Batman and Robin (George Clooney and Chris O’Donnel) go from fighting a villain obsessed with riddles to one obsessed with puns, Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who sets the cold standard for bad ice jokes.
Freeze is joined by eco-extremist Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) and steriod-enhanced Mexican wrestler Bane (Robert Swenson). Meanwhile Alfred’s (Michael Gough) niece Barbara (Alicia Silverstone) shows up at Wayne Manor for no apparent reason other than to eventually become Batgirl.
Widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made, this is an unfair assessment on a film which marks a sizable step up on its predecessor. Criticism usually focuses on the decision to go with brightly coloured aesthetic and lighter tone, but this is preferable to the dreary Tim Burton-wannabe Batman Forever, and as Marvel has shown us, superhero films can deliver light fun if they’re done well.
The real problem is it feels made for kiddywinks or imbeciles. It has Batman Forever‘s weary structure of villains repeatedly showing up at Bruce Wayne events only to be chased away until we get to the final showdown. But it also relies heavily on insultingly bad humour, usually in the form of terrible puns, that make a mockery of the characters and audience in equal measure. Next to this brain-melting stupidity, the serious scenes of conflict between our heroes and Alfred’s slow death feel absurdly out of place.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is guilty of the selfishness which nearly killed his career in the late 90s, demanding top billing and a huge fee (thought to be around a million dollars a day) which undoubtedly drains the film in other areas, explaining its overall tackiness. But he at least looks like he’s having fun. Clooney is a step up on icy void Val Kilmer, making a charming Bruce Wayne while lacking the duality needed to make the role work. As such it was his first and last turn as Batman, while it was Alicia Silverstone’s first and last appearance in a major motion picture.
But it still has strengths. The Gotham cityscape looks much better than in Forever, with statues the size of skyscrapes managing to be both gothic and futuristic. The homoerotic elements – semi-naked male figures, as well as the famous bat-nipples – are a bold choice, but it’s hard to imagine the film attracting such derision for featuring semi-naked women.
The Coolio cameo is an unexpected in-joke. What’s also surprising is that director Joel Schumacher’s obsession with excess doesn’t result in appearances from LL Cool J, Ice T and David Frost as well. The result isn’t the worst Batman film, and is a long way from being the worst Arnold Schwarzenegger film. But perhaps its biggest strength is doing so badly it resulted in Christopher Nolan being given the reins for a complete do-over eight years later.