The 1997 movie Batman & Robin is quite possibly one of the strangest movies I have ever watched. The last time I watched it, I noticed that the story liked to switch back and forth between two different things—being completely awful and being completely awful. It does literally nothing else. At any given time Batman & Robin is so awful it’s boring, and during all the other times, it’s so awful it’s baffling. Nevertheless, it’s a movie that has stuck with me over time—not because I particularly want to remember it, but because my traitorous mind won’t let me forget it in the slightest.
The plot of the movie goes as follows: Mr. Freeze Arnold Schwarzenegger steals a bunch of diamonds before Batman and Robin can stop him. He needs the diamonds to power his subzero suit, since a cryogenics lab accident altered his body to need freezing temperatures in order to survive. He’s also cryogenically frozen his own wife, Nora, in order to save her from the fatal illness MacGregor’s Syndrome while he works out a cure.
Meanwhile, while all this is going on, one Pamela Isley, an eco-terrorist, is doing experiments with a formula called Venom in order to create plants that can defend themselves against humanity. However, when she discovers that her colleague used her Venom to create a super-powered human named Bane, she becomes angry and refuses to continue working with him. Her colleague responds by trying to kill her using poisonous plants. Because this is a Batman universe, the plants instead turn her into a meta human named Poison Ivy. She kills her colleague and then takes Bane into Gotham City. Her new goal in life is to destroy all humanity and cover the world in plants.
Schwarzenegger also has a plan for the world at large. He wants to bring about the next ice age, and because our two villains’ plans are completely incompatible, they decide they should totally team up.
While all that is going on, we discover that Batman and Robin are having some differences with each other. Robin doesn’t like being the sidekick anymore and the two have a falling out because of it. Then, we learn that Alfred has also developed MacGregor’s Syndrome and he’s dying. And because all of this wasn’t enough plot and drama, Alfred’s niece, Barbara Wilson, shows up from London unexpectedly and slowly figures out everyone’s secret identities before becoming Batgirl.
This movie might just be one the most godawful things I have ever seen. It has no direction whatsoever, the character development and acting are horrible, the only female characters we get either all hate each other or spend the movie in frozen animation as little more than a prop for a male character, and on top of all that, the movie butchers the comic’s canon. Barbara’s character feels like an afterthought to the story, and I still can’t think of a reason why she’s Alfred’s niece instead of Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. The familial change seemed more like laziness than a thoughtful way to add her in—despite supposedly being British, they didn’t even try to give her an accent, so I can’t say this change was particularly thought through, nor was it something the writers were committed to. That’s not to even mention that Alfred made a Batgirl suit for her on the off chance she would both come to visit him and figure out everyone’s identities without Bruce ever knowing what he was up to. But don’t worry, everyone, Barbara’s totally a badass because she races motorcycles.
Batman & Robin’s biggest problem is that it tries to pull itself into too many directions at once and the narrative suffers as a result. This can best be seen with the villains. There was no reason to have both Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze at the same time. Either one of these villains could have carried the plot forward by themselves. If it had gone with Poison Ivy, we could have had a much stronger narrative about the environment and the importance of not killing it. And if the movie had chosen Mr. Freeze, we could have had a narrative about love and doing the wrong things for the right reason. I’m pretty sure the Alfred subplot exists to give Mr. Freeze a redemption arc, but why? What about Mr. Freeze makes him deserve a redemption over Poison Ivy, who in this movie is nothing more than a victim of circumstance? Instead, any kind of message the movie could have had is lost. What we get is a Mr. Freeze we’re supposed to sympathize with because of his literally fridged wife, despite the fact that we’re also given little to no development or backstory for their relationship. Even Gotham managed to do a better job with that storyline. As for Poison Ivy, while Mr. Freeze gets to be sympathetic and likable, she gets to be a generic evil seductress.
The previous Batman movies also featured multiple big-name villains at once, but it really doesn’t work in this movie. Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze are completely incompatible with each other—their goals don’t align at all, and even though Poison Ivy is really not the biggest fan of men in the comics, she now has a pointless crush on Mr. Freeze and even attempts to murder his wife. Her demonization is one of the movie’s biggest failings and a sore point for me. Despite all the complexities of her character in both the comics and other media, here she’s flat and boring. It’s also pretty awful that Batman & Robin use her to reinforce stereotypes. Like, oh, we have a female villain who can control men with pheromones—well, I guess there’s no possible way to write her without reducing her to her sexuality and villainizing her for it. And hell, let’s just shove an obsession for Mr. Freeze in there too, because why the fuck not? Then we can add a ton of makeup and accessories to her character, just to make certain that everyone knows this villain is really super feminine. There’s very clearly a “woman v. woman” vibe to Ivy’s character—only the tomboyish Batgirl who likes motorcycles and wears light natural makeup can beat her in the end.
All the plot points that are brought up are never fully developed or fleshed out. Instead, the movie likes to waste our time with pointless shit such as the scene where Batman ice skates and beats up Mr. Freeze’s hockey player minions. The tone doesn’t match the plot at all. It is incredible how mismatched everything in this movie is. If any of you haven’t seen Batman & Robin, you’re really not missing much. But hey, there are some good things about the film. At the very least, now we can all enjoy Arnold Schwarzenegger singing “Let It Go”.