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Batman & Robin: It’s time for a reappraisal

By Alex Wiggan

**WARNING: CONTROVERSIAL BLOG POST ALERT**

Twenty years ago this June, Batman & Robin, the fourth entry in the ’80s/’90s cycle of Batman films hit cinema screens. Boasting an all-star cast, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Clooney, the movie took $238.2 million at the worldwide box office and showcased the first live-action appearances of classic Bat-villains, Poison Ivy and Bane.

Great stuff, right?

Not so.

Despite the presence of star names, iconic villains and a pretty good director in Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys, The Client, Batman Forever etc), Batman & Robin was panned by critics, disliked by comic book fans and was quickly dubbed ‘The Worst Movie of All-Time!’

So, two decades on from its release and with its current Rotten Tomatoes rating at a spectacularly crappy score of just 11%, is Batman & Robin really ‘The Worst Movie of All-Time!’ or is it a film in desperate need of reappraisal?

What follows is an opinion piece by me, the writer of this very blog post – someone who a.) saw Batman & Robin at the cinema when it was released way back in 1997 and b.) has previously written reviews and discussions on Batman & Robin that have been very critical of the movie. I feel it is important to point this out, because over the past two decades, my opinion of the movie has changed – a lot.

What I’m about to say is done so without apology, as a 35-year-old Bat-fan who regularly reads Batman comics, who adores the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman trilogy (2005-2012) and who thinks Batman: The Animated Series is one of the greatest interpretations of Batman, ever. And Kevin Conroy is the best Batman of all-time.

So why the change in opinion over Batman & Robin?

Well, like many people back in 1997 I didn’t really care for Batman & Robin. As far as I was concerned it didn’t really fit in with the tone of the previous Batman films (yes, even Batman Forever), critics hated it and opinion pieces and magazine writers constantly kept telling me how bad it was. How could I disagree with all that?

But time and people have changed my feelings on the movie.

As a self-confessed geek and Bat-fan, I often find myself entering into discussions with people about movies and of course Batman movies, and what I have often found most surprising over the years is just how many people actually like Batman & Robin. You might think that’s a bizarre thing to say, but trust me, it’s a lot more people than you might think.

And here’s the reason why: Not all fans of movies (and of Batman movies) want to watch a dark gritty tale. Some people enjoy the escapism and the wonder of a light-hearted movie – even a Batman movie.

Although Batman is seen as a dark knight detective, he is also seen as a super heroic caped crusader. Both interpretations of Batman are perfectly valid.

Sure, Batman started off as a serious character (with a gun no less), but over the years Batman has evolved and transformed into something else entirely. The passage of time, various social changes and the influence of countless writers, artists, directors and actors have all helped to shape a wonderful spectrum of Batmen.

Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Dennis O’Neil, Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Scott Snyder, Tim Burton, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Kevin Conroy, Adam West, Diedrich Bader and many, many more have all added to the Batman mythology. The result is a character who means many different things to many different people and no one version of Batman is correct.

For anyone out there who thinks Batman must be a dark avenger and not a superhero adventurer, I’d point you in the direction of TV hit, Batman: The Brave and the Bold – an animated love letter to the Silver Age of Batman comics. The show depicts Batman as a caped wonder instead of a tormented avenger; it is light, hilarious and a whole heap of fun.

Still not convinced?

OK, what about the ‘60s interpretation of Batman? You know, the brightly coloured camp classic starring Adam West! The show has gone through somewhat of a revival in recent years – what with the series finally getting a DVD/Blu-ray release – and in recent months it has even lead to the arrival of big screen animated adventure, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders! Another fun tale, focusing on the lighter side of Batman.

Hmm… still not on board?

Alright then, what about The Lego Batman Movie? If ever there was a Batman movie that takes into account all the fun (and often daft) elements of the Batman mythology, it is The Lego Batman Movie. Heck, the story even focuses on four members of the Bat-family (Bruce, Dick, Alfred and Barbara), just like Batman & Robin does!

All of the aforementioned Batman stories celebrate the wonder of Batman and demonstrate his adaptability, so why should Batman & Robin be any different?

Over the years I’ve watched and re-watched Batman & Robin more times than I care to recall; certainly more times than I’ve watched and re-watched any of the other Batman movies. Why? Because sometimes, when I just want to switch off and I need an easy-to-view movie to get me through the day, Batman & Robin has come through. And that’s something worth championing.

Does Batman & Robin feature a strong narrative, like Batman Begins (2005) does? No, of course not.

Is Batman & Robin an era-defining Batman movie, like Batman (1989), The Dark Knight (2008) or Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)? Hell, no.

Batman & Robin is instead, a big budget adaptation of the 1960s-era of the Batman mythology (complete with garish colours), only one that was adapted in the 1990s at the end of a run of moody Batman movies. Had Batman & Robin been the first Bat-film to arrive back in 1989, it wouldn’t have been labelled as ‘The Worst Movie of All-Time!’

Would it have been as popular as Tim Burton’s first movie? No. But it wouldn’t have been reviled either.

Why? Timing.

Prior to 1989, the 1960s-era of Batman was the most recognisable era of the Bat-mythology and one audiences expected to see on the big screen. By 1997, thanks to the success of Batman ’89, it was Tim Burton’s dark take on Batman that audiences now wanted to see more than anything, not the camp hijinks of the past.

Nowadays, we seem to be somewhere in between. Audiences want grim and gritty, but they also get joy from the lighter elements too. Once again, look to The Lego Batman Movie for proof.

If the dour and muddled Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (and the far too long Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition) has taught us anything, it’s that a dark gritty Batman movie is not always a good thing – even if said material does make a killing at the box office.

For the record, I don’t hate Batman V Superman, I thought the movie was enjoyable enough when it was first released, and Ben Affleck is a superb Batman. However, now that I’ve had time to re-watch and reflect upon the movie, from the courtesy of my own home, I don’t believe it stands up to repeat viewings.

Other Batman films do. Batman & Robin does.

Batman & Robin stands up to repeat viewings because it’s an easy watch. It’s fun. It’s action-packed. It’s quotable.

Man, is it quotable!

Sod the bad reviews from 20 years ago, sod the negativity that has dogged the film for two decades, Batman & Robin is an enjoyable romp, with humour, heart and Arnold Schwarzenegger doing what he does best – chucking out puns every two minutes whilst chewing up the scenery. That’s what I want from a movie that casts Arnie as the chief bad guy, an over-the-top performance. And puns.

And Arnie’s not the only highlight of the movie.

The bombastic music (courtesy of Elliot Goldenthal) is captivating, while the glorious set design (complete with larger-than-life statues) is mesmerising. Then there are the lavish costumes, the stunts, the dramatic finale, the conflict between Bruce & Dick (replacing the standard Batman plot about Bruce’s inner turmoil) and the general ‘comic book’ feel!

Admittedly, Batman & Robin doesn’t gel well with the previous Batman films, but if you remove it from the rest of the series and watch it as a standalone tale, it plays out very differently. Watch it alongside The Lego Batman Movie or a marathon of Batman: The Brave and the Bold episodes and you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve watched and read a great deal of supplementary material concerning Batman & Robin, so I’m aware that George Clooney hates the movie and I’m also aware director Joel Schumacher has made an apology concerning the movie; but so what? I still love it!

For the record, I don’t believe Schumacher dislikes his movie, he’s previously said it’s not his favourite, but he is proud of the cast that was involved with the movie. I simply believe he understands that Batman & Robin was not what people expected or wanted at the time of its release.

Personally, I’d love to interview Joel Schumacher and find out how he would re-approach Batman & Robin if he could go back and do it all again. Would he want it making clear that this is Batman-light? Or would he just avoid the hassle and make a different type of Batman movie altogether?

Maybe I’m getting old, maybe senility has started to set in, or maybe I’ve just reached that stage in my life where I want something more fun from my comic book movies – something a bit less angst-ridden. The world can be a harsh place at times and it is not always the fun-sphere it could (and should) be, so if Batman & Robin gives me what I want from a film, who am I to ignore this?

In 1997, I didn’t care for Batman & Robin because it wasn’t the Batman movie I was expecting. In 2017, perhaps now more than ever, Batman & Robin is exactly the Batman movie I want and need.

It is time for a reappraisal.

 

 

Want more from the world of Batman? Then check out our past feature: ‘Everything you ever needed to know about the Batman Anthology (1989 – 1997)’.

 

 

 

About the author: Alex Wiggan has written blog posts for Honcho-SFX blog since October 2014. He likes writing, eating pizza and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sometimes in that order.

 

Love cool stuff? Us too! Then check out the great range of cool Batman memorabilia available from Honcho-SFX, including this Batman neon cover tee, this Batman extreme art shirt and this Batgirl superhero costume tee.

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