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Saturday, June 2, 2012

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 04 - Batman & Robin (1997)

Batman & Robin (1997; Warner Bros. Pictures)
Some say this is the worst film from my generation.  I don’t quite agree, but Batman and Robin is still a complete mess.  But before I get into why this film sucked, I want to provide a little essential backstory.  In 1989, the talented Tim Burton directed a new Batman movie that was a big hit.  Naturally there was a sequel, but the second film was the brunt of much criticism for being far too dark and even a little disturbing at times.  However, it made some money so Warner Bros. kept the series going under Joel Schumacher, a director with a very different vision for the franchise.  Batman was recast with Val Kilmer and the tone was shifted from dark to almost comical.  Jim Carrey was cast as the Riddler and the film was, once again a success.  Schumacher directed the next and final batman film for eight years, Batman & Robin, recast again with ER star George Clooney as the lead and Chris O’Donnell returning from the previous film as the Boy Wonder.

The plot centers on our two heroes fighting off an icy madman named Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who is stealing diamonds from Gotham City’s wealthy citizens and museums to build a machine to save his wife who is in a sort of stasis sleep due to an incurable illness.  He has the cure, he just needs a few more rocks to power the machine, if only those pesky heroes will stay out of his way!  Meanwhile, a lab assistant (Uma Thruman) is murdered by her boss and is strangely resurrected as Poison Ivy, a plant-obsessed temptress who uses pheromones to seduce and subdue her male victims and a poison kiss to finish them off.  She attempts to drive a wedge between the Dynamic Duo and almost succeeds due to Chris O'Donnell’s hot-headed Dick Grayson’s rebellious nature.  Yet another plot point involves the butler Alfred’s niece (Alicia Silverstone) arriving from England who would inexplicably become Batgirl.  All this occurs while Alfred is dying of the very same ailment that Mr. Freeze’s love is afflicted with.  WHEW!

What happened with Batman & Robin?  Why was it such a disaster?  Could it be that there is just too much crap crammed into this movie?  I don’t think we’ll ever get a full explanation for all of the decisions that led this one down the road it traveled.  It is a well-known fact that the studio decided to push production ahead of schedule and demanded an earlier release.  So a rush-job could be part of the problem.  Another thing that received a great deal of blame was the art direction that was bizarrely whimsical, even more so than Batman Forever.  Some of the cast compared the pieces of the set to little plastic toys.  It looked cheap and reportedly felt that way too.   Barbara Ling’s production design is definitely partly to blame as this movie has a strange look and feel.  The most notorious design decision of this movie are the infamous “Bat Nipples” on Batman and Robin’s breastplates.  This inexplicable design choice just may have been the final nail in the coffin for this franchise.

Batman & Robin was called the worst movie ever by Empire magazine. I don’t agree as I have certainly seen many worse films, but that’s fine.  Still, I do agree that it is one of the most ludicrous things ever put on film.  It is excessive in every way; it is bombastic, ugly, loud and very poorly written.  The characters spout out one-liners and pose after every bad piece of dialogue.  Strange shots and bad special effects highlight the film, with weird montages of the heroes suiting up including close ups of the heroes butts, crotches and chests.  The film is famous for its homo-eroticism, which is definitely prominent.  I’m not sure what people were thinking here, this movie had big stars and big names behind it and given the introduction of Batgirl, I actually think they thought there was going to be a fourth sequel to this series.  Fortunately for us, it would be eight years before the talented Christopher Nolan would take over the franchise and reboot the series with Batman Begins, a dark and serious retelling of the series.

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