Batman: This is why Superman works alone.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
With Batman Forever proving to be a moderate success Schumacher was brought back to do a sequel. And it proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the caped crusader. It proves to be a train wreck from start to finish. Whatever deep storylines and complex characters were left from Batman Forever is completely gone. All that’s left is an utter void of laughter in what is supposed to be comedic.
The story is that Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’ Donnell) struggle with their relationship while they work to stop villainous Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) from taking over Gotham City.
Now it can be argued that the movie is trying to be a silly satire just like the 1966 TV show. However what made the 1966, show work was that West’s performance made the Batman character a man of sense among nonsensical villains (while also having a bit of silliness to him as well). This is something that would carry through in future adaptations. However what made it work in the show was that it was over-the-top and campy but was often aware of it. Here the villains are certainly theatrical but the writing and direction around the heroes doesn’t allow the heroes to fully compare and contrast. With all the silliness it still expects the audience to take a lot of things like Mr. Freeze’s backstory, Alfred dying, Batman and Robin’s conflict, Freeze’s backstory etc. seriously. Thus the comedy (and its endless attempts to do so) tends to fall flat. The action is also filled with cartoony sound effects and again, while it can be argued that the action in the 66 show was silly like the rest of the show, it was done in a way that wasn’t cartoony.
The movie has a total of three villains. The first is Mr. Freeze. His backstory is taken right out of the Emmy-winning episode from the animated series, Heart of Ice, which made him a great deal of depth. While Schwarzenegger’s performance is very much silly, the writing didn’t give him much to work with as his dialogue is almost entirely made up of ice puns. Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy is the second villain and is easily the best of the three. While I mentioned before that the movie’s style of trying to be like the 1966 show fell flat her character and story work well here making her the best of the three. From the silly way her boss Jason Woodrue (John Glover) kills her to her hammy performance makes it clever in the direction Schumacher was trying to go for. The third villain is Bane (Robert “Jeep” Swenson). Swenson certainly has the right build for the character. However they made him a complete idiot here being able to speak only one or two words at a time. In other incarnations he was quite intelligent.
Then there are the heroes. George Clooney’s Batman is sadly outright terrible (and he himself admits to that). He makes no attempt whatsoever to alter his voice as Batman and overall just feels downright awkward. To his credit with better direction he could make a good Bruce Wayne as Clooney does bring the suave, dashing, and charming demeanor the character normally has. Whereas in Forever, Chris O’ Donnell’s Robin was given some level of depth of the pain he was going through for losing his parents, here he’s mostly reduced to just whining about Batman’s mistrust of him and it gets really annoying. Finally there’s Batgirl. They completely butchered the mythos of this character. Rather than make her Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, she is Alfred’s secret niece from England (who has no reason to be kept a secret). Her Batgirl costume is also in no way inconspicuous and overall she adds very little to the rest of the plot.
Batman and Robin ended the Caped Crusader on the big screen for eight years and it is not hard to see why. It’s writing, direction, and characters are all done completely wrong. While the Dark Knight trilogy redeemed the franchise in cinema, its affects are still being felt today. Batgirl and Robin have had no future live-action versions and it was almost 20 years before we got any other live-action versions of Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy.