Intentional or not, “Batman & Robin” is such a clear, distinct homage to the campy 1960s “Batman” television series that to even think of this 1997 film in the same vein as”Batman Returns” or “Batman Forever” is an exercise in futility. Val Kilmer was trying to be Michael Keaton, but “Batman & Robin’s” George Clooney is trying nothing more than to emulate Adam West. Joel Schumacher still isn’t a great filmmaker, but his movie here is obviously a much more sophisticated attempt at something else than what people think he’s doing.
You know this one well. It’s the “Batman” with the bat nipples, the cheezy Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) lines, the cringe-worthy Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) pick-up attempts, and the triumvirate of macabre acting shared by Batman (George Clooney), Robin (Chris O’Donnell) and Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone.) The film is overloaded with color and nauseating to watch, feeling more like a haunted house experience caught on-screen more than a full-fledged film.
Still, the way that fight scenes between Batman and Freeze are staged, or how tender stares between Ivy and Robin are framed, hearken back the campy “Batman” of yesteryear, where everyone was in on the joke that this series was a joke. I still think that Schumacher had intended to make a good movie and a serious movie, but there also seems to be a slight awareness that whatever he’s doing here will be perceived in a different light than Burton’s films, and even his predecessor, “Batman Forever.” With “Batman and Robin,” Schumacher wanted to make an omelette but failed and ended up with scrambled eggs. Those eggs are still delicious, but that may not be good enough to keep him on as an omelette chef.
The movie is still atrocious and is honestly difficult to watch, both from a pacing and just a pure visceral perspective. Clooney is the most lackluster Batman in history, doing nothing at all to alternate himself between Bruce Wayne and The Caped Crusader. Maybe he’s the first actor to realize just how much they’re one in the same, but more likely he’s just the one to have given the laziest performance. Schwarzenegger is ok but Thurman is atrocious, although that’s more of her character’s fault than her own. Alicia Silverstone is wooden as Batgirl, but that too is more attributed to her character being terrible.
But it’s interesting how Alfred (Michael Gough), a lifelong Butler, randomly has advanced computer programming knowledge, or that Bruce Wayne would trust the digital programming of his secret lair to an elderly butler. It’s possible writer Akiva Goldsman is just hoping we don’t ask the answers to these questions, or maybe they are questions that were never considered by anyone involved with this movie. That honestly just makes it that much more akin to a 1960s “Batman” episode. Campy costumes, a non-nonsensical plot, groovy characters with meh actors, its the best extended episode of “Batman” that fans could ever ask for.