Toyetic: A Look Back at Batman & Robin

With the massive commercial success of Batman Forever. Joel Schumacher was tasked with repeating the same feat with the sequel,  only this time he was told by Warner executives to make the next Batman film a bit more child friendly. The expression they invented to describe this task is enough to make you want to smash your own face repeatedly with a urine covered, exploding-bat-hammer. The Warner execs told Schumacher that the next film should be “Toyetic”. In other words, an empty hollow exercise of a toy commercial. One thing is for sure, Schumacher stuck to his brief very well.

The first obstacle for Schumacher was who would play Batman. It was during this period that Val Kilmer was carving himself a reputation of being a very difficult man to work with indeed. He and Schumacher didn’t exactly see eye to eye and at the end of Forever things had come to a head. “He sort of quit, and we sort of fired him” Schumacher later said. Kilmer instead poured all of his amazing accent and disguise skills into The Saint, a film which presented Simon Templar as some sort of Dick Emery type character who spent most of his time wearing false teeth and impersonating vicars.

So the hunt was on for another Batman. Schumacher turned immediately to the hottest property on TV. George Clooney was setting hearts a flutter in E.R. There was no doubt that he would make a charismatic Bruce Wayne and have the appropriate sense of authority in his voice to portray Batman. As a casting decision it was pretty sound. Sure he’s no Keaton, but with the right tone and in a not rubbish Batman film he could have been great. Next up was the casting of the film’s main villain: Mr. Freeze. Patrick Stewert was initially considered. However he was later dumped to accommodate the biggest movie star in the world at that point, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie was paid a very handsome (more like fucking good looking) $25 million (that’s one and a half hospitals) to play the villainous Freeze. I would like to think that to earn that money Arnie did some method preparation by putting his head in a fridge every now and then or working in an ice cream van every other Tuesday, but I am pretty sure he didn’t. More’s the pity.

Uma Thurman was next cast as Poison Ivy. Thurman said she was attracted to the role because she liked the “femme fetale” element of it. Which is worrying at best. Demi Moore was briefly considered for the role and with hindsight one could suggest that as a bullet dodge, that is up there with anything from The Matrix. The part that Thurman described as a “Femme Fatale” was more “Annoying bint who thinks she is in the Tennessee Williams production of Plant Woman with no personality”.

FUCK HOSPITALS

FUCK HOSPITALS

The problem with the film was the tone. While Forever was camp as hell and like being kicked in the nuts with a big hob-nailed boot with the words “mugging for camera” written on it, it had its dark moments and some elements that still felt like a Batman film. Batman & Robin makes the 60’s TV series look like The Dark Knight Rises. The tone is akin to the kind you would expect to find on a cartoon that you see by the checkout at Tesco for £1.99. It is as camp as a row of pink tents at a Erasure festival and the moments in Forever that made you wince (nipples on the Batsuit, neon, UV paint etc) are all here with a degree of arrogance that would suggest that they were previously used successfully. They are everywhere. Gotham now resembles the worst dystopian nightmare of a coked up interior designer circa 1987. Any building of significance seems to be resting on the back of a giant stone muscle-man with nipples that could down a 747. It’s almost as if Elton John had a secret job as an architect in Gotham City. It’s a gaudy horror show of epic proportions. Production designer Barbara Ling admitted her influences for the Gotham City design came from “neon-ridden Tokyo and the Machine Age. Gotham is like a World’s Fair on ecstasy.” She said while snorting a large amount of uncut cocaine off of the back of a day-glo lizard (allegedly). Ridiculous woman. Yes it may look very nice as a picture, but the logistics of Ling’s Gotham are mind boggling. Imagine working in the left tit of a giant man and looking out of his “window nipple” at the building across the street, which is most probably a giant man’s arse. Terrifying. I would suggest that the suicide rate in Gotham is astronomical.

After a short while it feels as if you are watching a horrible pantomime. Literally everyone is mugging to the camera and each reaction is turned up to twelve. Actor John Glover (Clamp from Gremlins 2) had a small part as the mad scientist who created Bane. He basically sums up the whole problem with the film, “Joel (Schumacher) would sit on a crane with a megaphone and yell before each take, ‘Remember, everyone, this is a cartoon’. It was hard to act because that kind of set the tone for the film.” Remember this is a cartoon? Joel. It’s not. It’s a film. Surely you must have realised that when there were actual people in the thing you were filming and not animated drawings. What an idiot. This will explain why Schumacher (and co) took the bold (some would say “twatty”) approach to include such classic elements as comedy sound effects (unforgivable), the Bat-credit card (upsetting), a giant dancing gorilla suit (surreal) and some comedy henchmen singing a song (jaw-dropping).

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The script is also a massive, fat clown car of disastrous proportions. In fact the first lines uttered are enough to make you turn off the film, take out the disc, nail it to a horse and shoot a gun in the air so as to cause the horse to run away as fast as possible. Robin and Batman watch the Batmobile rise from the ground (this time it looks like an actual toy with a spinning light in it) pointlessly, as if it is some sort of prize, and Robin turns to Batman and says, “I want a car. Chicks dig the car“, a line that was uttered by Kilmer’s Batman in Forever (which was met with laughs and sadness the first time around).

It is difficult to decipher whether it is O’Donnel’s delivery of the line itself, or the massive turd of a line that is the problem. What is for sure is that it doesn’t belong in a motion picture. In fact the only place it does belong is on the pencil case of a twelve year old – and that is being generous. If that line wasn’t bad enough, what happens next is worse. Batman turns to Robin and says, “This is why Superman works alone”. What!? Why? Because he has a ridiculous neon car that annoying people covet? Aside from the fact that this is the second time that Superman is referenced in a Schumacher Batman movie (Bruce Wayne mention Metropolis in Forever – and it is as unnecessary this time as it was the first time), as an exchange of dialogue that introduces our heroes, it is as lazy and flaccid an intro as you could possibly imagine. Once again relying on an unearned amount of artistic credit that we would all laugh and welcome these two twats into our lives once again with open arms. If that wasn’t annoying, we are then treated to Robin’s bike coming out of the floor in a box (with neon inside, obviously). The only thing we have learnt from this early exchange is that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson LOVE NEON and clearly hate their own lives.

Famously Batman & Robin makes the classic error of flooding the movie with too many characters that we are supposed to give a shit about. There is the aforementioned Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy. Bane (who is reduced to a mumbling zombie on steroids in this film), Alfred (who is suffering from a made up disease that no one gives a fuck about) and Batgirl – played by Alicia Silverstone while she was obviously suffering from advanced narcolepsy. Silverstone is bad in this film. She isn’t helped by her tedious character  but she seems way out of her depth and  about as handy in a fight as a mouse’s dick. None of the extra characters are given time to grow or to even seem interesting. They are just simply so much shit thrown at a wall.

The one thing that always stands out as the big double kick to the nuts and sums up how little this piece of shit film cares about your enjoyment is the moment in which Robin is trapped under the pond in Poison Ivy’s lair. Obviously forgetting to film Robin going back into the water after he came up for air, the film simply reverses the tape. A move that a student film from the early 1960s would be ashamed to have pulled.

A sequel to Batman & Robin was planned. It was to be called Batman Triumphant and it was said to feature the Scarecrow. However Batman & Robin was mauled by the critics so badly that the whole sorry affair was put to bed. In fact Batman & Robin stank the place up so badly that it wouldn’t be until  X-Men in 2000 that comic book films were seen to be a viable form of entertainment again.

So there you have it. Batman & Robin. A film so bad that Joel Schumacher actually apologised years later.

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