Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Joel Schumacher
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Elle McPherson, Jeep Swenson, John Glover, Elizabeth Sanders
Running Time: 134 minutes.
Former costume designer turned director, Joel Schumacher continues to stamp his own distinct imprimatur on the phenomenally successful Batman series. For this fourth installment in the series, he continues to shift away from the darker, angst-ridden mood established by Tim Burton in the first two films, opting for a more far-fetched, comic book-like fantasy flavour here. In direct contrast to Burton’s gloomy interpretation of the character, Schumacher deliberately adopts a lighter tone, shedding all vestiges of the vengeful Batman still obsessed with the death of his parents, peppering the film with dialogue that is little more than a clichéd succession of throw away one-liners.
Nonetheless, Schumacher maintains the awesome, impressively realised Gothic sets of the Burton films, and it is obvious that plenty of money and effort has been spent on creating the lavish sets and giving Batman & Robin its distinctive visual style. He has used many former Batman technical personnel to maintain the awesome visual style of the film, including cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt, production designer Barbara Ling, and visual effects supervisor John Dykstra. Elliot Goldenthal’s music score is every bit as bombastic as Danny Elfman’s, and superbly complements the surreal visuals. ER’s George Clooney becomes the third actor to play Batman in this series, and he slips into the cape and cowl easily enough. While he brings a firm jaw and laid back manner to the role he lacks the more dangerous edge of his immediate predecessor Val Kilmer, and establishes a fairly banal presence as Batman’s alter ego, millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Chris O’Donnell returns as Robin, although here his character is reduced to little more than petulantly whining about his status as Batman’s sidekick, and complaining that he wants to go it alone as a superhero. “This is why Superman always works alone,” quips Batman with resignation. This time the dynamic duo become a trio, with the rather hurried introduction of Batgirl (played with enthusiasm by Alicia Silverstone), Alfred’s teenage niece who seeks thrills and excitement, and the film becomes rather top heavy with characters.
As usual, the villains continue to be the most fascinating characters of the Batman films, and although writer Akiva Goldsman (Batman Forever, The Client, etc) has delved into the pantheon of second string villains, he gives them some depth and tragic qualities that make them at least more human than the heroes, who are little more than cardboard cut outs this time around. The prime villain here is Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a former physicist transformed by a bizarre accident into a cold hearted villain who requires constantly chilly conditions in order to survive. His specially devised cryogenic cool suit is powered by diamonds, and thus Mr Freeze is forced into a life of crime to maintain the essential supply of precious life saving gems. But when the caped crusaders foil one of his grand larcenous schemes, Freeze sets out to turn Gotham City into a giant frozen wasteland in revenge. Schwarzenegger is easily the best thing in the movie and he seems to be having fun with the character, freezing everything in sight with his powerful ray gun and dropping cool one-liners with glee.
Uma Thurman plays secondary villain Dr Pamela Isley, a former environmentally conscious scientist who is transformed into Poison Ivy, the venomous vamp with a lethal kiss. She joins forces with Freeze to destroy the dynamic duo and conquer the world, although she is little more than a sexy distraction for our heroes. Super model turned part time actress Elle Macpherson pops up in a brief, blink and you miss her cameo as Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend.
For a big budget production, Batman & Robin is something of a major disappointment, and easily the weakest film yet in the series. Goldsman’s lacklustre script contains some terribly contrived moments, such as Alfred’s dying from the same rare disease that killed Freeze’s wife, that beg a suspension of disbelief. Ultimately Batman & Robin is a pretty superficial film, preferring style over substance, and the movie itself lacks warmth or real soul. Even the key action sequences are rather cold and clinical in their execution, and consequently lack any real sense of excitement or suspense.