A Hot & Cold Look Back At Batman & Robin, 20 Years Later

by Ben Martin

Twenty years ago, in the summer of 1997, the comic book movie, as we knew it at the time, came to an end. Some might say, “Hell froze over.” (That’s the last ice pun, I promise.) This abrupt halt was thanks to the release of Batman & Robin. Coming just two short years after the highly popular Batman Forever (1995), this Bat flick seemed poised for success. Especially since the majority of the Forever crew returned; including director Joel Schumacher and writer Akiva Goldsman.

This time around, the titular characters (played by George Clooney and Chris O’ Donnell, respectively) are battling a new foe in Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Freeze is on a quest to ice-over Gotham City…literally. Doing so to hold the city ransom until officials pay him what he would need to find a cure for his comatose wife’s rare disease. At the same time, Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), is looking to bring a green inferno to her previous employer’s stomping grounds. While all this is happening, the dynamic duo is at odds with one another (yet again), and Alfred (Michael Gough) is dying slowly. Despite all this, for some reason, our heroes think it’s a good idea to accept a new partner, Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone).
In general, this film has a reputation as “The worst Batman movie” and with good reason. But in ’97 when I was eight years old, I loved it. I even saw it in twice in theaters! Not to mention, I also had the movie’s shirt, the action-figures, Pop-Tarts and the Disney Adventures Batman & Robin movie special issue. It was only with age and time that I could see this installment for what it is. However, there are two sides to Two-Face’s coin. Be it heads or tails, this flick is bad, but in different ways. Firstly, let us look at just why this movie’s so bad.

Firstly, let us look at just why this movie’s so bad. I feel that the major reason lies in the fact that Warner Bros. and everyone involved with this film were still riding the high of the previous installment in the franchise. And why wouldn’t they have been? Released on June 16, 1995, Batman Forever proved to be one of the most profitable and popular movies of that year. So much so, that plans on a follow-up to Forever began two months after its release. Except for Clooney as Batman and the new villains; all of the previously successful elements were in place.
So, everyone involved proceeded with enthusiasm. Part of said interest came from the studio wanting to make Batman & Robin even more kid and family friendly. According to Schumacher, he also had a studio mandate to make the film, “More ‘toyetic.’” Thus he did what he was asked, pushing this entry to be as bright and lighthearted as possible. Schumacher took an approach to directing the film, “Like a live-action cartoon.” Likewise, the cast followed suit and played to the tone. Everyone dialed it up to eleven.
The movie’s script certainly didn’t help matters either. Unlike when Akiva Goldsman co-wrote the previous installment with Lee and Janet-Scott Batchler; Goldsman takes sole writing credit on the movie in question. In my opinion, the absence the Batchlers can be felt here. Goldsman primarily uses the exact structure for this film’s script that its predecessor had. (To the point where frankly, it seems like a copy and paste job.) He then merely added new villains and camped everything up. Therefore we get a story that plays as repetitive, cheesy, lazy and uninspired. Combine all of those issues, and you get a loud, colorful, 90s day-glo mess of a movie.
Upon the film’s release on June 20, 1997, it was ill-received by fans and critics alike. However, the younger audience may have enjoyed it. On top of that, it was also a disappointment at the box-office. Batman & Robin had a $125 million budget and grossed only a little over $107 million domestically. (Though it should be noted that the movie nabbed another $130 million in foreign territories.)
In the end though, Warners was not happy with the box-office earnings; nor the reception to the movie. (I would venture to say they were pleased with their profits that were a result of products related to the feature, though.) However, according to Joel Schumacher, he was considered to head-up another Bat sequel by the studio. As we know, that never came to pass.

Now let’s look at the other side of the coin with Batman & Robin. Yes, it’s riddled with problems; but in my estimation, those issues do something. They result in a movie that, if you’re in the right mood, open to it, and possibly consuming an adult beverage, can change for you. I dare say that Batman & Robin has the potential, under the right circumstances, to be so bad, it’s good. (Don’t come after me with the pitchforks just yet.)
This movie has been in our life 20 years now. After all this time, I subscribe to a theory posed by Michael E. Uslan, executive producer of all the live-action Batman films to date. Uslan says:

The movies to me have always reflected a different era from the Batman mythology. To me, Tim Burton’s first film was truly the Batman of 1939, before Robin came in. Batman Returns was more Tim’s tribute to Batman comics the way they were portraying the character in the 1990s. Batman Forever…Pure middle of the 1940s to the middle of the 1950s. And Batman & Robin clearly was about the Batman of the ‘60s in the comic books.

I’m even going to carry his theory one step further. It’s my feeling that Batman & Robin, is on some level, a ‘90s feature version of the 60s TV show. If viewed as such, I think this movie can be at least somewhat enjoyable.
Much like the show, I believe that this movie also has its place in Bat history. Even if you can’t see it as being so bad it’s good; this movie has some level of import. The main reason for this is that it killed comic book movies for a period. During that time, they begin to slowly evolve into what we have today . There were soft seeds that were planted with Blade (1998) and X-Men (2000). Then, the 2002 Spider-Man film brought the re-birth of an era of comic book movies. Since then, I think we’ve been living in the modern, golden age of the comic book movie. Love or hate Batman & Robin, without it, I don’t believe that we would have Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
*PLEASE NOTE: All quotes were taken from the documentary, Shadows of The Bat- The Cinematic Saga of The Dark Knight, Part 6: Batman Unbound.

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