Monday, February 08, 2010

Movie Monday - Batman and Robin, 1997, Part 2

So last week, we examined the first 20 minutes or so of 1997's "Batman and Robin in some detail. I won't torture you with the blow-by-blow for the rest of the film, but here is an overview just to show you how overcomplicated the whole thing was.

Mister Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) needs big diamonds to build a giant freeze ray so he can hold Gotham for ransom, to obtain the billions of dollars he needs to find a cure for his dying wife (whom he keeps in a big vat). Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), meanwhile, wants to destroy human civilization and allow the plants and animals to resume their rightful places atop the natural order.

The two villains meet at a charity fundraiser for the Gotham Botanical Gardens, which Bruce has set up to lure Freeze out of hiding. But Ivy gets there first, and suddenly, it's a musical...

Her theme song is, of course, an instrumental version of the Coasters' "Poison Ivy" (I don't know who the chick is lip-syncing badly to the song in the video, but it was the only version of the original recording that I could find). And note the loin-cloth wearing "native" dancers, because if there's one thing that improves a little family-friendly homoeroticism, it's a dash of racism. Also, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy appears in the crowd as an extra, don't ask me why.

Ivy has a special pheromone dust that she uses to make both Batman and Robin fall in love with her, in an attempt to make them fight each other. There's already tension between the two, because Batman is a dick. Mister Freeze crashes the party and steals the final diamond he needs for his freeze ray, but Batman captures him and sends him back to Arkham.

Meanwhile, Alfred, our calm, solid anchor for three films now, is sick, apparently with Emoter's Syndrome.

Oh, Michael Gough. It took four films, but they finally dragged you under, too. At least he gets a decent death scene (but not really). And as if they don't have enough characters and subplots crammed into this damn movie, Alfred's niece comes a-calling.

That's Alicia Silverstone as Barbara, soon to be Batgirl. We never learn her last name, because they couldn't use Gordon and Akiva Goldsman apparently couldn't spare the extra brain cell to think of a new one. Later in the film, Silverstone will kick Thurman's ass in a fistfight, while simultaneously battling for the title of "Worst Performance in the Movie" with the line, "Read a book, sister." Thurman wins that battle, but barely.

Silverstone's character is bad on so many levels that it's hard to know where to start. Well, there is the fact that she's British Alfred's niece and has supposedly been attending a British boarding school for girls, yet has absolutely no trace of a British accent. Then there's the fact that this British boarding school computer genius is also a motorcycle racing wild child who just happens to know kung fu. And even though she keeps the knowledge of her wild side secret from Alfred, he just happens to design her a sculpted-rubber Batgirl costume (actually, at least two Batgirl costumes, with her own unique logo, plus custom weapons plus motorcycle) in his spare time, on the off-chance she decides to become a crimefighter.

And this is all revealed through a virtual Alfred, a Max Headroom-type construct that appears after the real Alfred has succumbed to his disease. Because if there's one thing that will endear you to fans, it's turning the one solid, lovable character in the franchise into a rip-off of a ten-year-old TV character-turned-Coca-Cola pitchman.

But at least we get a close-up of Silverstone's tits (assuming they didn't just use a body double for the girding-up montage--oh, who cares, tits are still tits).

So Ivy busts Freeze out of Arkham and lures Robin away while Freeze sets up his super-weapon in Gotham Observatory. Ivy gives Robin her poisonous kiss of death, which Robin foils through the use of rubber lips (a gimmick he stole from Gilligan's Island--seriously, this movie is so bad that it steals ideas from Gilligan's Island!)

And there's a big climactic fight with Freeze, yada-yada-yada, Freeze is beaten and has a final change of heart when he gives Batman the cure to Alfred's disease.

That's right: the movie tries shamelessly to tug our heartstrings for an hour-and-a-half by killing off Alfred, and then brings him back, completely cured, in the final scenes. And as much as I liked Michael Gough's Alfred, I have to call bullshit on that move.

Oh, I almost forgot: there's yet another sub-plot in the movie involving Bruce Wayne's girlfriend Julie Madison, played by Elle Macpherson (Julie was Bruce's fiancee in the Mad Monk story I featured on Halloween).

So this is yet another obscure comics shout-out that goes nowhere in a dramatic sense. The plotline is dealt with in about three scenelets over the course of the movie (apparently there was more to the sub-plot which was cut out of the film). But at least Clooney looks good in the Bruce Wayne suit. And when people talk about Clooney in the role, the general consensus is that he was pretty good.

Which isn't really true. Clooney gives a really lazy performance in this one. Kilmer and Keaton at least put some thought and effort into their performances. Clooney just does Clooney. Every line is delivered with a sort of palsied head-wag, and when called upon to emote, Clooney does his patented head down-eyes up.

The performance only looks good because every other performance in the movie, from Schwarzenegger to Thurman to Silverstone to Glover to Gough to Hingle, is so bad. Clooney only comes off well by comparison.

Probably the best performance in the movie is Chris O'Donnell as Robin, and even it's not very good. O'Donnell is generally dismissed as irrelevant by the fan community, but let's face it, that's because Robin is always irrelevant. Robin may have been a valuable sidekick in the comics and cartoons, but in live-action, Robin has never been impressive.

So what's good about the movie? Barbara Ling's production design is wilder than ever and brought to very-expensive life. Gotham's buildings are taller.

Arkham Asylum is back, and fucking huge!

The statues are even bigger.

The first one is the Gotham Observatory where the climactic battle takes place, and the second is so big that the Batmobile drives up one of the fingers (it's the middle finger, which may have been a subliminal message from Schumacher to the fans).

Speaking of the Batmobile, it has been redesigned yet again, but I don't like this one much (you can see it in the Batcave pic in last week's installment). It's too lit up. There's not enough bat in this Batmobile.

Robin also has his own custom motorcycle in the early scenes...

And for the climactic confrontation with Freeze, there's a trio of new vehicles especially designed for use on snow and ice.

The entire trio also get special winterized costumes just to make the movie even more toyetic.

One other element that went unmentioned in the "Batman Forever" review also makes an unwanted return. In "Batman Forever," Dick Grayson steals the Batmobile and winds up facing off against a street gang painted up in Day-Glo colors that glowed under blacklights. The look was striking, but incredibly stupid. In this movie, we run into yet another gang of glowy thugs, led by this guy.

Recognize him? N0? Let's have a look under the paint, Lost fans.

Yep, it's Horace Goodspeed. Apparently after he fled Gotham, he washed his face and joined up with Dharma before going off to build that infamous cabin in the woods. And now you know the rest of the story.

The movie was a big-budget critical and financial disaster. Warner Brothers killed a fifth film in development, thank God, and let the franchise die. After all, you couldn't do dark (as the complaints from "Batman Returns" had proven), and now you also couldn't do campy. The whole Batman concept was spoiled forever. Best to just let him run off into the night in that final iconic shot that just screamed "Another sequel is coming."

But then some exec at Warner's got his head bashed in and developed a condition where he couldn't retain memories. How else to explain the green-lighting of a new Batman film, starring that kid from "Empire of the Sun" and the chick from Dawson's Creek facing off against Qui-Gon Jinn? Oh yeah, and Alfie as the butler.

Next week...


Brian said...

randomly ran across your blog. Still feel the same about the "new Batman film" which was coming soon?!

TheyStoleFrazier'sBrain said...

If you're asking about "Batman Begins," I picked up talking about it the next week, on Feb. 15, 2010. Short version: I really liked it.