not in our stars, but in ourselves
2/52: A movie with bad reviews
Reader, I didn’t even need to consult Wikipedia’s List of Films Considered the Worst. My boyfriend and I were scrolling through Netflix, aimlessly looking for something, and there it was: infamous turdburger, Batman & Robin. But don’t take my word for it. Here are some of those bad reviews, mostly culled from Rotten Tomatoes (where the movie has an impressively low 11% rating):
“Ever since the curiously renowned psychologist-writer Frederic Wertham, in his ludicrous but influential anti-comics diatribe ‘Seduction of the Innocent,’ claimed that the Wayne household (Bruce and his Boy Wonder) represented a ‘dream fantasy of homosexuals living together,’ writers have been conscious of getting these guys some decent female companionship. (Elle MacPherson, as Bruce Wayne’s official date, is wasted both by Bruce and the movie.) But Silverstone’s Valley Batgirl may be too much. The movie has its entertaining flashes, but there’s too much bat-jive and bat-hokum.” – Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
“Schumacher and his production designer have cartoonized the Gotham City of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman: It now looks more like Disneyland (a Disneyland taken over by Russian Constructivists) than the dark, dramatically decadent place it once was.” – Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Somewhere, someone decided that the world needed a superhero movie that looked and felt like a bad Broadway musical without the songs—all vacant camp and hollow flash, with virtually no reference to anything beyond itself. Ladies and gentlemen, here it is.” – Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club
“…a complete grotesquerie, a movie that’s about as much fun as a 20-year stint in a Turkish prison. […] The script is incoherent and inconsequential, and I’ve seen colonic X-rays more visually appealing than what Schumacher throws up on the screen.” – Matt Brunson, Creative Loafing
“You’re history’s greatest monster.” – my boyfriend to me, for making him watch this
You get the idea. It’s bad. It’s real bad. The plot is something like this: Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) have a new enemy. His name is Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger). He’s stealing diamonds because he needs them to power his giant refrigerator suit (???) because otherwise he would die. Then the Dynamic Duo have ANOTHER enemy in Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman). She wants the world to be ruled by carnivorous plants. Batman’s butler, Alfred (Michael Gough), is sick. His sexy young niece, Barbara (Alicia Silverstone), comes to visit from “Oxbridge Academy” in England. It’s boners at first sight for Robin, whose real first name is Dick. The bad guys lose. Barbara becomes Batgirl. Alfred makes a reference to Jaws that I’m sure screenwriter Akiva Goldsman thought was very clever. The movie is well over two hours long.
There is just so much that doesn’t work here. It’s almost incomprehensible. Director Joel Schumacher sort of apologized for how terrible it was, but also blamed Warner Bros. for trying to rush him. Batman Forever had been a big success in 1995, and they didn’t want to wait three whole years for the sequel. If they’d taken more time, would they have been able to fix the dumdum script? The hack direction? The needless inclusion of Cool ’90s Things? The genuinely awful acting, from basically everyone? The flaccid attempts to make the audience care about anything that happens to any of these characters?
1. This dialogue between Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy:
Poison Ivy: Kill them, of course. But why stop there? Why should only Batman and Robin die while the society that created them goes unpunished?
Mr. Freeze: Yes! If I must suffer…humanity will suffer with me! I shall repay them for sentencing me to a life without human comfort. I will blanket the city in endless winter! First…Gotham. And then…the world!
2. The movie literally opens with shots of Batman’s and Robin’s suits that would have made John Waters say, “Now, honey, hold on. No one is THAT gay.” It’s probably the best moment, directing-wise. (Skip to 1:13.)
3. There is no better way to prove to your audience that you are an out-of-touch middle-aged white dude than to include what you assume kids will understand as the cutting edge of Teenage Dirtbag Science. Such thuggery includes ice hockey…
Smashing Pumpkins songs…
4. It’s hard to condense a critique of the acting into anything less than a 50,000-word thesis, but what especially struck me was Clooney’s dead-inside line delivery and Thurman’s would-be Mae West impersonation. If only, as Vivien Leigh had George Cukor secretly coaching her during the filming of Gone With the Wind, Thurman had secretly employed Quentin Tarantino to re-direct her attempt at camp into something a little more exciting. Or targeted. Why Mae West? Why not Dietrich or Monroe or someone who was actually usually the seductress – not the aggressor.
5. Mr. Freeze gets a tragic backstory. I guess he does in the comics, too, but what the hell do they think we care? Dying wife, pfffft. You don’t get sympathy when you run around making dumb puns about cold stuff. And there are scenes where Batman looks longingly at his dutch-angled mansion (another example of pointlessly bad direction) and remembers when he was a child and Alfred took care of him. Again: this movie has done nothing to make us care. In less tragic backstory bullshit, Barbara is allegedly a “computer science” major back at Oxbridge. I guess Cher’s outfit generator was pretty innovative for the ’90s, but we don’t even see anything that advanced in this dreck.
All that being said, I love watching this piece-of-shit movie. It’s deliciously bad. I love the terrible puns – Poison Ivy’s, but mostly Mr. Freeze’s.
I get a big kick out of the sound-staginess of it all – as if they were trying to recreate the big futuristic city in Metropolis with the same technology available to Lang in the 1920s, even though they had more advanced resources seventy years later. Relatedly, I find it terribly amusing that the movie cost $125 million ($25 million of which went to Schwarzenegger’s salary alone) and looks like utter shit. Trashy things that cost a lot of money are always funny, especially to fans of poshlost like me.
And on an ever-so-slightly serious note, I do appreciate that none of the main female characters exist as eye candy/love interests alone. Batman has a girlfriend, supposedly, played by Elle Macpherson – but no one cares about her. Least of all Batman. Plus, she’s hardly in the movie. The main event is Poison Ivy, who uses her feminine wiles to destroy society. I can get behind that. Even Barbara Batgirl is kind of okay. Robin thinks she’s cute and all, but the movie doesn’t push them too much. Dick is too busy getting wood from Poison Ivy, anyway. I may be remembering incorrectly, but I think this is the only Batman movie that doesn’t try to make the main female character(s) all starry-eyed for the Caped Crusader: the first Batman had Vicki Vale, intrepid reporter who falls in love with Bruce Wayne and/or Batman; Batman Returns had Catwoman, who is a truly great character, but whose human alter ego, Selina Kyle, falls in love with Bruce Wayne; Batman Forever had Chase Meredith, a psychologist who falls in love with Bruce and/or Batman; and even Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy had Rachel Dawes as Bruce’s childhood friend who loves him without being in love with him (but is kind of in love with him). I hate to say it, but it’s kind of admirable how neither of the two main female characters in Batman & Robin are all that interested in either one. It’s almost refreshing. Whodathunk?
All in all, it really is a terrible movie – but it’s fun. A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.