When asked to identify the best onscreen Batman; some might say Ben Affleck looking, as he does, like he’s just strolled off a comic book page or a frame from Batman: The Animated Series. They might say that Christian Bale’s nuance and earnest charisma earn him the right to sit atop the pile. They may argue that Michael Keaton’s intensity and psychological realism won him the crown or that nobody does self-consciously deadpan like Adam West.
They might even invoke Val Kilmer, just to be contrarian.
But nobody, I mean nobody would argue for George Clooney as the best Batman. Least of all Clooney himself, who admitted that Batman and Robin was “a difficult film to be good in”. Nonetheless, though 1997’s Batman and Robin would go on to be a ubiquitous punching bag for seething fans for two decades, there are moments in Clooney’s performance worth salvaging…
And a lot that aren’t.
Let’s look at some now:
Reasoning with the villain
For all his dark and violent affectations Batman is, and should always be, a hero. Upon subduing Mr Freeze in the film’s climax; rather than beat him into a coma, Batman humbly appeals to the man behind the monster, in order to save a life. It’s one of the most sincerely heroic moments in Batman’s cinematic canon, and we get to a glimpse of the Golden Age movie star charm on which Clooney built his career.
Disengaging the Redbird
One of the most appealing things about the Batman and Robin dynamic is seeing how Bruce Wayne’s stern authoritarianism conflicts with Robin’s reckless derring-do (especially when that Robin is his own son Damian Wayne). Nowhere is this better explored on film than when he remotely deactivates Robin’s ride in a desperate (and preposterous) aerial chase with Mr. Freeze. It’s all for Robin’s safety, of course, but the (26-year-old) boy wonder doesn’t see it that way. His glacial calm contrasted with Robin’s volcanic rage is one of the film’s rare gems.
It’s only one shot, granted, but as Clooney’s Batman stands over a supine Mr. Freeze after that silly car chase it’s a quintessentially Batman-esque visual. As he slowly lowers his outstretched wings we’re given strong notes of Keaton’s performance in Batman (1989) and a tantalising insight into what could have been.
And now, the bad…
“Hi Freeze, I’m Batman!”
Batman’s modus operandi is to subjugate criminals using intimidation and fear. Crashing through a skylight is a great start. Well done, Bat-Clooney! But politely introducing yourself before sliding down a replica of a diplodocus like Fred Flintstone? Resoundingly… No!
Clooney doesn’t even bother to modulate his voice or restrain his signature head-bob. Way to protect your identity, Bruce!
The Bat-Credit Card
When Batman and Robin crash a charity gala in which the main event is the auctioning of women to wealthy businessmen (which is a perfectly harmless bit of fun, apparently) the dynamic duo find themselves desperately trying to outbid each other for a date with Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy (who’s there for some reason). As the bidding intensifies, Batman silences his ward by pulling out a Bat-Credit Card.
A Bat-Credit Card.
It’s the single stupidest moment in film history. I really want to see the deleted scene where he rocked up to the Bank of Gotham in full costume to do the paperwork for that!
Oh, and it’s “Good Thru: Forever” so they’ve clearly no qualms with extending generous lines of credit to anonymous costumed vigilantes!
Bat Ice Skates
Okay, okay, I get that one of the fundamental tenets of the Batman character is that he’s prepared for anything. I’m fine with that, even if it’s used as a one-size-fits-all get out for lazy writers. I can even, sort of buy that he might feel that he’d need to make special preparations for a villain called Mr Freeze…
But building ice skates into his boots?!? He and Robin even access them by clicking their heels together like they’re in the fucking Wizard of Oz (1939). There’s also absolutely no way they’re able to get back up that gracefully. But then… How else do you combat ice hockey through the medium of ice hockey?