×

Freeze Frames Push Icy ‘Batman’

Mr. Freeze/Dr. Batman loses a bit of altitude and velocity in this fourth installment of Warner Bros.' hugely successful series. The villains, Arnold Schwarzenegger and especially Uma Thurman in this instance, remain the highlights here, as the rest of the gargantuan production lacks the dash and excitement that would have given the franchise a boost in its eighth year. Nonetheless, all the commercial elements are in place for B.O. that will follow in the flight path of the three previous blockbusters.

With:

Victor Fries ..... Arnold Schwarzenegger Batman/Bruce Wayne ..... George Clooney
Robin/Dick Grayson ..... Chris O'Donnell
Poison Ivy/
Dr. Pamela Isley ..... Uma Thurman
Batgirl/
Barbara Wilson ..... Alicia Silverstone
Alfred Pennyworth ..... Michael Gough
Commissioner Gordon ..... Pat Hingle
Dr. Jason Woods ..... John Glover
Julie Madison ..... Elle Macpherson
Ms. B. Haven ..... Vivica A. Fox
Nora Fries ..... Vendela K. Thommessen
Gossip Gerty ..... Elizabeth Sanders
Bane ..... Jeep Swenson

Mr. Freeze/Dr. Batman loses a bit of altitude and velocity in this fourth installment of Warner Bros.’ hugely successful series. The villains, Arnold Schwarzenegger and especially Uma Thurman in this instance, remain the highlights here, as the rest of the gargantuan production lacks the dash and excitement that would have given the franchise a boost in its eighth year. Nonetheless, all the commercial elements are in place for B.O. that will follow in the flight path of the three previous blockbusters.

 

The series has remained aloft due to highly effective all-star casting of the baddies as well as refreshment and expansion of other talent in front of and behind the camera. George Clooney as Batman and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl are the new arrivals this time out, with Chris O’Donnell back for his sophomore appearance as Robin and director Joel Schumacher up to the plate for a second time as well.

 

Unfortunately, the operative word is bland, as the newcomers don’t add much to the formula, leaving it to their nemeses to enliven the proceedings. Narrative drive and humor are also in short supply, which creates a serious sag in the middle when the novelty of the fresh components has mostly worn off.

 

Initial suiting up of the black-caped duo constitutes the most self-consciously conspicuous fetishizing yet of the anatomically sculpted Batgear, this in preparation for their initial battle with Mr. Freeze (Schwarzenegger), a warrior bedecked in climate-controlled armor and equipped with an awesome frost-spewing gun that freezes everything in its sights.

 

Initial set piece, in which Freeze unleashes his ice-skating goons on the winged twosome, is somewhat silly since the minions spend more time playing hockey with a giant diamond coveted by Freeze than trying to accomplish their mission, which is to kill the good guys. But the follow-up is pretty spectacular , with Freeze blasting off in a private spaceship with Batman captive inside and Robin clinging outside, followed by some radical air surfing back to Gotham City.

 

Like nearly everyone, including the heroes, in a Batman story, Mr. Freeze is a tortured soul driven to an extreme double life due to a past tragedy. In his previous life, he was Dr. Victor Fries, a brilliant scientist who, due to an accident, must now maintain his body temperature at zero. He is also a hopeless romantic who keeps his beautiful wife (supermodel Vendela K. Thommessen), the victim of a degenerative disease, in a state of frozen suspended animation until he can devise a cure for her.

 

In the meantime, revenge is the word, as it is for a nerdy horticulturist (Thurman) who emerges from of a near-fatal incident in the curvy form of an outrageously sexy vamp, Poison Ivy, bent on destroying the human race for its offenses to all things green. The slinky Ivy needs only to blow some of her special love dust in the face of any man in order to subdue him, and a kiss from her is literally a kiss of death.

 

Back at Bruce Wayne’s mansion, there are also problems, as the billionaire’s beloved butler, Alfred (Michael Gough), doesn’t appear well. But the old man is buoyed by the arrival from England of his niece Barbara (Silverstone), whose demure good-girlishness belies a secret taste for the souped-up motorcycles stashed in the Batcave.

 

The latter spur the silliest sequence in the picture, in which Barbara hangs out with a bunch of lowlifes at night prior to an utterly gratuitous motorcycle drag race that looks like something out of “The Lost Boys.” The Bruce Wayne side of the story has always posed a problem in the current series, and this installment is no exception, as the at-home chitchat consists of this group of orphans discussing the need for trust and family, and Bruce/Batman having to throw cold water on Dick/Robin, who’s hot for both Barbara and Poison Ivy.

 

Midsection is woefully low on conflict and incident, with Mr. Freeze temporarily in custody, Barbara lolling about and Poison Ivy failing to fatally seduce either Batface or Birdbrain, as she calls her adversaries. Things pick up when Ivy frees Freeze and, informing him that the flying rodents have pulled the plug on his wife (when she in fact has jealously done so), inspires him to join her in a partnership of Adam and Evil to freeze Gotham City and decimate the world’s human population.

 

Late in the game, Barbara transforms into Batgirl, to less than electrifying effect, to help her protectors fight the ultimate battle, which sees Freeze turning Bruce Wayne’s powerful telescope into a giant ice gun with which he can spray the entire city. As the victims must be thawed within minutes or be frozen forever, Batman, Robin and Batgirl shift into high gear, resulting in a protracted sequence as thunderously numbing as the climax for any other $ 100 million action film in recent memory.

 

Ongoing technological advances have made the effects, if not the production design, even more grandiose than in the previous Batman outings, although not necessarily to more edifying or thrilling effect. Batman’s abilities were never about special effects (he can’t even fly, really), and shouldn’t have to compete with things that morph in the night.

 

Physically, Clooney is unquestionably the most ideal Batman to date, but none of the series’ screenwriters has ever gotten a handle on how to make the character as interesting as those around him, and Clooney is unable to compensate onscreen for the lack of dimension on paper. It is difficult to think of another superhero series in which it would matter so little who plays the part, and it is indicative of the ongoing flaw in the Batman franchise that the changes in leading men have so little impact on the films’ popularity or effectiveness.

 

O’Donnell mainly conveys a boyish eagerness that must continually be channeled and tempered by his guardian, while Silverstone, in her first bigscreen appearance since breaking through in “Clueless,” makes a particularly disappointing impression, as she brings no special flair or energy to her potentially choice role.

 

That leaves it to the villains. Schwarzenegger, painted a silvery blue and heavily encased, is forced to deliver every cool/cold/chill/

 

frigid/frozen pun in the book, but the Freeze character is so unusual and imposing that he easily holds the interest. But best of all is Thurman, imaginatively coifed in red tresses and green body stocking, a man trap who taunts her intended victims like a leafy Mae West and is assisted in moments of physical need by a hulking, obedient manservant, Bane (Jeep Swenson). Her performance has comic wit conspicuously lacking elsewhere in the picture.

 

The production is as physically huge, elaborate and expensive as the audience expects it to be. Concluding tag makes it clear that all three Bat heroes can be anticipated in the next installment.

 

Popular on Variety

Freeze Frames Push Icy 'Batman'

Production:

Batman & Robin A Warner Bros. release. Produced by Peter Macgregor-Scott. Executive producers, Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan. Co-producer, William M. Elvin. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Screenplay, Akiva Goldsman, based upon Batman characters created by Bob Kane and published by DC Comics.

Crew:

Camera (Technicolor), Stephen Goldblatt; editor, Dennis Virkler; music, Elliot Goldenthal; music supervisor, Danny Bramson; production design, Barbara Ling; supervising art director, Richard Holland; art direction, Geoff Hubbard; set design, James Bayliss, Dawn Brown, R. Gilbert Clayton, Keith Cunningham; set decoration, Dorree Cooper; costume design, Ingrid Ferrin, Robert Turturice; sound (Dolby digital/DTS/SDDS), Petur Hliddal; visual effects, John Dykstra; visual effects supervisor, Andrew Adamson; Mr. Freeze makeup design, Jeff Dawn; associate producer, Mitchell Dauterive; assistant director, William M. Elvin; stunt coordinator, Pat E. Johnson; second unit director, Peter Macdonald; second unit camera, Jamie Anderson; casting, Mali Finn. Reviewed at Warner Bros. screening room, N.Y., June 9, 1997. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 130 MIN.

With:

Victor Fries ..... Arnold Schwarzenegger Batman/Bruce Wayne ..... George Clooney
Robin/Dick Grayson ..... Chris O'Donnell
Poison Ivy/
Dr. Pamela Isley ..... Uma Thurman
Batgirl/
Barbara Wilson ..... Alicia Silverstone
Alfred Pennyworth ..... Michael Gough
Commissioner Gordon ..... Pat Hingle
Dr. Jason Woods ..... John Glover
Julie Madison ..... Elle Macpherson
Ms. B. Haven ..... Vivica A. Fox
Nora Fries ..... Vendela K. Thommessen
Gossip Gerty ..... Elizabeth Sanders
Bane ..... Jeep Swenson

More Film

  • Maleficent Mistress of Evil

    Korea Box Office: 'Maleficent 2' Debuts on Top, Deposes 'Joker'

    Given a Thursday opening, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted on top of the South Korean box office. The Walt Disney release earned $4.56 million from 612,000 admissions over four days. The fantasy adventure film accounted for 37% of total weekend box office in the country. “Joker” slipped to second after remaining on top for two [...]

  • Inside an Inox Leisure multiplex in

    India's Inox Multiplex Chain Reveals Ambitious Growth Plans

    Indian multiplex chain Inox Leisure has revealed ambitious plans to more than double its existing screen capacity of 600. The company is planning to add 900 more screens across the country over the next decade. “That’s the realistic answer, but my desire is to do it over the next five years,” Siddharth Jain, director, Inox [...]

  • Joker

    Why 'Joker' Is About All of Us (Column)

    Take a look at the photo above. It’s the most poetic image to have emerged from Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” and the reason I say “poetic” isn’t just because the shot has that caught-in-action indelible vibe of a quintessential movie poster: graphic, hauntingly composed, a bit shocking (at least, the first time you see it). It’s [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Rules International Box Office With $117 Million

    Though Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” stumbled at the domestic box office, the Angelina Jolie-led sequel enjoyed a far stronger start overseas. The follow-up to 2014’s fantasy adventure inspired by the “Sleeping Beauty” villain took off with $117 million from 56 international markets. In North America, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted with a meager $36 [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Dominates With Soft $36 Million

    Five years after Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent” cast a spell over the box office, the villainous enchantress has returned to the top of domestic charts. Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” a sequel to 2014’s fantasy adventure based on the “Sleeping Beauty” sorceress, flew lower than the original and debuted to a disappointing $36 million from 2,790 [...]

  • MIA Wrap

    Rome MIA Market Wraps With Stronger U.S. Presence, Boosts Italy's Industry Standing

    Rome’s MIA market for TV series, feature films and documentaries wrapped positively Sunday with organizers boasting a bump in attendance just as some 2,500 executives departed in an upbeat mood after four days of dealmaking and presentations of mostly European fresh product, which elevated Italy’s global standing in the industry, especially within the TV sector. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content