I remember being really mad when they announced that Val Kilmer would not be returning as Batman, and that George Clooney would be playing the role instead. I didn't particularly care for Clooney at that time and I definitely didn't think he had the proper look to be Batman. I can't remember exactly how I felt about Batgirl being introduced, but I know I really disliked her in the animated series, so I can't imagine I was too excited. I also honestly can't remember if I saw this movie in the theater or if I waited for home video. I think my brain may have tried to block out as much about the experience as possible.
However, the entire point of this marathon is to fairly appraise every Batman film, and so I was not going to skip this one. I would watch it again, and give it a fair shot. My Strangers from the Internet co-host Bethany recently said she liked the film because it reminded her of the 1960s TV show. So maybe there was something I could glean from this film that could be enjoyable?
This film's structure follows Batman Forever's pretty closely. We start off with an immediate action scene of Batman and Robin going up against Mr. Freeze. Arnold Schwarzenegger actually received topped billing in this film over Clooney. Every single line out of his mouth is a pun. Usually featuring "cold," "ice," "freeze," or some other variant thereof, but even when they couldn't fit that in, he still makes a corny joke. And he's grinning through nearly all of it, to the point that you can just tell Arnold was having the time of his life playing this role. To his credit, when the very few times come around for him to get serious, he handles those scenes well too.
Watching this opening scene, you would expect to be watching an extremely cheesy comedy with some action elements. Batman and Robin both surf or skate over various surfaces, and when Mr. Freeze's henchmen show up as evil hockey players, the two of them nod at each other knowingly and pop ice blades out of the bottom of their boots by clicking their heels together. It's absurd. It's perfectly understandable why so many of us were angered by this movie from the get go - despite the silliness of the previous films, this one is above and beyond.
And I could accept that we all just had the wrong expectations and try to appreciate this film for what it is, but the fact is it doesn't know what it is. After that first scene we cut to the origin of both Poison Ivy and Bane, and it's all about on par with Batman Forever. John Glover plays Dr. Woodrue in these scenes, and he voiced The Riddler in Batman The Animated Series, so that's a nice crossover.
Barbara is then introduced as Alfred's niece, who strangely has no English accent despite being English and living in London up until recently. There's then all this serious talk about how Batman thinks Robin is too reckless and takes too many chances, and Robin thinks Batman needs to learn to trust him, and Alfred scolds Bruce while Bruce keeps seeing images of Alfred raising him as a small boy.
Then Ivy starts using her phermones on the men, and we're back to absolute ridiculousness all over again. There's madcap adventure and silliness until - oh, by the way, Alfred's dying. It's just way too many sudden turns in tone and it just doesn't work. Schumacher has claimed that the studio wanted a family friendly film and that's why things turned out the way they did. But then why does Ivy use so much innuendo? I suppose you could argue that it might fly over the heads of children, but it feels obvious to me. And the whole thing with Alfred should really be upsetting, but it happens so quickly, and we're also dealing with the fourth guy to portray Bruce Wayne, so I'm just not feeling a closeness between them at all.
I wouldn't say that George Clooney makes an awful Batman, but he's not a notable one either. Once again he barely has a storyline, and the ones he is involved in don't have much meat. We see he's been successfully dating some woman for over a year, which is a little strange considering that every other relationship he's been in in previous films in the series was all about how he couldn't balance that. But then she basically disappears after giving him a marriage ultimatum so I guess it doesn't matter.
There are glimmers of potential here. The conflict between Bruce and Dick could have easily led into him becoming Nightwing in a future installment. I like this portrayal of Ivy for the most part and I could see her easily carrying a film as the main villain, though if I'd like to see her use more plant creations than seduction in the process. You also could have made a zany short film with just Freeze and the ultra-silliness and it would have been a great comedy. But unfortunately we get them all mashed together instead, with Alfred Headroom in the computer adding Batgirl into the mix and it just doesn't work. It's a complete mess. It's very easy to see why this essentially killed the series. At least we got a pretty good Smashing Pumpkins song out of the deal, with a decent alternate version as well.
I was laughing hysterically during the opening scene, so afterwards I thought it might be fun to film my reactions as I watched the movie. I ended up getting a good sampling of the range of feelings I felt throughout: