“Batman & Robin” review. A tribute to Joel Schumacher, R.I.P.

“Batman & Robin” is a film oh, so easy to hate… admittedly one of the biggest trainwrecking blockbusters ever produced, trashed beyond belief by critics and audiences alike… a film that I was tempted of walking out from the theater on my first viewing, that was how visceral my rejection of this film was, more than 20 years ago… even more so, as I actually enjoyed “Batman Forever” despite its flaws, more than any of both Tim Burton films which are clearly overrated, beyond the visual aspects and Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer’s performances.

Because I dare to say that “Batman & Robin” may be the most personal and intimate Joel Schumacher film in his resume… Schumacher already started playing tribute to the iconic Adam West starred Batman series and movie, with his camp in “Batman Forever”, which is a so fun film: goofy, never taking itself too seriously and still introducing a psychological study on Batman’s sexuality and a commentary on his relationship with Robin, always close to be the spartan role model of master and trainee, in pedophilian key… at the climax, The Riddler offers Batman the chance to choose between the woman he loves and his male sidekick… Batman refuses to choose and finds a way to save them both, therefore sending the message that Batman’s bisexual, in the code Schumacher has stablished throughout the film. Thanks to the still not so bad reviews and huge b.o., Warner Bros and DC gave him more room to “play” with the franchise, and did he just felt free to do whatever he wanted… he went full steam with the gay, camp, trashy coda and produced the best “worst” film of all time, all full of excess, unfunny jokes and puns, wooden acting, clichès and wtf action sequences… exactly in the line of Adam West’s delightful run.

In “Batman & Robin”, Batman holds an auction contest with Robin, bidding for a night with Poison Ivy, and he shows off his “Bat-credit card”… it is a joke delightfully unfunny, as a call back to the 60’s Batman series and their Bat-whatever was needed. Poison Ivy is deliberately a drag-queen look alike, and Uma Thurman goes full steam over the top, as Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gives one of his worst/best performances by also allowing himself to be as bad as possible, understanding to perfection what film he is in, and what Schumacher is aiming for. George Clooney, a competent actor (rather than a great one, even if I think he is best in comedy, and his Syriana Oscar does not bother me, as it is a quite good performance), also understands Schumacher and admitted he played Bruce Wayne and Batman as gay (unlike Val Kilmer’s bisexual incarnation in “Forever”) but restrains himself of going full Adam West mode (that is one of the main problems of the film: heros take themselves too seriously, causing a tonal difference that provokes the chain reaction to a disaster and misunderstanding of the whole production… Elliot Goldenthal’s score also does not help: too epic, not goofy nor camp as it should have been… there are deliberate toony slapstick sound effects here and there but Schumacher chose not to include the classic letters of “Boom!”, “Slap!” and so on, which maybe would have made too clear what he was going for.

As remembered, the film’s only half-celebrated performance is the late Michael Gough’s Alfred Pennyworth, despite the melodramatic clichés he’s given to work with, essential to stablish the parallels between Bruce and Alfred to Dick and Bruce: son to father, and probably even more. The less said about Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone, actually the better… the film’s failure almost killed their careers for a reason… Clooney, Arnold and Uma survived because even in the worst moments, it is clear that they are aiming for a goal that the director indicates, Chris and Alicia simply do not get or go to the places they are required to be given the movie they are in… they look too worried to look good and not too campy, so they can look great in the magazines, while the three stars don’t really care about how ridiculous the whole film could look like.

The film, over 20 years after, also marked the future of Hollywood. Technology was making possible to finally transfer super-hero films to the big screen and they have proven themselves to be b.o. juggernauts, but B&R set the limits of what you could do with the genre and the limitations that would shoot itself in the foot… only a few years later, “X-Men” and “Spiderman” marked a more grounded tone and while never going back to Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “Batman Returns” mode, they skipped goofyness as much as possible and put character over action, first. Later came Nolan and with “Batman Begins” and specially “The Dark Knight” went into grimmer and more realistic iterations, while Marvel with “Iron Man” started the MCU in the exact middle point between grounded to reality, fun, and faithfulness and respect to the source. Without “B&R” probably we wouldn’t have the MCU as we have it, now.

“Batman & Robin” is a really wonderful disaster, and proud to be so. The magnificently over the top and beyond campy production design, costumes, make up, visual effects (do they some of them look dated, even a couple of years after!), are too evidently intentional. It is the rare case that a studio let a filmmaker to run amok and be completely free to fulfill his vision. It recently happened also with Tom Hooper’s “Cats”, which has been so maligned, as well. Both films are brave, unique, fearless, deeply flawed but with the heart in the right place, and if only for that, they deserve to be seen and celebrated.

Originally, at first viewing I rated the film with 0 stars, an F.

After many rewatching and analyzing and thinking about it… the film was so underrated and it is a *** 1/2 / C+ failure, rather than a total trainwreck. You are in, with the joke, or you just aren’t, and while it took me years to understand what was going on, specially after cast and crew opened about it, I am completely in for the joke. Rest in Peace, Joel Schumacher, a way better director with a way better career than you were credited, in life.

The (maybe) unavoidable downfall of Netflix.

I write these lines while assisting in perplexity to the shot-for-shot remake of Charlie Brooker’s brilliant satire, “Dead Set”, which was a foreplay for what later became his hit series “Black Mirror”.

“Dead Set” which despite its presentation as a miniseries is basically a 3 hours film split in 5 chapters, thought to be released on a daily basis before Halloween, it has gone down as one of the best zombie films of all time, and for good reason, the mirror game between reality and fiction, the use of horror as an allegory of our dystopian present (even more so, before Covid19 hit) and was never scared of going full horror, keeping the comedic elements exactly as they should be: never distracting from the core of the satire, and just to give the audience enough oxygen to take a deep breath and jump into the next horror vignette. Even the progression of the events were always a “because” and were full of inner logic. Claudio Torres, who is credited as the writer (and co-director) of the remake, probably thought that why change anything that isn’t broken.

The classic question, that has an easy reply… if it is not broken, unless you have something extra to say, just do not touch it. The remake is not only shot-for-shot… it is unconvincing and subpar, with moments that are embarrassing in comparison to the original. This said with all my respect to all the cast and crew… because the main problem, goes beyond this…

This is part of the Netflix offering, stated as a Netflix “original” (which sounds like a pun, if you ask me). This comes as a major disappointment to me, after the Blumhouse produced Bollywood horror miniseries “Betaal”, also distributed by Netflix, and that despite some limitations, never ceased to be interesting and somewhat original, and was a binge-worthy horror offering that never felt as a rehash (even more so, had a lot to say in politics and history, from a satyrical point of view). But “Betaal” is mostly an exception to the rule… even Netflix’s biggest hit, “Stranger Things” never stops feeling as a family-friendly rehash of everything 80s, but very well done and with generous budget. For every “Betaal” or “Stranger Things” we have 8 to 15 mediocrities, and same with the Netflix films… they finance “Roma”, “The Irishman” or the extremely good looking “Da 5 Bloods” that opens on Friday… but for every one of them, we have to cross by some really bad stuff like “The Silence”, “Io”, “Naked”, “Birdbox” and so many other trashy films. I would include the disgustingly bitter personal revenge vehicle by Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story”, but I am in the minority on this one…

Still, the point being, Netflix is heading the 50s Disney route of production… the more mainstream, the less risky, the better. They do some risky, prestige productions here and there, but they now that the cheaper and less troubling the better… they are full of stand up comedians shows, reality shows… cheap television for a cheap audience?

It took me only one month to fall in love with HBO and the high standard of most of their productions and distributions… they do not shy off making material like “7 Days in Hell” or “Tour de Pharmacy”, or distributing the genius spoof of Chuck Norris that is Chris Elliott’s “Eagleheart”, and the rest of Adult Swim…

Or Disney + that despite having the (self) imposed limitation to family friendly fare (which I think it is a complete mistake, and will end up with the unification with Hulu, when people starts cancelling their subscriptions), offers an amount of classics (The Sound of Music! Mary Poppins!) that anyone with children can’t really get rid off (and well, there’s Marvel, Star Wars and The Simpsons). Three brands that warrant inmediate attention and sumission.

And then, there’s Amazon Prime, completely ecclectic and extremely cheap… and what they do not have included… you can rent it. That’s why all three are way ahead of Netflix right now, in terms of perspective of growth and endurance. It is a matter of time that Netflix will control who sees what, where, and the trick of many families paying only one subscription but sharing with friends (so you have even up to 4 or 5 families paying together for only ONE), and introduce new terms and conditions, and cancellations will ensue, because of the price, and also of the offering being the most uninteresting all together, specially in correlation with the price requested.

I may be wrong in the end, but I feel that not having such corporations as Disney and Amazon behind, warrant Netflix’s reign might be reaching an end (and bankruptancy) in less time than many imagine.