Don't Hate Me: Why I Love 'Batman & Robin' (1997)
Being born in the early 90s means that I was lucky enough to experience the original Batman quadrilogy (1989-1997) and animated series in full force with its merchandising and hype. I don't remember seing any of the films in theaters but I strongly recall getting all the toys for Batman & Robin (I still have them somewhere.) I ran out my VHS copies of the films and bought the DVDs straight away. I didn't understand at the time why my dad was rolling his eyes every time I chose Batman & Robin instead of Batman '89 (his favorite) for cinema night at home. Now in my 20s, I can see all the faults of the film like my dad. But I still have a blast watching it. And I'm sure I'm not the only one. Here is why!
1. The Power of Merchandising
The merchandising for B&R was crazy. If there is something about this movie everyone should agree upon, it's that the marketing team did a damn great job! While some could argue that the film was mostly made to sell toys to kids (which I don't believe is entirely true), the marketing campaign sure made an impact on me and my peers. I strongly recall seeing the Batman emblem everywhere in my local shopping mall in 1997. Even my cereal boxes had George Clooney's face on them! And what about those toys? The extensive toy line was just as over-the-top as the movie. Being a great Bat-fan, I had to have them all, even if a heat scan-suited Batman is nonsense. I didn't care back then and those were the highlights of my Christmas. I can't count the hours I played with them, trying to recreate scenes from the film or my own sequel. Apart from the toys themselves, I had the soundtrack, the pajamas, the wall clock, the drawing book, the school bag, etc. The movie followed me everywhere! I was starstruck, just as any other impressionable 90s kid. It certainly wasn't the only aggressively marketed blockbuster at the time or since, but none has left such an impact on me. That might explain why I have a nostalgic bond to this one or why some people in their 20s have a fondness for movies that are now considered to be bad, such as this one or Space Jam. Like many other valued childhood memories, watching the movie just feels like a trip back to a carefree, happy time.
A Glimpse of What It Was
2. The Stellar Cast
What kind of film allows you to watch George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger together? It is hard to believe that Mr. Clooney actually played Batman a long time ago. It also feels like it was in a galaxy far, far away. He made so many different films since then but perhaps never in another big franchise money-maker like this one. He was still relatively new in Hollywood back then and it was interesting to see him try to be Batman. Curiosity alone makes it worth at least one watch. He is a very likable Bruce Wayne but a weak Batman (not very intimidating). I believe he would do a better job nowadays. I don't think Schwarzenegger was miscast as Mr. Freeze but with better dialogue (less puns), his portrayal could've more appreciated today. He can be very menacing in the suit and some scenes with his wife are genuinely emotional. To me, he is always a joy to watch. Uma Thurman, while gorgeous, is definitely overacting in many scenes but it is still an entertaining performance. The names on the poster makes this one a must-watch, even if it is only to witness the interactions of one of the most interesting casts ever assembled for a comic book movie.
3. The Music
There was only one album released for B&R, with songs by Smashing Pumpkins, R. Kelly, and Bone Thugs 'n' Harmony among others. While not as great as the album for Batman Forever, it is still amazing and is often featured on my iPod's playlist. Some songs have nothing to do with the film but most are featured in it, such as my personal favorite, the Grammy-winning The End Is the Beginning is the End. Most people remember that song, which was famously included in the Watchmen trailer back in 2009, but was written for B&R. The film has a killer soundtrack that is worth a listen. Sadly, the album does not include the score by Elliot Goldenthal (the track on the album is from Batman Forever). That's a shame, because his score is definitely superior to the one from the previous film and is a joy to listen to by itself in bootleg form. In my mind, it is much more enjoyable than anything composed for the Nolan trilogy by Hans Zimmer (or Batman v. Superman) but a bit inferior to Danny Elfman's work. Let's hope La-La-Land Records will release it one day!
4. The Genuinely Good Parts
Many reviews I've read highlight the scenes between Michael Cough (Alfred) and George Clooney as the best parts. These scenes are mostly genuinely gripping and are very well-acted. Mr. Cough's work as Alfred is sadly underrated and I believe he had the best portrayal of the character to this day. B&R is the film where Alfred plays the most substantial part (at least in the original film series). This quote gets me every time and I believe it defines the Batman character perfectly; "Death and chance, stole your parents. But rather than become a victim, you have done everything in your power to control the fates. For what is Batman? If not an effort to master the chaos that sweeps our world. An attempt to control death, itself."
The actor sadly passed away in 2011, but his legacy and unforgettable performance as Alfred will no doubt be remembered by fans. His performance in this film is heartfelt and worth a watch.
5. The Fun
The recent DC movies are all dead serious. There is little fun to have in Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman. These films all take the characters very seriously, which is not a bad thing in itself, as I believe the Batman character was created that way. These films are very good but I believe you have to be in the right mood to enjoy them. B&R is totally different; the tone is all over the place and it is filled with one-liners. While sometimes totally ridiculous, it is a fun watch and one can at least enjoy it as a so-bad-it's-good-movie. Try to watch it with friends who have only seen the Nolan trilogy and I guarantee you they will have a fun night. It is definitely light entertainmnent, a check-your-brain-at-the-door kind of film. I enjoy it the same way that some James Bond fans enjoy Moonraker or Die Another Day. There is not one boring moment in there!
Batman & Robin was hated by critics at the time and the planned 1999 sequel (Batman Triumphant) was cancelled. I believe it was the right decision as it would have likely been a flop if they had kept the same tone and huge budget. We got the amazing Batman Begins in 2005 as a result. Joel Schumacher supposedly expressed an interest to direct a dark Batman film and I think it would've been awesome as he can definitely go dark (just watch his 1999 film 8MM). Nonetheless, Batman & Robin will forever be remembered as the black sheep of the series and while it certainly is, it remains a very entertaining film that will forever be a part of my childhood. And for that reason only, I will always cherish it.
Thank you for reading!