By Joseph Walter
Batman & Robin is not your standard Batman film. It's not trying to reinvent the super-hero genre, nor is it pushing for a gritty R-rating. Instead, it adopts the lighter side of Batman by taking inspiration from his Silver Age silliness. While you won't see any "Zaps" or "Pows," wacky set pieces and ridiculous gadgets are the name of the game. Even as an adult, I couldn't help but laugh as Batman and Robin, who were currently confronting Mr. Freeze in a frozen museum, clicked their heels together to have ice-skating blades burst out of their boots, ready for action. The story contains that same brand of Saturday morning cartoon action, and features an eclectic trio of villains; The frosty Mr. Freeze, prickly Poison Ivy, and burly Bane give Gotham a heaping helping of trouble. Whether it be a plan to completely freeze the city over or to crossbreed snakes with plants and have them attack the poor, helpless civilians, creativity is not at a minimum. Akiva Goldsman's script is sprinkled with the kind of one-liners and satire that one would expect to find in the 1960's Batman. For example, there are enough ice puns to give you a brain freeze (har-har). The tone of the script is not a mistake. Batman & Robin is fully aware of its absurdity, and so are the actors.
Clearly having fun and embracing the cheese that surrounds them, the entirety of the cast does not miss a beat (or a wink), and performs with as much panache as they can muster. George Clooney brings a serious credibility to the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne, while saying lines about the "Bat Credit-Card" with a straight face and a knowing glint in his eye. Chris O'Donnell fills in the boots of Robin/Dick Grayson, bringing in over-blown teen angst along with some Burt Ward-esque one-liners. Even more star- power is found in the casting of the villains, with a very sultry Uma Thurman steaming up the role of the venomous Poison Ivy, while Arnold Schwarzeneggar wears the steel armor of the cold-hearted Mr. Freeze. Despite all the silliness, there are times when the film is not focused on hamming it up, and the actors deliver the expected dramatic goods. A truly touching scene between Alfred, the loyal butler (played by the late Michael Gough) and Bruce comes to mind, along with the revelation of Freeze's backstory.
However, it's not the acting, the story, or the script that gets the most heat from raging fans. No, it's the art direction. While admittedly jarring for some, the art direction is something that I consider to be a strength of the production as a whole. This Gotham is bathed in neon, and its skyline is filled with gigantic, gothic statues. This version of the famous city is original and memorable, showing a glimpse of personality and culture that hasn't been seen before. Batman and Robin's costumes, along with the film's selection from the Rogue's Gallery, have gotten a shiny new coat of paint as well. Sure, this Batman and his city may not be dark, but the settings and costumes are original and perfectly meld with the tone, working hand-in-hand. Or, perhaps, nipple-in-nipple (I apologize.)
Something else of particular note is the musical score. Elliot Goldenthal has produced a soundtrack that rivals the favorite Danny Elfman theme from the Tim Burton films, the excellent Shirley Walker compositions from the beloved Batman: the Animated Series, and is miles beyond the Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard efforts of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Unlike the rest of the film, the score is completely serious, with superb theme work, solidifying the dramatic scenes, while adding yet another flavor of style to the rest.
Batman & Robin is not afraid to take the path less travelled. Although many seem to get a kick out of degrading it, it cannot be argued that it picks a style and sticks with it, unlike the Nolan films. An audience may not necessarily agree with the artistic decisions or Joel Schumacher's direction, but that is not a reason to fault the film as a whole. When looked at through a different lens, Batman & Robin is a funny, enjoyable, pop corn film of epic proportions, never once ashamed to be as outwardly different and silly as it is. Given the choice of a pretentious ultra-gritty attempt at being as serious as possible with The Dark Knight trilogy, or the outrageous, wacky-good time of Batman & Robin, I'd take Uma Thurman in a skin-tight leotard killing people with her lips any day over a grumbling, indecipherable Christian Bale.