Declaring Batman & Robin as one of the biggest disappointments in blockbuster history would be like saying “that Justin Bieber chap is a bit rude.” To help you understand how much of a flop it rapidly became, let me briefly highlight the history of Batman movies leading up to Joel Schumacher’s 1997 cinematic shit-bomb. In 1966 we had Batman: The Movie – Based on the extremely popular Batman TV series, it turned out to be a moderately successful hit both at the box-office and on a critical level. It didn’t necessarily set the world on fire but it most certainly didn’t do the reputation of Batman any harm. In 1989, we had the hugely successful Batman directed by Tim Burton which not only brought “The Caped Crusader” back into the mainstream but showcased a reinvention of a much darker and serious style.
Batman Returns was released shortly after in 1992 and clearly continued the successful trend set by the first Burton installment. Although considered as something of a mess by critics, Batman Forever in 1995 turned out to be a huge hit at the box office proving that Joel Schumacher’s more tongue-in-cheek approach to the characters (especially villains) appealed to a widespread audience. So you can imagine the excitement a fan of the Batman comic book/movie franchise, average cinema-goer, or general film fan would have had during the build-up to Batman & Robin in 1997. All of that eager anticipation had been swiftly obliterated with one of the most peculiar opening sequence’s of all time. Strangely sexualized close-ups of Batpecs, Batass, and Batnips turned out to be nothing but BatshitCrazy. It was clear to see from the first ten minutes that witnessing the rest of the movie would be an excruciatingly painful experience.
Funnily enough, this is one of those films that is “so bad” it’s actually a lot of fun… but for all the wrong reasons imaginable. It eclipses the tongue-in-cheek comic-book aesthetic Schumacher was attempting to achieve and reaches new realms of campy neo-noir with excessively sexualised shiny costumes, clunky set design, and awful sound effects.
Firstly, I’m just going to list off a few costume botches that spring to mind. I’m still undecided as to whether the person responsible for inventing the ‘Bat nipples’ should be either punished or commended for such an astonishing creation. We were introduced to the ‘Batnips’ in Batman Forever so it really astounds the human mind to think they actually chose to bring them back a second time around. There’s so much rubber latex on show it’s a surprise not to hear the sound of squeaking every five seconds. And I’m sure the decision to incorporate silver trim to all three costumes (as pictured above) would have upset a lot of fans, especially as there seems to be no logical explanation or visual evidence of them changing into such slick attire. Kind of like the creators just thought “yeah… these guys are wearing this now… so… yeah” – If they’re making those kind of decisions then why not have them randomly appear dressed as a mariachi band for fuck sake!?!?
The sets themselves look like they’ve been put together by someone from Hobbycraft. The exterior landscape shots of a model Gotham city look exactly that – like a model city. Unfortunately there isn’t much improvement to the interior design either. It’s a mystery how any of it managed to support the weight of all that rubber latex (or from Mr. Freeze’s chunky spacesuit alone).
Bar the fairly decent score and the awesome Smashing Pumpkins’ “The End is the Beginning is the End”, it really is astounding how poor the overall sound of this film is. Schumacher has oddly decided to have the dialogue dubbed over, which is something most audiences haven’t witnessed since 70’s Kung-Fu movies (or at least have it so poorly executed). I’m not sure whether the desired effect was to recreate a style reminiscent of the Adam West era but it really doesn’t work. Such awful sound quality can be attributed to the dreadful dialogue, or sound effects normally associated with the likes of Harpo Marx, but mostly the terribly flat lacklustre performances…
Prior to 1997, George Clooney wasn’t as much of a household name in Hollywood as he is nowadays. He was extremely popular but more so for his solid TV work, general media attention, and of course, his captivating dreamy eyes. So when news came around that “The Silver Fox” was set to play “The World’s Greatest Detective”, hype mode had been well and truly activated. And of course, we all know the outcome.
He’s quite obviously a very talented actor as he completely redeemed his ‘thespian’ status by winning an Academy Award for Syria but for some reason, during the making of this film, he just seems so uninterested, devoid of any spark, and lacks any chemistry whatsoever with his co-stars. In another world, he could have made an ideal ‘Bats’ but it just wasn’t meant to be. I would perhaps put most of that down to Schumacher as he failed to get the best out of anything for his film – let alone Clooney.
Uma Thurman is a decent actress but in my opinion she is rather restricted to a certain character type in order to perform convincingly well. I believe she benefits most from a seductive femme fatale role steeped in retro traditions of Americana much like her performances in Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill (in other words, she only works well with Tarantino), it’s certainly not playing super villains (or super ex-girlfriend’s for that matter). Now let’s face it, Arnie is notorious for his one-liners – and most of the time we’ve been given classic recitable gold with the likes of “Let off some steam, Bennett”, “Hasta La Vista, Baby!” and “I’ll be back”. Never-the-less, he shouldn’t be allowed to go on a one-liner rampage for what seems like the whole duration of the film. Having said that, Arnie and his quazy quotes are easily the most enjoyable part of the entire torturesome experience – My personal favourite being “What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!”.
There’s obviously a big handful of reasons why this film is so terrible but most of the blame should really be pointed towards the director and the producers. It evidently seems to be a case of “way too many cooks” in terms of overall film production, which really doesn’t work when it comes to the superhero genre (here’s looking at you Spiderman 3). In a way, it’s interesting to see a film so extravagantly insane – one that is the polar opposite to the dark serious tone of superhero film we have today but at the same time… all those colours hurt my eyes. Let’s thank the superhero gods for Christopher Nolan.
1 and a half Batnips out of 5
by Simon Garganera Price