Batman & Robin

Batman & Robin ★½

First published in August 1997.

Holy headlines, Batman! Clooney captures caped crusader’s carbon codpiece for calamitous caper as camp crimefighter. For a relative unknown in Hollywood terms, the bat boots left vacant by Val Kilmer’s hasty departure from the title role were of the variety marked “rather large”. To be fair, though, the erstwhile ER doc doesn’t do a half-bad job here. Physically, he’s the dark knight’s best match so far, and if he evokes his TV character’s soft-spoken, head-nodding sentimentality once too often, it’s entirely the fault of a weak and substantially unfunny script.

Batman & Robin, fourth in a franchise descending rapidly into overblown-budget hell, has little to recommend it outside some snazzy poster art and a thumping alterna-pop soundtrack. Alongside George Clooney, boy wonder Chris O’Donnell reprises the role of Robin, and spends the duration of the picture whining about getting his own symbol projected above the gothic streets of Gotham City.

These “animal protectors of the status quo” are joined, in a contrived subplot involving the duo’s ailing butler Alfred, by his good-girl/bad-girl niece Alicia Silverstone, as Barbara Wilson. Of course, she eventually kits up as third wheel Batgirl, further fracturing two hours of screen time already bursting at the bat seams with overpaid starpower.

Uma Thurman is vamp par excellence in the form of loopy greeny Poison Ivy, complete with monosyllabic killer sidekick Bane, but is utterly stalled by the dormant script. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, patron saint of the dumb one liner, is put on ice here. As a poster boy for experimental avant-garde plumbing, his Mr. Freeze is a pining punster, lamenting his cryogenically suspended wife’s life-threatening condition and letting fly with a sequel’s worth of cool quips from his metallic blue lips.

But the real villain in this tale is director Schumacher. In his relentless search for bigger, better, Bat-ter, he’s sold the soul of this film for several ineptly handled set pieces, which fall flatter than the page from which the characters are lifted. In his hands, the script is a sorrowful stopgap between stunts and often substandard special effects, but this won’t stop the film from grossing a mint, so impressive is Warner’s marketing machine.

This time around Batman has his own credit card, the new batmobile is a rotary, and the term Batgirl is somehow less PC than Batwoman. At least we can be thankful for one thing: the good guys still use Macs.