Batman and Robin (1997)

As one would expect from the worst A-list director in Hollywood, this is a godawful mess – its underperformance made for a severe hiccough in the evolution of the Bat-franchise. George Clooney, cast when Schumacher drew bat-ears over a photograph to demonstrate how he would look in the cowl, is the first actor in the series to have the proper comic book chiselled chin, but is otherwise weakest of the lot, coming across more like a nouveau riche garage mechanic than 'millionaire Bruce Wayne'. Four films into the series begun in 1989 by Tim Burton's Batman, weariness sets in as two more laboratory accidents unleash two more cackling superpowered criminals with monomaniac single character traits and an ambition to rule or destroy Gotham City, the iceman Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the plant-obsessed Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman).

The oddest thing about the franchise is that neither director entrusted with it shows any interest in what would seem to be the big draw of a summer blockbuster, the action sequences. Schumacher favours busy chases that climax in plunges from high places and last-second clinging-on-to-ledge saves. Given the extremes of camp and leather-worship evident in the title characters, with their nippled uniforms and snarling banter, this follows the third season of the Batman TV show, which brought in Batgirl to broaden the appeal (and demonstrate conclusively that Bruce and Dick weren't gay). In similar desperation, Alicia Silverstone is hauled in as Alfred's niece Barbara, who ends up in another bat-suit, cuing a final joke about needing a bigger Bat-Cave that led nowhere as the series went on hiatus until the restart of Batman Begins.

Suggesting that Schumacher's shrill, garish Bat-movies would really like to be musicals, both villains have theme songs: Mr Freeze forces his cadre of goons to join him in singing I'm Mr White Christmas, while - in the single effective scene - Poison Ivy struts her stuff to the tune of Lieber & Stoller's classic Poison Ivy while doing a strip out of a gorilla suit lifted straight from Marlene Dietrich's Hot Voodoo number in Blonde Venus. Like Jim Carrey in Schumacher's Batman Forever, Thurman poaches business from the TV show, delivering a shameless and inept imitation of Julie Newmar as Catwoman. Schwarzenegger's lumbering Austrian oak of a Mr Freeze (inspired by Otto Preminger's TV version?) is yet another Bat-character whose personal losses and obsessions drive him to violence but the star keeps forgetting he's supposed to be traumatised and emotionless after the deep-freezing of his wife. Tossing out dreadful cold-themed one-liners ("you're not taking me to the cooler") his ferocious delivery can't make remotely amusing, Freeze even turns good at the end and helps cure a disease that has laid low faithful butler Alfred (Michael Gough). Like The Avengers, the film uses an elaborate weather-control device to coat its gothic super-city in permafrost – but the chill really set in at script level.

First published in this form here.

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