Published on July 23rd, 2014 | by Brad2
Why I Love Batman & Robin
Sometimes, a film comes along which unites fandom. A glorious masterwork upon which everyone can agree “this is bloody brilliant”. Batman & Robin is not that film. Batman & Robin is a film which has united fandom in their hatred. Routinely listed as one of the worst films ever made, it’s the film which ended the 90s Bat-franchise, and left the Caped Crusader on the Hollywood shelf for eight years before Christopher Nolan returned the Dark Knight to his roots in Batman Begins. No one likes Batman & Robin, and every man and his dog has done a takedown piece on how legendarily bad it is. It would take a lunatic to go against the conventional wisdom of the internet and write a piece admitting that they like and enjoy Batman & Robin, right? Guilty as charged, I guess.
Shocked Robin is shocked.
That’s right, I like Batman & Robin. What could possibly possess a person to like this movie? Let me tell you. Let’s start with a bit of history; I can’t explain what brings me to like the movie everyone else hates without explaining my background with the franchise and characters as a whole. As a young kid in the 90s, I was blessed to grow up on a Saturday-morning diet of the 60s Adam West series at 7.00 on ITV followed by the 90s animated series at 7.30 on Cartoon Network. I got to experience the goofy and the serious sides of Batman in equal measure, and give them equal weight.
Raised on that diet, when I was eight years old, Batman and Robin came out. It was my first Batman movie at the cinema, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Eight-year-olds, right? Don’t know any better. The years go by, you see the Tim Burton movies, and you laugh at what a fool you were. Except for one problem – I really don’t like the Tim Burton movies. I don’t like the bulk of his back catalogue, but I take particular issue with his adaptations. This is how you adapt something beloved into a Tim Burton movie – you take everything that anyone ever loved about the original property, put it in a bag, and piss all over the bag. You then set the pissy bag on fire. You then make the standard Tim Burton story, this time giving the stock “weird” characters the names of beloved characters from the burning pissy remains of what was so good to begin with, just to add insult to injury.
Now, your personal reaction to the Burton movies is going to determine your personal reaction to Batman & Robin. What’s also important is your relationship with the Adam West series from the 60s. The typical reaction of the fans of the Burton movies towards Adam West is that “that crap’s for kids”, and other, more hostile tones. This is the second indicator that they have no clue what they’re talking about (the first being that they like the Burton movies). The Adam West series revived interest in a flagging character in the 60s, and paved the way for the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams and Frank Miller success stories in the 70s and 80s. In recent years, Batman ’66 (as it has become known, for the purpose of the new comics based on the show) has undergone a resurgence in popularity, and is finally getting the recognition and love it deserves. At the same time, Batman ’89 is quite rightly being reassessed as the pretty bad movie I’ve always thought it was. This lends me hope.
So imagine, then, that you’re one of these Tim Burton fans. You head to the cinema in 1997 to see the new Batman movie, expecting another Burton-lite film a la 1995’s very forgettable Batman Forever. And what do you get? A goofy plot, garish colours, a mad scientist slinging puns like they’re going out of style, Batman and Robin as public figures who turn up at charitable functions, the addition of Batgirl to aid a flagging franchise, and a change into weather-appropriate Bat-attire. Batman & Robin is an episode of the Adam West show, stretched to feature length and set in the Tim Burton universe. That which they most hate subverting that which they most love. Fans of the Burton Bat blew a gasket. The backlash was enormous, and the franchise immediately shelved. But what a way to go, eh? Crashing down in flames as they tore the whole corrupt, diseased Burtonification down with them.
As you can probably tell, then, one reason I like this movie is schadenfreude. Batman ’89 is to me what Batman & Robin is to most people. The difference being that there aren’t people constantly telling you that Batman & Robin is the best Batman film out there, with the definitive take on its villain. Batman & Robin is the enemy of my enemy, and I love it for it.
As a fan of the 60s show, and a hater of the Burton movies, this movie appeals to me so much. If I want a serious and earnest take on the World’s Greatest Detective, I have Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy to scratch that itch. Batman & Robin is for the part of me which wants a big, goofy adventure, and a lot of laughs. The villain performances are hilarious. Almost every line Arnold Schwarzenegger has as Mr Freeze is an ice pun. Most of them don’t even make sense! He’s clearly channelling George Sanders’ performance from Batman ’66, and he’s having an absolute blast. Uma Thurman hams up a storm as Poison Ivy, with every line given that over the top, femme fatale from a 40s noir vibe. But my favourite is the one nobody really mentions – John Glover as Dr Jason Woodrue. Voice of the Riddler from TAS, and future Lionel Luthor, Glover’s delivery of the line “I can respect your opinion. Unfortunately I’m not good at rejection; I’m afraid you’ll have to die!” is exquisite. The heroes fare less well, though I will argue Clooney’s corner when he’s not in the anatomically correct rubber suit. His Bruce Wayne is actually pretty good.
I should probably point out, I’m not so blinkered as to recognise the amount of weird things in the movie that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. It’s still not a good film, for all that it has that charm and silliness to it. But it’s bad in such a way that it becomes enjoyable by virtue of its problems. You do need to be the type of person who enjoys a good bad movie to work with this, but that’s very much in my makeup. My favourite example of the sheer wow factor of bad moments in this is unquestionably the moment when Robin, trapped underwater by Poison Ivy’s vines, attempts to get out of the water before being dragged under; the shot of him being dragged under is blatantly, obviously the shot of him getting out of the water played in rewind. This is a multi-million dollar Hollywood production displaying production values you wouldn’t expect in a camcorded video on the internet. And there is something charmingly rubbish about that.
As I’ve come to think about the 90s series for this article, one further point strikes me. It’s the kicker, which turns my general affection for a silly movie with some insane mistakes into a 1000+ word article arguing my defence for it, and it is this; Batman & Robin is the only one of the four films from the 90s series which develops Bruce Wayne as a character. In the first three, he is a completely blank slate, a generic hero slate for the wacky villains to be drawn on. Batman & Robin features a prominent subplot in which Alfred Pennyworth is terminally ill. Suddenly, Bruce is confronted with the potential loss of the man who has raised him since that tragic day in crime alley. With all of his money as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, he can’t save Alfred. As legendary hero Batman, he can’t save Alfred. The scene in which Bruce accepts this and can only tell this man who has been everything to him that he loves him is genuinely emotional. The relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth is one of the most interesting, involving aspects of the Batman mythology, and Batman & Robin handles it beautifully. The other films have nothing like this, which by default makes Batman & Robin, on a character level, the most dramatically satisfying of the 90s Batman film series. Isn’t that delicious? Isn’t that just utterly beautiful? The most derided, most hated, least regarded of them all is, in all honesty, the best one. Maybe that’s what drives the Burton fans mad.
So what do you think? Have I lost my mind? Have I caused you to reappraise Batman & Robin? Are there any other people who liked the movie anyway? Drop me a comment and let me know, or you can yell at me on Twitter @ThyBrad42. Thanks for reading.