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How Joel Schumacher made the worst Batman film of all time

Illustration by Cinders McLeod / The Globe and Mail

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From George Clooney's nipples to Heath Ledger's lipstick, the Batman franchise has had its highs and lows. The fourth in a series of appreciations this week by Dave McGinn, leading to Friday's opening of The Dark Knight Rises. Read the article about the original Batman here.

Batman & Robin
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Release date: June, 1997
Batfan rating: 0 out of 10

Comic book quiz: Who killed Superman? Answer: Doomsday. Who drove Batman into the ground? Answer: Joel Schumacher.

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The box office success of Batman Forever ensured that Schumacher would have another opportunity to commit another travesty against the Dark Knight, and he did, with Batman & Robin.

It took exactly one minute and 18 seconds to know it was going to be a horror show. That's when we got an extreme close-up of George Clooney's butt in the Bat suit. Then we got a close-up of Chris O'Donnell's rear in Robin's suit. Then there were close-ups of each man's codpieces. Good God almighty.

The first time I watched this movie, all my facial features tried to make an escape from having to see it. My chin plunged to the floor to hide under the chair, while my eyebrows shot to the ceiling. Meanwhile, my eyeballs tried to jump overboard, with one darting port and the other fleeing starboard.

To watch it today in one sustained viewing, I would have to be hooked up to some Clockwork Orange-type contraption that would keep my eyelids pried open. It's seriously that awful.

Schumacher went so far over the top in his second outing that Adam West himself was probably appalled by its kitschy campness. In the first fight scene at a Gotham museum where Mr. Freeze has gone to steal a diamond, Batman slides down a full-scale model of a brontosaurus. Is he Fred Flintstone? Is it quitting time? Then Robin rides his motorcycle through a wall, smashing a hole in the perfect shape of a Bat symbol. When Mr. Freeze's henchmen attack the dynamic duo on ice skates, Batman and Robin fight back wearing ice skates of their own. Ice skates!

How could this be happening? Who could let this happen? I couldn't make sense of it then and I still can't make sense of it now.

Why was Arnold Schwarzenegger, playing Mr. Freeze, dressed like that? Why was his suit glowing? And why was Bane, a terrifying villain in the comics, just some grunting goon providing muscle for Poison Ivy?

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Why was Uma Thurman allowed to say any of the things that came out of her mouth? In fact, why were any of them allowed to say any of it? This movie featured the worst dialogue in superhero film history. Here's a random example – Robin, looking at the Batmobile: "I want a car, chicks dig the car." Batman: "This is why Superman works alone." Then there were all of Schwarzenegger's awful Freeze puns, which, I'm sorry Mr. Freeze, never once gave me the chills. They just left me cold.

There was nothing redeemable about this movie. The villains, the dialogue, the plot, the costumes, Alicia Silverstone showing up as Batgirl, everything. It was all execrable.

There's something dark and compelling about Batman and his mythology. Schumacher ignored that and pandered to five-year-olds.

The movie landed with a thud at the box office as the twelfth highest grossing film of the year – every other Batman movie had never been worse than third. Critics hated it, too, and Batfans still spit on its memory to this day.

It was such a piece of junk, in fact, that it ended the franchise. Batman wouldn't rise again for another eight years, when the keys to Wayne Manor were handed over to Christopher Nolan.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More


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