"What have we done to deserve this?" you might ask. Oh, probably something, but that doesn't excuse this catastrophe.
Despite the camp-o-rama approach of the previous film, Batman Forever, it still made a killing at the box office, so those in charge of such matters seemingly decided, "why mess with a bad thing, as long as it still makes money?" In one small sense, they were correct: Batman and Robin still turned in an impressive box office performance. It was also so savaged by critics and audiences (who apparently didn't realize that the critics were right until after the fact) that the franchise was left for dead for the next eight years. Who's to blame? The director? The screenwriter? The actors? Everyone? Probably that last one, in all honesty, but there was only so much any actor could do with such shoddy material, so I'm slightly inclined to cut them some slack. The director and writer aren't getting off so easily.
How does something this impressively incompetent ever pass muster? Where were all of the nervous execs, wondering why the production had purchased two thousand miles of neon tubes? Why didn't any of the actors lodge any formal complaints about the dialogue they were going to be expected to deliver? A friend of mine saw this in the theater, and told me afterwards that every third line or so was some awful pun or cliché. That seemed too high, too hyperbolic to be accurate, so I counted them myself, just to see the actual tally.
The answer is sixty-four. While hardly a third of the total dialogue, it has to be some sort of record. Sixty-four lines that are either ban puns (eg. "The iceman cometh!") or tiresome clichés (eg. "It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature"). That's an average of slightly over one pun for every two minutes, and that's completely excluding the sheer deluge of dialogue that's bad for other reasons. The very first line in the film is a callback to the last movie, which doesn't exactly set the mind at ease. It does, however, offer a very accurate forecast for the immediate future.
The forecast is for a freezing cold front, a bitter winter that will chill you to your icy bones and make you, you know, really cold and crap, because Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwartzeneggar) is in town, and he likes to talk about shit being cold. He's robbing the "Gotham Museum of Art" of a giant diamond, which counts as art for some reason, because he needs to complete his freezing technology. "De Bahtmun," as Freeze calls him, bursts in and slides down the back of a giant dinosaur sculpture (I mean, I guess it's a sculpture, on account of the whole "art musuem" thing) and the least convincing fight scene in recent memory ensues, climaxing with Freeze's escape via a giant phallus that rises (I'm sorry, but it's true) from the back of his tank and launches him into the sky, finally culminating in Robin getting frozen and Batman having to let the villain escape in order to thaw his partner with a laser. Try warming a pot of water with a laser sometime, just to see how well this works. Bruce Wayne later berates his "ward" for being reckless, prompting more whining about "when are you ever going to trust me?" that we thought, or at least dearly hoped, had been settled in the last movie.
Meanwhile, a mad scientist (really, seriously) tries to kill his faux-frumpy assistant (Uma Thurman) by shoving her into a shelf full of beakers and shit, after she's found out that he's making super-soldiers and trying to auction one off. She later rises back out of the earth via that hydraulic lift the other scientist apparently buried under the lab along with his glow-stick collection, and kills him with a toxic kiss. Fans of Thurman should take note that starting from this point, her physical appearance gets progressively less sexy in each successive scene, until she's wearing a bright green full bodysuit with her hair twirled into two cones that sprout from her hairline. God knows, that's what makes me hot for a girl. Seeing the Wayne name on one of the beakers, she sets off to meet the man who was apparently funding some mad scheme for world domination, in order to...shit, I really don't know; set him straight, maybe? She comes around to the world domination mentality herself not long after; maybe she sensed the coming insanity and wanted pointers.
On top of all of this, Alfred's dying of a made-up disease and his niece Barbera has arrived from England sans accent, causing this aged man who's never heard of airplanes to marvel at her incredible journey. Turns out he's not the only one dying of a made-up disease, however. Mr. Freeze's wife was once dying of the same thing, so he had her frozen cryogenically to await the day when he'd find a cure, which got all messed up when he was working with a huge tank of crazy freeze juice with no lid from a walkway with no railing. Darn the luck. He now needs a special suit which uses diamond-enhanced lasers to keep him...cold. No, I don't know how the fuck that works, either. This, then, is Freeze's raison d'etre: he needs money to continue his research, so he steals a diamond the size of a softball...to make a bigger freezing gun with which to freeze Gotham and thus extort lots of other money. Pardon me for being too linear, but with all the capital he's thus far invested in freeze guns and tanks and giant flying space dildos, he's probably already burned through the necessary cash a dozen times by now. Somewhere around this point, Vivica Fox shows up for about three seconds and then leaves the movie forever.
At no point does the film ever make any more sense than this. The watchword here is "pointless." Newly birthed supervillain Poison Ivy makes her world debut with a striptease in front of a fund-raising event. It sounds hot until you learn that she's stripping out of a big purple gorilla suit and down to a one-piece, offering a chance to get lucky to the highest bidder. This plan never goes anywhere thanks to Mr. Freeze, so we'll never know what the intended point was. She decides to form an alliance with him, even though he wants to freeze the earth and she wants to turn it into a greenhouse...yeah, sensing compatibility issues. Elle MacPhereson has a useless cameo as Bruce's girlfriend in a tiny role that leads to nothing; one presumes it's just there to reinforce the notion that Bruce Wayne really does dig the womenfolk, and isn't into Dick (Grayson). Alfred's niece decides to become Batgirl after hacking a disc Alfred implores her never to open, and finds he has already made her a Batgirl costume just in case she betrayed his trust and peeked...I can only assume his fake disease has rotted his brain to the point that he doesn't know what the hell he wants anymore. Somewhere in here, there's a useless cameo by Coolio. Oh, and some neon. Lots of neon.
One has to wonder what director Joel Schumacher and writer Akiva Goldsman were thinking. Why is the whole film as garish as...well, I would say theme park, but our local Six Flags actually has a Batman ride that's far less garish. Was it an attempt to recapture the campy feel of the '60s series at a million times the budget? Was it to be their answer to the stargate scene from 2001, where the whole point was getting really high and watching all the trippy lights? Why is everything from Arkham Asylum to Gotham Observatory to the average city street built a mile above the ground? Why is the telescope designed to point down at the streets? Why did they think it was a good gag to show Two-Face's clothes in the Arkham storage room, seeing as how Two-Face died in the last film, made by these same two men? Are his clothes too crazy to be released upon the public? For that matter, how did the Joker ever make much impression on this town, when average street punks are done up like day-glo Darth Mauls? Why, when time is of the essence, do Batman, Robin and Batgirl waste time changing into even more garish outfits for the final fight despite a lack of any new gadgets on them? For crying out loud, why does Poison Ivy have to use the super-soldier Bane to steal the Bat signal from the roof of the police department just so she can modify it into a signal to call Robin? Are there no other spotlights in the entire city in places more easily burglarized than the goddamn police department? For the entire two hours of the movie, you find yourself flabbergasted by endless examples of questions without sane answers. If you're lucky, it wasn't as a result of paying for it.
This honestly is probably one of the worst films ever made for its budget range; it's appallingly, aggressively stupid. I feel quite sorry for newest Batman George Clooney, who in the aftermath voluntarily took the blame for the film's dismal rep, when he's the least objectionable element. He could've made a good Batman (better than Val Kilmer; that's for certain) if he'd had a good script and director, but he could only try and make the best of a steaming dung pile; I mean, what kind of director fails in an attempt at making Uma Thurman sexy? Everything they try to do here fails. When Freeze first lays his hand on the huge diamond, he quips "In this universe, there's only one absolute." Even this early on, you're already anticipating a bad joke about "absolute zero," but instead, he simply concludes with "Everything freezes." This is hardly the one universal absolute, but it is a good metaphor for the film as a whole: there's no truth in it, it makes no sense, and its only humor value comes from marveling at its blazing incompetence.
Oh, and somebody tell these morons that the dinosaurs were not killed by the ice age. They can at least strive to make their shitty puns accurate.
-review by Matt Murray