There are plenty of reasons to dislike 1997’s Batman & Robin. Chief among them is the fact that it tarnished its perfectly decent predecessor, Batman Forever. Everything Batman Forever got right or at least didn’t do too bad a job at, Batman & Robin found a way to completely botch. And it makes Batman Forever look bad when you see what it led to.
The two films are structured almost identically from the opening scene to the final shot. Let’s go through some of the moments in Batman & Robin that cast a pall over Batman Forever. This list is by no means exhaustive, but they are some of the moments that just irk me.
Batman Forever stumbles a little out of the gate. It opens with an epic suit-up montage, which is then undercut by Batman’s awkward “I’ll get drive-through” line. But the moment passes quickly and is soon forgotten. Contrast that with the opening of Batman & Robin, which also opens with a suit-up montage. But it’s followed by two truly awful lines from Robin and Batman. First, Robin mangles a fun line from the first film when he says, “I want a car. Chicks dig the car.” And Batman follows that up with the equally unfunny, “This is why Superman works alone.” That’s more of a face plant than a stumble, and it becomes painfully clear that this is the level of comedy we can expect for the rest of the film.
Talking with Commissioner Gordon
It might seem like a small thing, but I like that Batman takes the time to get out of his car and swing in to talk with Commissioner Gordon face to face about the hostage situation with Two-Face. They discuss the details, and establish that they are on friendly terms with each other and they are both well aware of Two-Face and his intentions. In Batman & Robin, he just listens to Commissioner Gordon on a viewscreen in the Batmobile as he spouts off details about Mr. Freeze as though this is the first time Batman has ever heard of that villain. But Mr. Freeze has clearly been around for a while as we learn later, and he’s stolen several diamonds already before the one he’s currently attempting to steal from a museum. I guess this part actually makes me appreciate the effort Batman Forever put forth. It’s better than this mundane and confusing exposition delivery.
The opening fight scene in Batman Forever is fairly grounded in reality. Batman fights off a half-dozen of Two-Face’s henchmen using kicks and some kind of electric gun. The fight sequence even pays homage to the 1989 Batman film when a screaming swordsman runs straight at Batman. The opening fight scene in Batman & Robin features a seemingly unending wave of Mr. Freeze’s henchmen in what can only be described as a cartoon. Characters jump and slide and sail through the air in ways that make no sense. You can see hints of the silliness that was waiting to reveal itself in Batman Forever.
Batman Takes Flight
Batman dangles from Two-Face’s helicopter as the villain flees the scene of his crime. Batman eventually climbs aboard and barely manages to jump into a large body of water before the helicopter crashes into the Statue of Liberty and explodes. But in Batman & Robin, it’s Robin who somehow manages to hold onto the side of a rocket before he gets inside and rescues Batman. They then detonate the rocket and surf through the sky. It makes Batman Forever look completely plausible. Tommy Lee Jones’ performance during this scene is a bit off-putting, and there are echoes of Mr. Freeze in his hammy line delivery.
Second Villain Kills the Boss
After the big opening, we are introduced to the second villain of the film. In both cases, they work for a branch of Wayne Enterprises, but their funding gets terminated because of a breach of ethics. Edward Nygma is a mad genius who steals some of his boss’s intelligence to turn himself into the Riddler. He then kills his boss by dropping him off a cliff. Pamela Isley is a botanist whose boss tries to kill her once she discovers his evil plans, much like what happened to Selina Kyle in Batman Returns. However, she gets transformed into a venomous villain by the name of Poison Ivy, and she kills her boss with a poison kiss. The Riddler has a number of witty lines while Poison Ivy is mostly just a nitwit.
Video Footage of the Villain’s Creation
We see the first villains get created after the fact via video footage on a TV screen. In Batman Forever, Bruce Wayne watches Harvey Dent get half his face burned with acid when someone throws it at him in a courtroom. In Batman & Robin, Bruce shows Dick Grayson video surveillance footage of Dr. Victor Fries accidentally falling into a cryo-solution that mutates his body so he can only survive in extremely cold temperatures. It lingers a bit too long on the footage of Fries and it becomes a little ridiculous, inspiring smirks instead of sympathy.
Crashing the Party
Both times that Two-Face crashes a party, Bruce Wayne is present, but he’s not there as the host or the chief organizer. It’s not his fault that the villain keeps showing up and shooting at people. In fact, he almost reveals his secret identity to Two-Face to try to prevent him from killing hundreds of people. Very noble of him. But in Batman & Robin, Bruce intentionally organizes a diamond auction to use it as bait to lure Mr. Freeze. And he puts many innocent Gotham City residents in harm’s way in the process. Not cool, man.
Bat Credit Card
Let’s just take a moment to note that Batman & Robin literally turns Batman Forever’s title into a joke by having the expiration date on Batman’s credit card be “Forever.” I think Batman Forever was supposed to be in reference to the fact that Bruce Wayne no longer feels obligated to be Batman because of the death of his parents, but he instead chooses to take on that mantle for the rest of his life. The role of Batman has become something more than a personal vendetta to him. It hurts that serious theme from the previous film by turning it into a throwaway gag.
As I’ve noted before, the scene where the Riddler meets Two-Face is filled with hidden meaning and symbolism. The Riddler has a plan, and he needs to convince Two-Face to be a part of it. They have a common enemy. The only reason Mr. Freeze meets Poison Ivy is because she happens to be holding a diamond he wants at the auction. Her charms don’t work on him, and afterward she decides he could be useful to her plan, even though his goal is in direct conflict with hers. There’s no deeper meaning to their encounter, and it’s not clever in any way.
What Did You Say?
There’s a quiet moment where Bruce Wayne tells his butler Alfred, “I killed them,” referring to Dick Grayson’s parents. Alfred is shocked by the admission, and he asks Bruce to repeat what he said. This time Bruce says Two-Face killed them. But his first statement was a Freudian slip because it shows that he feels responsible for their deaths by failing to capture Two-Face or prevent his creation in the first place in the courtroom. In Batman & Robin, Bruce is kissing his girlfriend when he suddenly zones out for a few seconds and thinks of Poison Ivy. He doesn’t say anything, but suddenly his girlfriend says, “You just called me Ivy. Who’s Ivy?” But he didn’t say anything. We were watching him the whole time and he clearly said nothing. Anyway, this doesn’t signify anything more meaningful than reiterating the fact that Bruce is still being affected by Poison Ivy’s pheromone dust that she blew at him at the auction.
Bad Guys’ Hideout
Two-Face has an awesomely designed hideout that highlights the dual nature of his personality. As far as we know, the police never find it. But Mr. Freeze’s hideout is in an ice cream factory, and it is easily discovered by the police because it’s such an obvious place for him to be. It’s just so blatant that there’s no opportunity for subtlety. Also, Poison Ivy has her own hideout, which is about as over the top as she is.
Dick Grayson sneaks his way into the Batcave, despite Alfred’s attempts to keep him out. He then steals the Batmobile and goes on a joyride. It ends with a confrontation in which he saves a girl from a gang, but he has to be saved himself by Batman. Alfred’s niece Barbara Wilson cracks the butler’s three-digit password on his computer to discover all of Batman’s secrets. A digital version of Alfred practically invites her into the Batcave and already has a Batgirl suit waiting for her so she can save Batman and Robin from Poison Ivy. Dick’s transformation into Robin happened gradually and felt more natural than Barbara’s sudden invitation to become Batgirl, but now I have to wonder if it’s really as good as I remember.
Jim Carrey was a skilled comedian at the top of his game back in 1995. He could ad-lib lines and turn Akiva Goldsman’s script into something pretty darn funny. Despite their solid acting chops, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman were reduced to mostly spouting off puns, and they have very few genuinely funny moments in the film. It’s quite painful to sit through their barrage of failed joke attempts.
Dick Grayson is an interesting character in Batman Forever. He’s suffering from the loss of his family at the hands of Two-Face, and he thinks murdering Two-Face is the only way to ease his pain. Alfred tries to offer him guidance and Bruce eventually offers him a relatively healthy outlet for his rage. Dick never takes his revenge on Two-Face, but he finds solace in his role as a crimefighter. He has no such depth in Batman & Robin. He yearns to be his own man and get out from under Batman’s shadow. But nothing substantial comes from this conflict, and in the end he accepts the status quo. All of the interesting things about the character from the previous film are shoved aside and forgotten.
The Riddler destroys the Batmobile, most of the Batcave, and almost all of the Batsuits. So it makes sense within the story why Bruce Wayne has to don a new suit to fight Two-Face and the Riddler. He and Robin have to use a plane and boat to reach the villains’ island because they are the only vehicles that weren’t destroyed. But in Batman & Robin, even though time is of the essence for the heroes to reach Mr. Freeze and stop him from freezing Gotham City, Batman, Robin, and Batgirl (for no reason) change into different suits than the ones they had before. Plus, they drive vehicles that look like they were designed by a toy company. They probably were. The heroes drive down the icy streets of Gotham City in an obvious attempt to sell toys. None of this is justified by what is happening in the story, so it comes across as nonsensical.
Batman and Robin get divided from each other, and they face the Riddler and Two-Face separately. The Riddler forces Batman to choose between saving Robin or the woman he loves from falling to their death, but he finds a way to outsmart the Riddler and save them both. In Batman & Robin, Batman gets divided from Batgirl and Robin as they face Mr. Freeze and Bane separately. Batman manages to defeat Mr. Freeze while Batgirl and Robin defeat Bane without much trouble. Batgirl even gets to save Robin as they are both falling off a huge cliff. The final fight and the way the heroes manage to thaw Gotham City are ludicrous and overly complicated. It’s a far cry from the comparatively modest final battle in Batman Forever.
The Riddler survives his fight with Batman, but he’s driven insane by the experience. He has one last surprise in store for the audience, which is a fitting farewell for his character. Poison Ivy seems to be on the verge of a mental breakdown, and she is forced to share a cell with Mr. Freeze, who is not pleased with her at all. He gets to keep his suit, and it’s clear that he’s going to make her life miserable. But at least he’s done torturing the audience.
One Last Shot
The final shot of Batman Forever is a nice image of Batman and Robin running at the camera in front of the Bat Signal. It portends continuing adventures for the Dynamic Duo. Of course, all we got was Batman & Robin, and that movie ends with a similar shot of Batman, Robin, and Batgirl running at the camera. It’s a reminder that there will never be a continuation of this particular group of characters, not that anyone was clamoring for it.
Too Many Questions
Batman & Robin commits the cardinal sin of making me question everything I liked about Batman Forever. And we all know what happens when we ask too many questions. We get confronted by a Mr. E.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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