Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Batman and Robin”

Dear Frank,

So as you know, I’m a very big fan of performance artist Lady Gaga, primarily because in the world of pop music, she’s the rare person unafraid to truly experiment. Like, I know there are plenty of people giving her shit over coming to the Grammys last night ensconced inside a translucent egg, but frankly I kinda loved it. Especially because she also came on stage inside said egg, basically making the red carpet a dramatic lead-up to her onstage performance, which is such a bold and interesting way of approaching the conceit of an awards show! Lady Gaga is so great.

Why am I talking about Lady Gaga, Frank, when (as the subject of this post clearly states) I am here to tell you what happens in the 1997 film Batman and Robin? Here’s the deal. We all know this is a terrible movie (Akiva Goldsman, even Fringe being awesome doesn’t mean I forgive you). But while other cinematic disasters I’ve told you about were failures because of a lack of talent or inspiration, that’s not where Batman and Robin falls apart. Batman and Robin is fucking terrible, but it’s fucking terrible because it was a bold attempt at capturing a certain spirit in film format — specifically, being a live-action comic book.

The primary problem, of course, is that the people involved have this completely childish idea of what comic books are — probably because the last time they read a piece of sequential art, they were actually children — and the entire movie is a fucking mess. But there is a part of me that admires the amount of risk taken here, the flat-out balls of trying something new with what was previously such a profitable franchise. The visual extravagance of this film alone could inspire an entire concert’s worth of Lady Gaga ensembles. In short: This is probably why I am not in charge of a major motion picture studio, but there is a part of me that would rather Hollywood make five flat-out insane Batman and Robins than one generic and blah Transformers.

Thus ends my defense of Batman and Robin. Let’s begin making fun of it, shall we?

The problem with watching this even vaguely sober is that you start asking yourself questions. Like, why is the very first thing that happens in this movie a tight closeup on Batman’s ass and codpiece? Why are there nipples on the Batsuit? Why is Chris O’Donnell shouting every line of dialogue? Why do I keep stabbing myself? Suffice it to say, I paused the movie to pour myself a drink after about five minutes.

What better way to immediately engage the young male demographic than a close-up on George Clooney's ass?

The plot, in a nutshell, is this: Mr. Freeze, played with all the subtlety you’d expect from Arnold Schwarzenegger, wants diamonds to power his cold suit, which he needs to survive after falling into a vat of coolant. I have no idea why diamonds power the freezing suit — because they look like ice? That is science for you.

Batman and Robin fail to stop Mr. Freeze from stealing a massive diamond from a natural history museum, because Robin gets frozen by Freeze and Batman has to save him. The emotional storyline of this film consists of Batman not trusting Robin to avoid death (a totally fair concern, as Robin is kind of stupid) and Robin resenting that, and a lot of talk about how family means trust and whatever, whatever, no one in this movie actually has a conversation, they just shout one-liners at each other.

At one point, Robin says “Cowabunga!” He can’t even remember what comic book he’s in.

Meanwhile, Uma Thurman is a nerdy girl scientist, obsessed with plants, who catches her boss creating a super-soldier. That super-soldier is Bane, one of the most bad-ass members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Unfortunately, in this movie he’s reduced to the role of a henchmen, which is so painful to any true Batman fan that I’m going to leave him out of this entry as much as possible, while offering up as a salve the below picture of Tom Hardy, who will be playing Bane in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Just tell yourself that The Dark Knight Rises will be good, and look at Tom. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Uma’s boss tries to kill her, but because he pushes her into a tableful of plant venom, he just ends up turning Uma into Poison Ivy, who can kill with a kiss — and he becomes her first victim. (Please note that plants do not actually have venom, they have toxins, venom is purely an animal thing, but whatever.)

From my notes while watching the film:

I actually kind of like Uma Thurman’s performance so far. Holy shit. How drunk am I? Not that drunk! Maybe this movie is making me dumber.

Poison Ivy’s got a grudge against Bruce Wayne, because he was funding some research or something (I could go double-check what exactly Wayne Enterprises was doing, but honestly who gives a shit) so she goes and confronts him at the opening ceremony for his new observatory, but he ignores her.

Here, by the way, is where I figured out why I was liking Uma Thurman’s performance: In nerdy scientist mode, she reminds me of Kitty from Arrested Development. Which is never a bad thing.

"SAY GOODBYE TO THESE, BATMAN! SPRING BREAK WHOOOO!"

Batman and Robin want to lure Mr. Freeze into the open, so they decide to host a big gala to celebrate donating a big diamond from the Wayne collection to… the observatory maybe? I don’t remember and don’t care enough to check, especially because my brain can hardly handle the fact that it’s not Bruce Wayne and his plucky ward, but Batman and Robin, who are hosting this fabulous gala. TOTALLY SMART MOVE TO KEEP FROM BLOWING YOUR COVER, SUPERHEROES.

Poison Ivy crashes the gala pretty spectacularly; when you write the line “Uma Thurman strip teases her way out of a purple gorilla suit,” and that’s not the stupidest thing to happen in the movie, BY FAR, you know you are in the middle of something special. (Also, Poison Ivy brought her own back-up dancers. The Lady Gaga comparisons continue to mount up.) Because of Poison Ivy’s magic plant pheromone dust, Batman and Robin both want to fuck win a date with her, which creates more conflict between them that will ultimately not matter. And when Mr. Freeze falls for Batman’s bait, Ivy decides that she should team up with him to… Do evil, I guess.

Meanwhile, let’s not forget that there’s a whole other fucking thing! The Batgirl thing! That’s right, Alicia Silverstone, still as fresh-faced and adorable as she was in Clueless, pops by the mansion to help take care of Alfred, who is sick with a terminal illness he’s been hiding and Batman’s been pretending to ignore. And this means what? Um, well, Robin wants to bang her (when he doesn’t want to bang Poison Ivy, you ask? It never comes up, because neither storyline intersects, because movies are constructed of scenes that have nothing to do with each other if you ask screenwriter Akiva Goldsman). But Alicia’s not interested because she’s busy winning motorcycle races and doing judo and computer science and basically everything that proves she should be Batgirl once the movie gets around to getting her a costume. Which it does. And because this movie is equal opportunity, we also get a close-up on HER ass. Thanks, movie.

Anyways. The disease Alfred’s sick with is the same that Mr. Freeze’s wife (encased in a snow globe in cryogenic stasis) suffers from, and apparently Mr. Freeze (who in a previous life was a doctor, but apparently doesn’t mind the Mr. designation) did some groundbreaking research that could cure Alfred. But Mr. Freeze has also teamed up with Poison Ivy to freeze the planet and eliminate all the humans, leaving it safe for Ivy’s precious plants (there’s no explanation of how that’s possible, or if there was I wasn’t paying attention because c’mon).

Around now, by the way, Uma Thurman switches from imitating a future performance of Judy Greer’s to imitating the dearly departed Mae West, which is equally enjoyable because Mae West was the fucking shit. Uma Thurman is kind of saving this movie for me! I certainly feel less like stabbing anytime she’s on screen.

The thing with this movie is that you just kind of stop caring what’s going on. You’re like, of course Batgirl’s motorcycle stays upright without her riding it, so that she can jump back on it after flipping off. Of course. Totally rational thing that happens all the time. This is because at a certain point, a bad movie is like freezing to death. To quote 30 Rock: “If you give into it, you start to feel kind of numb and warm. And then you just get sleepy.”

And yes, I hate myself for mentioning freezing right now. Because here’s the rest of the movie: Lots of people say terrible puns. (There are so many terrible puns in this movie.) Mr. Freeze tries to freeze Gotham. Batman, Robin and Batgirl stop him. More puns. Mr. Freeze is pissed at them because he thinks they killed his wife, but then Batman tells him that no, Ivy did unplug his wife’s snowglobe, but Batman saved her and she’s safe. More puns. Mr. Freeze gives Batman the cure for the disease Alfred has, Alfred gets cured, Ivy gets captured somehow and Freeze comes to her jail cell and beats her up. More puns. And stabbing (on my part).

Ultimately, what this movie proves is that there are some actors who can withstand a disaster like this: George Clooney, Batman just this once, has of course gone on to blockbuster stardom. And there are some actors who can’t: Chris O’Donnell, meanwhile, is fucking lucky to have work on a CBS procedural. Risks are vital for a vibrant creative culture, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think twice about wearing a rubber suit with nipples on it.

Batman and Robin is a tough nut, but I still do admire it for existing. I mean, I never ever want to watch it again. But part of me has to admit that you need talent to be that terrible.

Love,
Liz

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About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on February 14, 2011, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Liz, as you know I dodged Batman and Robin’s giant frozen bullet back in 1997 because I was away intensively studying Shakespeare in a summer program. When I returned all my friends said, “This was the worst thing that ever happened.* You MUST see it.” And I have been politely declining the invitation for the past fourteen years.

    But against all odds I think you may have finally convinced me to watch this thing. Perhaps sometime next year before the next Nolan brothers entry. I’m sure I’ll regret the choice within five minutes. But at least we’ll be drinking.

    *”Second worst: Speed 2: Cruise Control, which also came out this summer.”

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