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Batman & Robin (1997)
Rated PG13

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, and Chris O'Donnell

Rating:
**1/2
out of
*****

I finally got my chance to see the second of Joel Schumacher's "Batman Lite" movies. Schumacher, after taking control of Warner's big budget franchise in 1995, pronounced that he would make Batman a less dark character on-screen. Of course, he was referring to the film noir-ish quality that Tim Burton had given Bruce Wayne's alter ego in his two attempts to capture the Batman mystique on film.

Schumacher's first attempt, Batman Forever, featured a wild performance from Jim Carrey as the Riddler and a new Batman, in the form of Val Kilmer, but not much else. It was admittedly less dark and more cartoonish than the previous Batman movies, but it shared its predecessors' lack of a definite Batman character. Now, with Batman & Robin, Schumacher hoped to correct some wrongs and get Batman right for the first time.

Well, he didn't do it this time either, but he's made a better movie than any of the others. That's not saying much, because all of the Batman movies have been disappointing. This one is too, but it's less so because it doesn't take anything seriously. That's a good thing about it. Unfortunately, it's also a bad thing.

The action gets off to a quick start, which rectifies a complaint with most of the other Bat-movies, as Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) attempts to steal a large diamond from a museum. Batman, now played by George Clooney, and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) try to stop him. Freeze needs diamonds to power his refrigerated suit as well as to fuel his research into a blood disease that has put his wife into a coma. Freeze has frozen her body until he can come up with a cure to bring her back.

In a completely unnecessary subplot, Dr. Pamela Eisley (Uma Thurman) is worried that humans are destroying the Earth. She works on a way to create plants that will fight back against the onslaught of humanity. However, she finds that her boss (John Glover) is using her research to create a race of super soldiers. After Eisley witnesses the creation of one such super soldier, named Bane, she is murdered and somehow becomes empowered with plant-like qualities which bring her back to life. She takes on the identity of Poison Ivy and seeks revenge on humanity and, of course, Batman. Inevitably, she seeks out Mr. Freeze as well and the two villains unite to combat Batman and Robin.

Throw in another subplot involving Alfred's niece, Barbara (Alicia Silverstone), who shows up at Wayne Manor to take care of Alfred. Of course, she becomes Batgirl and teams up with Batman and Robin.

As usual, the plot is unnecessarily weighed down by trying to get two villains enough screen time to make it worth the actor's while. As a result, Batman's screen time is cut short and, again, a Batman movie suffers from a shortage of Batman. However, when Batman is onscreen there is more action in this movie than the other three put together. It's not great action -- as the action sequences are horribly put together -- but it's better than we've been getting.

Schwarzenegger plays himself, basically, uttering one-liners while wearing a 70-pound refrigerated suit. Mr. Freeze is an interesting character with a definite source of vengeance. Poison Ivy is less-than-interesting as a villain but with Uma Thurman in the role, she's not unpleasant to watch. Undoubtedly, the film would have benefitted a great deal had it not had to mess around with her in the first place.

Clooney makes a great looking Batman. Someone said that it's gotten to the point where anyone can play Batman and it wouldn't make any difference. I'm starting to agree with that line of thought. Clooney, however, makes a lousy Bruce Wayne. Michael Keaton's Wayne was, by far, the best. Chris O'Donnell is servicable as Robin/Dick Grayson but Alicia Silverstone is pretty funky as Batgirl/Barbara Wilson. She seemed to get off being Batgirl, which was an interesting concept: someone having fun in their alter-ego mode. I'd like to see more of that if they continue this series.

To dyed-in-the-wool Bat-fans, this movie will no doubt be seen as blasphemy. Batman and his fellow characters have returned to a style of banter that would seem much more at home in the 1960's TV show than the movies of Tim Burton or the graphic novels of Frank Miller. The sets are gaudy and flashy and the mood of the film isn't exactly dark. It's more, well, fruity.

Something intangible, however, made it more fun than the other Batman films. For that, I give it a 1/2 star higher rating. But, I will say that if the quality of this series doesn't take a giant leap forward with the next installment, it's time to put the Bat out to pasture.

Trivia: Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze suit weighed in at 70 pounds and required him to wear painful contact lenses to acheive the "iced over" look in his eyes. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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