Following the release of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever, Warner Brothers wanted to push forward with a sequel as soon as possible to capitalize on Batman’s box office success. Val Kilmer didn’t return as the Caped Crusader and was replaced by George Clooney. What followed is a major critical bomb and perhaps the biggest embarrassment to the legacy of Batman, forcing Warner Brothers to re-evaluate the route of the Dark Knight.
Batman (played by George Clooney) and Robin (played by Chris O’Donnell) stop a diamond robbery conducted by Mr. Freeze (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger). After a brief skirmish, Freeze gets away and Robin is left frozen. The two return and Bruce and Dick argue, with Dick believing that Bruce doesn’t trust him. Meanwhile, botanist Dr. Pamela Isley (played by Uma Thurman) witnesses her boss use her Venom potion to turn a prisoner into a hulking behemoth of a man, Bane (played by Jeep Swenson). Angry that Isley witnessed his experiment, he kills her by pushing her onto a bunch of chemicals, turning her into Poison Ivy. Ivy kills her boss and goes to Gotham City to cover the city in plants. She teams up with Mr. Freeze, and together, they work to break the Bat.
I know that George Clooney put in almost no effort into his alter ego Batman, but I still think he was a great actor for the role. While he didn’t possess the charisma that Bale had or the intimidation that Keaton and Affleck had, Clooney did bring another aspect of Bruce Wayne I didn’t get from the other Batman actors. The way he spoke about anything felt really empathetic and intelligent, like he really cares about what he’s talking about. For example, when he turned down Dr. Isley’s proposal of catering to plant life and the environment at the expense of the lives of Gotham’s citizens, he sounded like he genuinely cared for Isley’s proposal, yet couldn’t follow through if it hurts innocent lives.
Another thing I enjoyed about the Schumacher Batman films was the set designs. I loved how grand Gotham City looked, and the fact that it was a constructed set is all the more impressive. However, that’s where my praise for this film ends. The film itself is a complete mess. Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze team up to take down Batman, but their goals do not mesh together at all. She wants to cover the planet with plant life, while he wants to completely freeze Gotham. While they could just be working together to bring down Batman, they would still have to confront this fact eventually. Speaking of Ivy, why did she want to cover the world with plants anyways? She saw her boss conduct illegal experiments on people with venom and then decides to replace all people with plant life instead?
Speaking of the villains, this is easily the worst adaptation of Bane I’ve ever seen on screen! While his physique and costume is more comic-accurate and his mask is more menacing compared to his mask in The Dark Knight Rises, this Bane is nothing more than a giant meathead who grunts and takes orders from Poison Ivy. Unlike his comic book counter part, he has very limited intellect and almost zero fighting ability. The few fight scenes we have of Bane involve him clumsily throwing punches and grabs. And while he possesses immense strength, he doesn’t know how to use that strength in a fight. He manages to get Batman in a headlock, yet Batman easily breaks out and flips him over. Bane has the strength to easily punch someone’s head clean off, but literally doesn’t for whatever reason.
Now for the costumes and props. Oh boy, where to begin? While many absolutely despise the bat nipples, and don’t get me wrong, they’re awful, but they’re the least of my concern. The batsuit itself looks even worse than the suit from Batman Forever and the camera focusing on Batman and Robin’s butt and crotch as they suited up really makes me feel uncomfortable. Why do we need to see this?!! And this is a family film!!
As for the rest of the props, most of them looked extremely unpolished and felt like first draft ideas. For example, the majority of the vehicles felt like crappy attempts at merchandising, such as the Batmobile having a weird spinning light-up generator and Mr. Freeze’s van(?) having spikes and a ice beam cannon at the front. But if you thought these were bad, they get even worse. The vehicles manned by Batman, Robin, and Batgirl at the end look so bad, they shouldn't even be functional! I read that the film was made to also sell more toys, and it really shows. Good storytelling and character development is squandered in favor of selling more toys. Actor Chis O’Donnell even compared the experience of working on Batman and Robin as being in a giant toy commercial.
The film was lambasted by both critics and Batman fans for its campy tone, incoherent plot and horrible dialogue mostly consisting of ice puns. After the film, both Schumacher and George Clooney apologized to the fans for the outcome of the film, with George carrying fierce hatred for the film. Batman and Robin would nearly kill the Batman franchise, stalling development of another Batman film for about eight years. During that time, numerous ideas for the next Batman film were pitched. However, it was ultimately decided that Batman would need to undergo a completely new makeover, forcing Warner Brothers to go the dark and gritty route with Batman Begins. Just goes to show what happens when a film prioritizes merchandising and toy sales over creating a good story. Hopefully, Warner Brothers learned from their past mistake!