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Worst of the Franchise: 1997’s “Batman & Robin”

Franchises. They’ve become an increasingly unavoidable reality for movie-goers. How many sequels this year alone, are just another cog in a seemingly endless machine? Spider-Man, The Hunger Games, X-Men, Transformers, Captain America…how can anyone possibly keep up? More importantly, should you be attending all of the films released in a particular series? Many of these continuing sagas are loved and respected. But more often than not, each franchise has one detested, derided clunker. So, I’ve been considering introducing a new feature on the blog, that focuses on the notorious runts, from various cinematic litters. And what better way to start than with 1997’s nearly unanimously-panned, almost destroyer of the Batman franchise…”Batman & Robin”. I’ve just recently purchased the Blu-ray 4-disc Batman Collection, and gave a fresh re-watch to the final film in that 1989-97 caped crusader cycle. Call me a glutton for punishment.

Where to begin with this one? Some of it defies reason for devotees of the Dark Knight of the comics and graphic novels. Amongst that corruption of logic, was “Batman & Robin” turning the character of Bane…into a monosyllabic idiot. On the page, Bane was actually a worthy Batman adversary, and a criminal mastermind. The smash 2012 “The Dark Knight Rises” rectified the arch-villain’s sullied reputation(thank you, Christopher Nolan!). Then there’s Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. This casting decision blew my mind back in 1997, when I first saw “Batman & Robin” in the theaters. First off, Ms. Silverstone gives an absolutely horrendous performance in the role. You can fathom why the studio greenlighted Alicia—she was a hot commodity in the 90’s, and less than two years removed from her sleeper hit, “Clueless”. But as Batgirl/Barbara Wilson she appears far too chubby and dimwitted to convince as a teenage superhero. This miscasting was glaring. And don’t even get me started on the choice of making the character the niece of Alfred Pennyworth, instead of the daughter of Commissioner Gordon!

Ditto the controversial choice as George Clooney as our lead. Lusted after by much of the female population for his incredible good looks, and juggernauting off the mega-success of the television series “ER”, George appeared to have the right stuff to carry the baton handed off by Val Kilmer…and Michael Keaton before him. But Mr. Clooney, at age 35 during filming, was still getting his feet wet in 1997 as a headlining, big-budget movie star. He looks miserably uncomfortable in the role, and with its punny, double entendre line readings. Clooney seems stiff and unsure of himself…a deadly combination when expected to carry a franchise. Clooney managed to survive “Batman & Robin”, of course, but the Robin half of the title did not. Chris O’ Donnell,who was  promising opposite Mr. Kilmer in the series previous installment of 1995’s “Batman Forever”, comes off as shrill and unlikable in this return portrayal. You want to blame that tone-deaf screenplay by Akiva Goldsman? I won’t disagree…but Mr. O ‘Donnell’s career never managed to recover.

Now, I don’t follow the line that “Batman & Robin” is all horrible, and some of it falls into the category of “so bad, it’s good”. I’ve always kind of admired what Uma Thurman was attempting to pull off with the Poison Ivy villain role. Again, the script ultimately failed her. But she’s game and sexy, and probably the best thing in the movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t embarrass himself as Mr. Freeze either, despite some of those eye-rolling plays on words that accentuate zingers involving cold and ice and snow. The late Michael Gough returns as Alfred the butler, is given a back story, and manages to not look silly. But the late Pat Hingle, our established James Gordon in the first Batman quartet is reduced to something barely rising above cameo status. And supermodel Elle Macpherson is an atrocity as Batman’s main love interest. She barely ever “acted” again.

Which finally lands us at the directorial duties of Mr. Joel Schumacher. Never had a Batman motion picture been so campy, and so overtly, yet comically sexualized(if I see one more close-up of a codpiece!). Schumacher was completely wrong for Batman, in spite of the financial triumph of his previous “Batman Forever”. And those overbearing and stupefying Gotham City sets! Well, “Batman & Robin” was only marginally lucrative at the box office, it killed the franchise for 8 long years…but it did spark the Chris Nolan reboot trilogy. Also, the Blu-ray looks and sounds great, and the movie boasts a killer soundtrack. However, “Batman & Robin” fully deserves its rancid reputation. It remains the worst of the franchise.

Grade:  C-

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2 comments on “Worst of the Franchise: 1997’s “Batman & Robin”

  1. Notorious runts – love it! Looking forward to reading about more of these..

    • Ha! So happy you support the idea, Simon! It came to me earlier in the week, after combing through the archives, looking for things to play on my spanking new home theater system. Stayed tuned, my friend…I’ll have some exciting news concerning the future of reviewedbymarkleonard, before the end of this week! ML

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