Batman and Robin (1997)

When it’s on: Tuesday, 31 July (10.00 pm)
Channel: ITV2
IMDb Link

Reading over yesterday’s Legend review, it seems I might have been a little harsh on it, especially compared with today’s offering, the universally panned Batman and Robin. Let’s be honest, Ridley Scott’s fantasy flick might be light in certain areas, but there’s still the painterly compositions and technical confection to admire, whilst  the 1997 Batman entry is an outright train wreck.

Try as I might, during my third viewing of it (three too many!) I jotted down the things I liked about the film in order to write a balanced critique, but it’s a short list indeed. I like the subplot concerning Albert (Michael Gough) steadily succumbing to a terminal illness, the fictional MacGregor’s Syndrome, which forces Bruce Wayne (George Clooney) to re-evaluate his relationship with the man who raised him. Some of Gotham’s architecture is cool, now overblown to ridiculous proportions and yet beautifully realised. Where else would you find immense Gothic statues, which support bridges or hold the city’s observatory in outstretched arms? Quite lovely.

The rest is dire, and the strange thing is it’s a picture that cost $125-140 million to make, all vomited on gaudy tripe that doesn’t entertain so much as make its viewers suffer. I could understand if it was a cheap as chips rip-off sequel that traded on its name and the goodwill of audiences, as in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which at least had poor Christopher Reeve doing his best to hold it together. But serious amounts of Warner Brothers’ money was plugged into Batman and Robin. It seems incredible to think that such a stinker was permitted to continue. Director Joel Schumacher might have blamed the studio’s decision to fast-track a sequel following the success of 1995’s Batman Forever, suggesting he didn’t have time to come up with anything better and simply worked on a fun movie that carried the spirit of the 1960s TV series, but as excuses go it’s a load of bollocks. I’ve never walked out of a cinema, possibly at times from a northern, obdurate feeling of ‘I’ve paid for this and I’m getting my money’s worth!’ but this is the closest I ever got to leaving my seat in defeat and despair.

It’s difficult to know where to start, but let’s begin with the all-star cast, expensively assembled and wasted entirely. Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $25 million to don a skullcap, be coated in silver paint and trot out an endless succession of ice-related puns. Further punnage comes from Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy, intended to channel the sexiness of Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman from Batman Returns but drowning it in a weird Mae West voice and unbearable hamming. Val Kilmer signed up for the slightly less execrable The Saint and subsequently had a lucky escape, so rising star Clooney was cast as Batman. It soon becomes clear that pretty much anybody could have played him. With none of his natural charm or ability called upon, Clooney is lost as the heroic lead and has to suffer the indignity of Schumacher’s posterior clad in black rubber close-up. Chris O’Donnell is as irritating as he was in the previous film, whilst Alicia Silverstone insults every viewers’ intelligence with her claims of studying at the Oxbridge Academy. The what?

The dark atmosphere of the Tim Burton Batman films might seem less so in the wake of Christopher Nolan’s vision, but in the hands of Schumacher it’s completely thrown out. The entire two hour stretch is a ‘Look at me!’ of bright colours and product placement. And there’s no point to any of it, from the neon lit shell that hatches to reveal Robin’s motorbike to the Halloween costumed thugs Poison Ivy comes across and who then vanish for no reason at all. The action scenes come thick and fast, but they’re actually predictable and boring. Mr Freeze’s (Schwarzenegger) henchmen are an inexhaustible supply of punch bags for our heroes. The film replaces ‘BAM!’ labels as Batman twats yet another useless baddie with comic sound effects and Elliott Goldenthal’s idiotic and annoying score, which is never switched off.

The show’s loud, ugly in its riot of colours, lights and clichés. Arkham Asylum is depicted as a 600-foot high fortress around which it’s perpetually raging with thunder and lightning. At one point, Mr Freeze skydives from his rocket ship from a height of 30,000 feet. Batman and Robin give chase, defying any layman’s knowledge of physics by surfing on escape hatches and somehow catching up with him, despite his minute-long head start. Batman and Robin is crammed with moments like these, ignoring the most basic logic and expecting us to forgive it again and again because, well, it’s just a bit of fun. No it isn’t. I don’t expect Inception levels of intelligence when I watch a blockbuster, but I like my films to make sense, not to insult me at every turn. As a final two-fingered salute, its effort to stuff as much product placement into its running time as it can is quite sickening, the only saving grace being the aggrandisement all those advertising executives must have felt by allowing their goods to be associated with this stinker. I hope it didn’t sell many spin-off action figures either. The characters in the film carry on exactly as they would if manipulated by little kids, only their dialogue would probably have been better than the bilge contained in Akiva Goldsman’s script.

By all accounts, Warner Brothers were ready to back another Schumacher Batman film, until the critical backlash and lukewarm box office made the studio think again. It would be another eight years before the character returned to the screen, in a film that reinvented him and consigned Batman and Robin to a terrible footnote and cautionary tale in the canon of superhero flicks. It received the most Razzie nominations in the history of the Golden Raspberries, and was only saved from worse than the single award (for Silverstone) by the presence of The Postman on its lists.

Batman and Robin

Up in the Air (2009)

When it’s on: Sunday, 24 June (9.00 pm)
Channel: BBC2
IMDb Link

I’ve now worked in the public sector for 14 consecutive years. I remember well enough the reasons for doing so. Beforehand, I had a job with some petrochemical giant, one incidentally whose name you can’t write without including the word ‘hell’, and whilst there was much of it that I liked, the corporate culture was at distinct odds with what I wanted from my working life. It became clear that face fitting was easily as important as one’s employment record, which sat ill with me. I recall a colleague being told that he was due for promotion, but one of the conditions of his step up was that he had to sever all ties with another employee who just wasn’t liked by the management. He did it as well.

Since leaving, I probably haven’t earned as much as I could. I’ve done some boring, boring jobs and felt shackled in various ways, but then there’s things like the steady wage, the pension (far from gilt-edged, Daily Mail readers, but it’s better than anything I might expect to get otherwise) and the security. With a mortgage, family, commitments, etc, the knowledge that I’m not going to have ‘that’ call to the manager’s office, perhaps without any prior notice, matters. I’m never going to be faced with Ryan Bingham, thank goodness.

In Up in the Air, George Clooney plays Bingham, whose job is basically to jet around American cities and fire people. Companies get him to do their dirty work because they don’t want to do it themselves, and Bingham’s good at it. He can ease his way through sacking after sacking, each one smoothly executed because he has so few commitments of his own that he doesn’t really have to empathise with people’s sob stories about keeping up the house payments, feeding the family, etc. Bingham’s only real ambition is to work his way into as many courtesy services and elite memberships as humanly possible. He’s the man who strolls straight to the front of an empty baggage check at the airport whilst you’re stuck in an endless queue. His dream is to score ten million air miles, which means continuing to do what he’s doing.

But this ‘idyll’ is threatened by the new ideas presented to his company by Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a young Cornell Business graduate who suggests firing people over an internet feed, meaning not having to leave the office to do the job. With the economic climate never better for the business of letting people go, Natalie’s proposal removes the human touch of face to face discussion for the production line of sackings by Skype. It also impinges on the very things Bingham values about his job, not to mention the relationship he’s developing with fellow frequent flier Alex (Vera Farmiga). She’s the same as him. They meet in a bar and compare corporate hospitality cards. Their friendship is based on sex in hotel rooms, agreed in advance via comparing itineraries and working out when they’re staying in close proximity.

The plot revolves around Bingham taking Natalie off on a job of work schedule, the pair sharing the firings across various cities. Gradually, the work takes its toll on her. Telling people they’re dismissed to their faces hits Natalie hard. She’s from the tweeting culture, after all, where everything’s done remotely. Having to watch people break down, get angry or tell her they’re going to throw themselves off a bridge doesn’t meet with her expectations of the job. It turns out that she’s only there to begin with because she’s gone to where her boyfriend is, and then he dumps her. This makes Bingham consider his own priorities – his transitory lifestyle, his minimal contact with family and the questions over where he’s going with Alex.

Director Jason Reitman (who also produced the film alongside father, Ivan) keeps things ticking over nicely, never taking obvious avenues in the course of the action and going for some neat choices in photography. Those aerial shots of Americana – especially the postcard frames that pop up over the credits – are quite beautiful, and Reitman ensures his characters appear to move organically through the tale, not overly directing them so it feels like the camera’s just following them about their business. As for Clooney, it’s a tailor-made role, the usual shades of Cary Grant updated for the twenty-first century, only he knows when to let the emotion crack open his austere presence.

The real plus is the film’s non-committal ending, the possibility that Bingham could be doing the same thing for years and years. Only by the close, the job’s become a trap rather than the thing he loves, and it would be lovely to picture him firing himself in the end. Or that bloke from the company I used to work for…

Up in the Air: ***