Today, I’m going to dive into the infamously terrible 1997 superhero movie, Batman & Robin.
The plot of Batman & Robin is summarized on IMDb as follows:
Batman and Robin try to keep their relationship together even as they must stop Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy from freezing Gotham City.
Batman & Robin is, of course, based on the DC comics characters of Batman and Robin. Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in March of 1939, created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Robin came along the following year, in Detective Comics #38, and is credited to the same duo. The two have appeared in numerous television shows, video games, movies, and other mediums over the years, and are almost certainly the most iconic superhero duo.
The writer for the screenplay of Batman & Robin was Akiva Goldsman, who also penned screenplays for Winter’s Tale, I Am Legend, I Robot, A Beautiful Mind, Lost In Space, and Batman Forever.
Batman & Robin was directed by Joel Schumacher, whose other credits include Phone Booth, The Number 23, 8MM, Batman Forever, Falling Down, Flatliners, and The Lost Boys, among others.
The cast for the film is headlined by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger (Predator, Last Action Hero, The Terminator, Commando, Hercules In New York), George Clooney (Michael Clayton, Solaris, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading, Intolerable Cruelty, Syriana, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), Chris O’Donnell (Batman Forever, NCIS: Los Angeles, Scent of a Woman), Uma Thurman (Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, The Producers, Gattaca), Alicia Silverstone (Clueless), Michael Gough (Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever), and John Glover (Gremlins 2, Smallville, In The Mouth of Madness).
The cinematographer for Batman & Robin was Stephen Goldblatt, who shot The Help, The Hunger, Charlie Wilson’s War, Striptease, Batman Forever, The Pelican Brief, Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, and The Cotton Club, among others.
Batman & Robin had two credited editors: Dennis Virkler (Daredevil, Under Siege, Xanadu, Freejack, Collateral Damage, Independence Day, Only The Strong, The Chronicles of Riddick, The Hunt For Red October) and Mark Stevens (Phone Booth, The Number 23, Freddy vs. Jason, Batman Forever, The Final Destination).
The musical score for the film was composed by Elliot Goldenthal, who is known for providing music for movies like Heat, Public Enemies, Sphere, Alien 3, Batman Forever, Pet Sematary, Titus, Frida, and Across The Universe.
Among the team of effects workers for Batman & Robin was John Dykstra, a legendary, award-winning effects guru is is known for being an original founder of Industrial Light and Magic, coming up with the visuals used for the space battles and light sabers in Star Wars, and working on films like The Hateful Eight, Spider-Man, Lifeforce, and Django: Unchained.
Batman & Robin was the fourth and final installment in the initial Warner Brothers Batman film franchise, which began with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman.
According to Joel Schumacher, previous Batman actor Val Kilmer left to do The Saint, so the role was recast to George Clooney. However, rumors have swirled that Val Kilmer was growing increasingly difficult to work with, such as was the case with The Island of Doctor Moreau, and wasn’t asked to return.
Joel Schumacher claims that the production of Batman & Robin was under immense pressure from the studio and producers to be “toyetic”: essentially, they were mandated to come up with devices that could be sold as merchandise and toys, because of how much money they add to the overhead profits.
Likewise, Schumacher says that they were under similar pressure to “make as kid-friendly a Batman as possible,” because parents complained that Burton’s Batman films were too scary for kids. So, they made it “lighter, brighter, [and] more family-friendly.” However, Schumacher claims that he wanted to do a darker film based on the comic story Batman: Year One, which he attempted to pitch after the failure of Batman & Robin. Likewise, Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller joined forces to try to make an iteration Batman: Year One as well, but were unsuccessful.
Robin’s costume and logo used in the movie were modeled after the character of Nightwing, which is a later alias of Dick Grayson in the comics after he retires the moniker of Robin.
Even before the film was released, plans were in motion for a sequel to Batman & Robin, to be titled Batman Unchained. However, the overwhelmingly negative reception to the film tanked the plans, and the Batman property sat dormant until Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005.
The Smashing Pumpkins’s song The End is The Beginning is The End was created specifically for the film, and ultimately won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance.
Jeep Swenson, who portrayed Bane, unexpectedly died two months after the film’s release at the age of 40, due to heart failure. He was a known professional wrestler for WCW, who also appeared in the Hulk Hogan movie No Holds Barred.
Batman & Robin was made on a production budget of $125 million, on which it took in a lifetime box office total of $238.2 million between international and domestic markets.
Despite the profits, the movie was a huge critical failure, and is often cited as one of the worst movies ever made. It currently holds a 3.7/10 IMDb user rating, alongside scores of 11% from critics and 16% from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.
Batman & Robin is a rare case where a movie was a failure, in spite of succeeding in what it sought to do. Technically, Batman & Robin is a successful execution of a vision: a heavily-stylized, cartoony family movie. However, that successfully-executed vision was roundly rejected by audiences and critics. It wasn’t short on talent, or money, or anything else: the product just wasn’t what people wanted.
Personally, I kind of enjoy the movie. Yeah, the terrible cartoon sound effects and horrendous dialogue are painful to sit through, but I can definitely appreciate some over-the-top acting. Likewise, this is one of the most uniquely designed movies I can think of. It doesn’t really look like anything else, and it contributes a lot to the hyper-reality of the content of the story and the characters. The vision here was to create a live-action cartoon, and the designs go a long way towards making that possible. I also kind of appreciate the extremely vivid color palette, and would generally take that over the sepia-drenched Batman Begins any day.
Looking back now, in a word inflicted with Zack Snyder’s melodramatic DCEU, which avoids fun and vibrancy like the plague, you can sort of see the weird charm hidden inside of Batman & Robin. Likewise, the humor, style, and even dialogue on display here are far superior to that displayed in Suicide Squad, which is strung together with string and bubble gum. Say what you will about the product, but Batman & Robin is a complete movie: an executed vision with a coherent story behind. It may be a soulless capitalistic endeavor seeking to leech off of children, but it is at least a structured narrative. It may also be a goofy, anachronistic cartoon that is edited like a panic attack, but it has some tangible vitality to it.
People know what this movie is by now. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve heard about it, or seen clips. You know what you are getting into if you are sitting down with it. Personally, I go back to this movie more often than most of the Batman flicks. It is genuinely, entertainingly terrible, but is also more visually interesting than a lot of similar bad movies. Not only that, but Joel Schumacher’s commentary track, which is available on some DVD releases of the movie, is both insightful and hilarious, and adds a lot to a rewatch. For bad movie fans, this is mandatory viewing. For casual movie fans or folks looking for a laugh, this is a good option to take out. For all of the screenplay’s issues, pacing is not one, and that is the most painful aspect of most bad movies.