Monday, December 9, 2013

Batman & Robin (1997)

I got through a whole review of Batman Forever without once mentioning Robin.

No great loss, though.  I confess that I have little use for Robin as a character, at least in the movies.  As written he seems meant to be just what the comics character was meant as: an audience surrogate for adolescents, and a way to lighten up the Batman.  But I'm definitely of the camp that says Batman is at his best when he's at his darkest:  he needs no lightening up.  And the third movie didn't need an adolescent surrogate:  every character was one already.

Plus, the film was hopelessly confused as to what Robin was supposed to be anyway.  As written he was an adolescent, but Chris O'Donnell looked every day of his 25 years when he played the part.  Nobody - not a single person - bought him as a teenager.  I mean the very next year he'd play a lawyer, right?  And so the chemistry between Batman and Robin - hell, let's leave chemistry out of it:  the story makes no sense.  ...Of course, leaving chemistry out of it was probably exactly why a grown man was cast as Robin:  fear of the skeevy overtones that the once-(probably-)innocent pairing would inevitably take on in 1995.  Especially when the suits have nipples.

There was a potential there for an interesting deepening of the Batman character, though.  I mean, even as Val Kilmer's playing him, he's the definitive loner, but the entry of Robin demands that he become part of a team.  And it's clearly against his will:  what Bruce Wayne is having to deal with is the inevitable consequence of his success.  He's breeding imitators.  They're his responsibility whether he likes it or not.  The vigilante inspires other vigilantes - is he okay with that?  I don't say that this theme was handled with any more subtlety than the others, but it could have been.

Okay, I've delayed long enough:  we have to get to the fourth movie now.  And in the fourth movie, they've stopped even trying to put in any interesting subtext.  They've completely dropped any shadow at all from the Batman character.  Now he's the dad in The Brady Bunch - a harried pater whose familias is growing in unexpected ways.  Batman is a mildly reluctant team player here.  And so he has no meaning whatsoever.

In its own way, Batman & Robin is as big a disaster as Superman IV was.  The production values are infinitely higher, which means it does provide some intermittent cheap thrills, but it quite intentionally reduces Batman and the whole enterprise to a joke.  And not a very good one.

What's happening here is what happened 'round about the third or fourth Roger Moore 007 film:  everybody involved decided they could no longer take seriously this thing they were doing, and assumed audiences felt the same.  They disrespected it.  And the result is just pointless.  It's an unthrilling action movie, and an unfunny comedy.

It's not the fault of the casting.  It's the fault of the writing and directing.  To be sure, the casting has some real problems.  Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl is a mistake;  she was clearly cast because she was that girl in that Aerosmith video, so the kids must like her.  Meanwhile that very year Sarah Michelle Gellar was showing how you create a girl-power hero, putting Silverstone to shame.  But Batgirl is not as big a problem as Ahnold is.  I'll own up to having less use for Schwarzenegger than I have for Robin - his appeal is just as lost on me, and always has been.  But even if you liked him in Terminator or Total Recall it's just painful to watch him here, barking out oversimplified punch lines like they were marching orders.  He's a big sucking sore in this movie.

And the thing of it is...I actually like George Clooney as Batman.  Let me qualify that.  Of all the actors who have played Batman he looks most like Batman, with his square jaw and his easy mastery.  Now, he's a comic actor, and I'm not sure how he would have done with the darker scripts his predecessors were given.  But he does the best he can with what he has, and almost pulls it off.  It's not his fault the movie around him is what it is.

Then again, I like George Lazenby, too.

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