1997 was a special summer for the movies. Speed 2: Cruise Control featured Willem Dafoe on a cruise ship, murdering people with exploding golf clubs. Face/Off showed us John Travolta’s love handles being grafted onto Nicolas Cage’s body. And then, we have the most brilliant of them all: Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. It was the act of cinematic bravery we didn’t even know we needed. Leather bat-butts jiggled in closeup. Expensive sets were bathed in liquor store neon. Oh, and the ice puns. Don’t even get me started on the ice puns.
The film’s plot almost feels Shakespearean in its grandeur, and that goes for the Bard’s comedies and tragedies. For this installment, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Dr. Doug Ross) tussles with Mr. Freeze (The Governator) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), with every soul in Gotham hanging in the balance. And I already know what you’re thinking: Freeze wants to blanket the city in crackling ice, while Ivy seeks to transform everything into a teeming sprawl of botanical wildlife. Why on earth would these two villains team up, when their interests completely conflict with each other? I could give you an answer, but it would look a lot like that problem Matt Damon solves at the beginning of Good Will Hunting. Let’s just accept that some things are beyond our mortal brains and move on, shall we?
Trust me, it only gets more compelling from here: Few things break my heart like seeing a handsome billionaire down in the dumps, but that’s exactly where Bruce is in this film. First of all, Bruce feels unlucky in love, even though the character has ping-ponged from Kim Basinger to Michelle Pfeiffer to Nicole Kidman to Elle McPherson. And we tremble with worry that ol’ Brucey is gonna end up alone! That poor, sweet, hunky man!
But wait–there’s more! You see, it turns out that………wait a minute. Where the hell was I going with this? Oh yeah, it turns out that Alfred (Michael Gough) has advanced MacGregor’s syndrome. That’s one of those unfortunate movie diseases that will last as long as the script requires it. As a result, Alfred’s “British” niece Barbara (Cher Horowitz) shows up to care for him. Of course, Barbara is also a butt-kicking badass with ten tons of street cred: “London’s kind of ruff,” she says, free of any discernible accent.
This sets up a prime opportunity to give Dick Grayson/Robin (That Kid from Scent of a Woman) a love interest. Of course, Barbara has zero chemistry with Dick, but who needs chemistry when ya got a sweet motorcycle chase and a mumbly cameo by Coolio?? At least I think that’s what happened, I may have stared at the back of my eyelids for a smidge of this movie. And that’s yet another compliment I can pay this movie: After it was over, I felt extremely rested.
That’s enough about me. Let’s talk about Batman and Robin’s ace in the hole: You know what’s better than a script filled with ice puns?? Letting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s thick Austrian accent absolutely slaughter every last one of ’em! (“Aw right ev-rah-bahh-deee, cheeeeeellll!”) A good chunk of the film is dedicated to Arnold devouring the scenery, and even though nobody can understand what the hell he’s saying, you know it’s probably funny!
Sometimes it takes a little while for the sun to shine on a great work of art. Over twenty years have passed, and Batman and Robin is just now getting the great glow of daylight it deserves. It’s truly a complete movie: The special effects, the dialogue, Coolio–everything falls perfectly into place. Yeah, the Avengers movies are great and all, but do they have quarter-sized bat nipples?* I didn’t think so. Go back and give this superhero classic another look. That’s right everybody, it’s time to chill. 125 min. PG-13.
*= I’m starting a bluegrass band called Quarter-Sized Bat Nipples, and nobody can stop me.