and Pez dispensers, Warner Brothers and Schumacher went back to the well and came up with Batman & Robin. Taking the formula of Batman Forever, subtracting one Val Kilmer, adding one George Clooney and turning it all up to “Holy Camp as Christmas”, Batman and Robin took The Bat from the star on top of the tree to Christmas turkey.
Let’s start with the nipples: the most enduring aspect of this movie and often the retort to any Batman & Robin-related line of questioning. That said, the “anatomically correct” batsuit was first worn by Kilmer but let’s not allow the facts to stand in the way of a good mauling. The fact is, Clooney‘s smuggling peanuts and the bat is ridiculed as a result.
That being said, there was ill feeling towards this film from the outset: Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s villain Mr. Freeze hijacked Clooney‘s top billing, metaphorically cutting off Batman’s balls. Of course, Nicholson previously hijacked the billing but, hey, that was Nicholson. Otherwise, there was an obvious overkill of villains and heroes where no one truly stood out, least of all the big, bad, bat.
Arnie’s known for his use of often laboured puns, but compared to Mr. Freeze, that was only the tip of the iceberg. Damn! It must be contagious. Uma Thurman‘s Poison Ivy was a textbook femme fatale who paled in comparison to the bar-setting Catwoman (Pfeiffer, not Berry). Bane was also lost in the shuffle somewhere and Alicia Silverstone turned up as Bat-Girl alongside the Dynamic Duo. Who was it that sang “We don’t need another hero?”
A tagline for this Take Two should have been: ‘Watching Batman & Robin, so you don’t have to’. Good luck everybody.
Never mind the nipples, here’s the butt-shots. Mere seconds in and we’ve got a close up of the bat-butt: that’s Robin’s, Batman’s and just to round it off, we get Bat-Girl’s at the end too and it’s still not clear if that’s in the name of equality or not. Having said that, one of Robin’s first lines re: the Batmobile is “chicks dig the car”, so I’m guessing it’s the latter. As for the anatomically-correct rubber batsuit (to paraphrase Poison Ivy), it presumably means that there is no Bat-penis, only an Action Man-style smooth-over. Shame.
From the off, Clooney looks embarrassed to be in the batsuit: never more than when he’s scanning the skies for the Bat-signal, even when they’re indoors. How his career recovered is a mystery of modern movies – he must have friends in high places. What is undeniable though, is his charm whenever he removes the cowl, but Bruce Wayne he is not. He’s more 1D than Harry Styles. For anyone unconvinced by Bat-fleck, compare his fight scenes to Clooney‘s and tell us on whose cape you’d rather pull.
Although, to compare does seem unfair: this is more 60’s TV series than DCEU Dark Knight. During the first confrontation with Mr. Freeze, a click of the heels sees Bat-skates spring from the hero’s soles and before you know it, the crime fighters are catching priceless vases mid-scuffle and playing ice-hockey with what must be the largest cubic zirconia this side of Springfield. Uma Thurman doing a reverse strip-tease and dancing out of a gorilla outfit? Check. Batman flashing his GothCard Credit card? Check. Coolio? Check. The trouble is, it’s never funny or even fun. It’s laughable and laborious.
A common criticism of Thor: Ragnarok is that its humour comes at the cost of any sense of drama. Those critics should revisit Batman & Robin for a little perspective. At no point does it feel as if this could be Batman’s final fight. Mr. Freeze is too busy delivering puns to actually punish (“Let’s kick some ice!”), whilst Poison Ivy flits from feminist to floozy and back again to such an extent that she’s little more than the seeds of Batman and Robin’s short-lived and half-arsed spat.
More effectively flying the feminist flag is Alicia Silverstone‘s Bat-Girl. Conversely though, it’s almost counter-productive. The viewer was no doubt already aware that women could ride motorbikes, attend an Ivy League institution and kick some actual ass (in high heels and a beauty spot). So why was her ability treated like a reveal? A shock? A twist? It all makes you crave Wonder Woman.
Aesthetically ambitious though the film is, gone is Burton‘s gothic skyline, replaced instead by a paint-by-numbers “more-is-more” approach to architecture. Finally, it’s hardly hyperbolic to say that Smashing Pumpkins‘ “The End is the Beginning is the End” theme tune is still the best thing about this movie. Sadly, even that gets followed up by R Kelly’s ‘Gotham City’ theme tune.
The Final Cut: Batman & Robin
Is it as bad as you remember? Of course not. It’s much, much worse. Even an open-minded approach soon drains the viewer of any enthusiasm or objectivity. In fact, let’s put it to bed and never speak of this again.
For all those whose gripe is that DC doesn’t do light, there’s a very good reason for that. Now go enjoy Justice League.
Which films do you think deserve a Take Two? Let us know which and why in the comments and see if you can change our mind.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.