Synopsis on the Rocks:
Batman must stop Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy from destroying Gotham City with an Ice Cannon. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne must help his butler, who is suffering from a rare disease.
Review and Analysis:
This movie is all over the place. Like Batman Forever, Batman and Robin attempts to hold on the Noir-style of Gotham City without the dark/drab aspects of Burton’s Batman movies. But this movie is a stark reminder of why simply tossing popular actors and actresses into a movie without a coherent story rarely works.
Secondly, this is a movie that really has a disdain for female characters. Bruce’s love interest actually has less to do here than Nicole Kidman’s Chase Masterson from Batman Forever. The other female characters are only to occupy space, or worse still, lead male characters “astray” from their own goals. And, as always, People of Color occupy the same roles found within superhero franchise movies and have about the same impact. Which is none.
This is where the movie mailed the whole script in. The only villain in this film who was considered to be irredeemable by the filmmakers was:
Poison Ivy. Because her reasons for turning evil (defending the plant life of Earth against Mankind’s poisoning for profit) are seen as being extreme. Mr. Freeze is only seen as a man who is trying to cure his cryogenically frozen wife from a rare disease. Bane is not really evil as much as he is just a voiceless henchman; he only says ONE word in the movie…and that was his name. The rest of the time, he just grunts and growls, just like another green-skinned monster from that other comic book company.
Bane just joins Poison Ivy and obeys all of her commands…just because. Meanwhile, Poison Ivy simply uses Seduction Attacks on just about every man she faces off with – Batman, Robin, Commissioner Gordon, Mr. Freeze, an entire crowd of Rich Men bidding on a date, and so on….and on….and on…. However, the need for a Seduction Attack on Mr. Freeze is unnecessary, for Freeze is already a homicidal maniac intent on killing people just to bring his wife back (more on this later).
A sad note about this movie: Women are stuck in the same background fodder roles that occur to the (mostly White) female characters over and over.
Women as victims:
This scene was supposed to make the audience more amenable to Mr. Freeze’s cause, which was to find a cure of MacGregor’s Syndrome for his wife. It’s clear that Victor Friesz was not a megalomaniac before he took a cold bath, so, like most of Batman’s villains, a dip in liquid means a transformation into eeevvvviiillll….. (iiiiinnnnnnddeeeeeddd).
[And if you get the reference, then you’re…pretty old. Or know your stereotyped characters.]
Women as Romantic Impetii:
Julie Madison, pictured above, was supposed to be Bruce Wayne’s latest “girlfriend” for the movie. However, she is only featured in 2 scenes of the movie – and both scenes were nothing but to advance the plot in some form or another. Any character development that took place did not involve her; in fact, both involved Poison Ivy.
The big reason why most male protagonists had multiple female love interests is because they are used to validate both masculinity and male virility. It also had the side effect of making female actresses completely disposable; if enough people disapproved of a female actress (mostly for not being locked-in-a-bathroom material), then the role could be replaced without too much fanfare.
Women as Background Fodder:
One of the things you may miss the first or second time around is the fact that the women of Gotham City are merely the gossips, and offer no defense of self or others when the bad guys appear. While Gotham’s police force has men of color, they are lacking for women in general.
Remember, that at time this film was released, Batman: The Animated Series was running, which had introduced characters like Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya to the mix.
Speaking of Jokes:
I hope Batman’s utility belt (an underused feature of the Batman franchise) is never misplaced. I don’t think Batman could get away with “SEE ID” in the signature box of the card.
The Scene You May Have Missed:
When Mr. Freeze is busy singing in his frozen lair, take some notes:
The Ice Gang for Mr. Freeze is very “chromatically” enhanced here. Where I often fire broadsides at much of Hollywood starts here. People of color, regardless of whether they get a turn at being the hero to cheer for, will always get work as a nameless thug or random criminal. Always.
But, perhaps, even more egregious:
Because she is the token female thug, she is decked out in inappropriate lingerie. Also, because she is the token female thug, she is seen attempting to seduce the villain. That is odd, however, because Mr. Freeze is only a villain because he goes psycho when he takes a dip in specially-prepared Liquid Nitrogen (called a “Cryo-Solution”); the kind that only makes you unable to survive outside of a subarctic environment instead of turning you into an ice statue…and killing you in the process.
Pointless trivia moment: Vivica Fox plays Ms. B-Havin’ (the woman in the picture above). She plays a similar role in Independence Day.
Batgirl the Add-on:
Where the Superman movie series often thumbed its nose at the comic book origin stories and had the fanbase cheer, the Batman movie series often jumped the tracks of its origin stories only to have the fans howl in disgust. In the case of Batman and Robin, the biggest change was to the character of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.
Looking at the first three movies, you notice that there is no characters developed beyond Batman/Bruce Wayne and some of his sidekicks. The villains are only developed as far as their “evil” is concerned. There is no development for anyone else. When it was decided that Batgirl was going to be introduced, there was alot of teeth-gnashing going on, because the producers found that Commissioner James Gordon looked like this:
And Hollywood, in their wisdom, made the forward observation that no one as “hot” as Barbara Gordon would spring from someone so…old. So, Barbara would be given an entirely new origin (as Alfred’s niece). She would also be blonde-haired, which was a radical departure from the comics, where Barbara was first a redhead, until Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl starts as a brunette and wears a redheaded wig as part of her disguise. This also predated Stephanie Brown’s blonde-haired Batgirl by a decade.
Barbara “Anderson” also happens to be a movie feminist; She knows martial arts where she is at least a match for Robin (but, then again, it’s never specified how Dick Grayson learned his martial arts). She despises wealth to the point of avarice – although she is wealthy enough to enjoy a jet-set lifestyle for life. She is a hacker-class computer expert. And she is an expert motorcyclist. With all of these tools, Barbara shows that she can “hang” with the men, and with ease.
But it is here where it all falls apart. One of the things that often keeps many female heroes from being accepted as part of the “pantheon” is the fact that many of these characters do not struggle to overcome adversity as part of their duty to fight the bad guys. This is not the same dynamic as struggling to overcome adversity from White and/or Male Privilege, or even Hetero/Cisgender Privilege; thus making the hero fight a specifically tailored villain (i.e. Black Hero fights a racist KKK villain, Female Hero fights a Chauvinist OR only a specific Female Villain) cheapens the hero because the villain offers nothing but a poorly thought-out obstacle.
More Color Commentary:
This is a scene that was supposed to be “exciting” and “empowering” at the same time. Exciting because it has a bunch motorcycles, sparks, explosions, and BMX stunts happening. Empowering because it features a young (White) woman who can hang with the guys at their own game. However, this scene’s only point was to be character ability development for Barbara Anderson; this was to show her proficiency at riding a motorcycle so the audience doesn’t “question” how she rides as well as she does when she dons the Batgirl Costume.
In seriousness, this scene was about as necessary as the one in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. But this is what happens when you only consider a partial aspect of a story; making both Barbara and Alfred sympathetic characters by tying their backstories together.
On the other side, I posted the picture of Coolio and his bevy of Women (of Color, BTW) because the movie uses him as a shortcut to portray the scene as being in a “dangerous” part of Gotham (the part that Batman never seems to fight crime in). Thus, a wealthy socialite like Barbara getting her kicks in races in dangerous parts of town was only supposed to add to her “strength.”
Also, remember that this movie actually takes place in Gotham circa 1950-1960. The big giveaway is the fact that everyone, including the GCPD, is drives a “vintage” car. The motorcycles are also “vintage” for the time period. So a Black “Gangsta” dressed in modern clothing seems out of place. Note that they have Ms. Anderson speaking in the “native” tongue to further establish her bona fides to play with the boys.
Bane, or Too Many Villains:
Where Superman had to deal with Doomsday as his ultimate challenge, supplanting both Lex Luthor and Darkseid has his arch-nemesis, Bane’s comic book origin had him as a criminal genius who ran Batman ragged by unleashing EVERY criminal Batman had locked in Arkham Asylum (since, apparently, Gotham City does not have an actual prison to house criminals in). He then faced off against Batman, using a Villain Growth Hormone called Venom, and proceeded to beat Batman into submission – and then snapping Batman’s back in two, effectively crippling him. Batman, like Superman, comes back, stronger than ever, of course. But that arc effectively made Bane Batman’s ultimate challenge.
Bane, outside of the comic books, has not been anywhere near as menacing. This Bane is actually the first appearance outside of the comics, and he was…rather underwhelming. His entire backstory is that he was a common criminal from South America who was subjected to Dr. Woodrow’s experiments to create evil Captain Americas (or Luke Cages, they were subjected to the same formula, BTW, unless this was retconned recently). When Pamela Isley is herself subjected to the Evil Villain Chemical Dip and becomes Poison Ivy, Bane simply follows her commands.
Victor Freisz was supposed to be the man with it all; Olympic Decathlete AND Science Nobel Prize winner, happily married to a loving wife, whom we learn almost nothing about, except that he loves her – and she has a rare disease.
So, when Friesz takes a plunge into Evil Villain Ice Water, he develops a suit that can keep himself alive outside of the subarctic climate. Only one small problem: He needs
Dilithium Crystals Diamonds to power the suit AND his newly created Ice Gun. For Comic Book-based characters, this is necessary to make Musclehugger’s a villain – since he needs diamonds, and has no wish to license or sell his cryo-technology to get them, he’ll just use his Ice Cannon to steal things.
Secondly, his grand plan was to create a Giant Ice Cannon to hold Gotham City hostage unless they fund his research project to find a cure for MacGregor’s Syndrome beyond Stage 2. This is where Freisz’ story falls to pieces.
First, you would think that a man of Friesz’s prestige and stature (2-time Nobel Prize winner) would be able to pull Government, Private, and University funding for his research, especially considering that he already found a cure for the disease in the earlier stages. Between this and his Cryo-Tech research, the money alone from that should have been enough to sustain the effort, subarctic physiology or not.
Second, let’s assume that, by some act of poor writing, that Dr. Freisz is unable to get funding for his work. Consider all of the work he put into creating his gang, his hideout, the weapons that they use, and the cryo-support system to keep his wife safe in frozen suspension. Now, consider the electric bill for running all of his ice-based systems. If his ultimate goal is to save his wife, his plot runs into the same problem that Marko/Sandman had in Spiderman 3; none of the actions he takes actually do anything to advance that.
Mr. Freeze was chosen as a villain for Batman & Robin because of the popularity of his character back on Batman: The Animated Series. Michael Ansara’s voice work and Bruce Timm’s production of Freeze’s episodes made Mr. Freeze a sympathetic and tragic character. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose acting range is limited to being an emotionless robot, spends much of the film delivering his trademark one-liners throughout the film. Incidentally, the assertion I made of Schwarzenegger back in Terminator 2 still holds; Arnold does not play villains – and he does not play one here. Mr. Freeze is redeemed when he gives Batman his MacGregor’s Sydrome cure (so that he can use it on Alfred).
More on Plant Girl:
Pamela Isley was also chosen as a villain for this film because of her popularity on Batman: The Animated Series. By the time this movie entered production, all of Batman’s bigger villains had been used – and all had been effectively neutralized (except for Catwoman, because they were planning a spin-off movie for Ms. Pfeiffer.). While Poison Ivy is supposed to be an Environmentalist-turned-Mankind-Hating-Terrorist, you never get the sense that Isley was using her scientific talents to accomplish her goals. Instead, now that she can be considered “attractive” and has equipped herself with “Pheromone Dust,” she can seduce any man to do whatever she wants. This, combined with her venomous kiss, was supposed to make Poison Ivy into a femme fatale…literally.
Yet, if you want to see how poorly thought out the character and her arc turned out to be, here is just the contrast you need:
When Batman corners Poison Ivy, she tells him that she’s not really a fighter, and provides enough of a distraction for Bane to grab Batman, allowing her to escape.
But then, later on in the same film, we get this:
Poison Ivy and Batgirl throwing roundhouse kicks, splits, whiplashes, and the like at each other.
In other words, another inconsistent female antagonist, because the movie needed to show Batgirl as being able to fight just as well as the guys.
Meta-Commentary on Batgirl vs. Poison Ivy:
The dynamics of this fight brings me back to a quote from Pauline Kael:
Moviemaking is so male-dominated now that they think they’re being pro-feminine when they have women punching each other out.
This is a quote that made me pause when I read it some time ago; it made me think about the praise that Aliens garners. I take Ms. Kael’s quote and I go another step further – and look at the definitions of masculinity AND wonder why “punching each other out” is considered to be only solution for men. I brush by this on my review of Terminator 2, but only in pointing out the hypocrisy of Sarah Connor’s words and actions, especially towards Miles Dyson. The general theme, however, applies, as we are seeing protagonists make less consideration of circumstances of the battle, less deliberation on battlefield conduct, and violations of both personal sanctity and sovereignty are seen as virtues.
The Batman movie franchise torpedoed itself to the bottom of the Mariana Trench with this movie. With its 3rd actor playing Batman in an attempt to revive it after Batman Forever, the plot was sufficiently jumbled enough that attempting to map out the structure of the plot would resemble a kid’s jumble. The story itself is hard to grasp, since it attempted to run 2 1/2 Bad Guys along with a Brand New Sidekick in an attempt to draw in female viewers.
But, the movie’s poor treatment of female characters stops that from even being a consideration. That, and the movie’s declaration of the female antagonist being the only one that is irredeemable, makes the movie hard to like. That ending, BTW, was supposed to mirror Schumacher’s previous Batman movie, but, like much of Schumacher’s film, it doesn’t work. This also says nothing about the token men and women of color in this film, because the movie provided nothing to actually say for them.
The fans of Batman lambast this movie for being as bad as it is. Most of them are correct in this assessment, but for all the wrong reasons (as most of it centers around the costumes). I would suggest using the discs for skeet shooting…with turbolasers, except you won’t be able to find an Imperial gunner capable of hitting such a target at point blank range.