It’s crazy to think that 20 years ago this very evening, I was in line with my friend to go see Batman and Robin on its opening night in our local theatre. This was a time where I would still have said my favourite actor was Jim Carrey and had seen Batman Forever more times than probably anyone involved with the making of Batman Forever. I was more than ready for the follow-up and eagerly pushed to be there on day 1. Even at 13-years-old, I distinctly remember spending the entire movie convincing myself that I was having a good time, only to eventually concede that no, no this is just terrible.
In the decades since, Batman and Robin has certainly sustained a legacy. Look at any list of the worst comic book movies that was written in the last twenty years and this movie will absolutely have a spot near the top and likely is sitting at #1. I have only revisited it once in the years since, until tonight at least. I was actually pretty excited to see if this movie continues to deserve its horrid reputation.
Batman and Robin contains the following things in the first 15 minutes of the movie:
- A close-up shot of both Batman and Robin’s butts and crotches (this is how they chose to open their $125 million blockbuster)
- Acknowledgement that Superman exists in this universe
- Batman entering a museum by sliding down the tail of a dinosaur like Fred Flintstone
- Arnold Schwarzenegger leading a group of skating henchmen to steal diamonds but don’t even worry about that shit because Batman and Robin click their heels and immediately produce skates from their boots. This moment is especially absurd when you realize that they couldn’t have prepared for this as they were already dressed and on the way when they learned they would be contending with an angry ice man.
- At least 8 different ice puns (“What killed the dinosaurs?! THE ICE AGE!”)
- Batman being trapped in a rocket ship with his hands frozen to the side
- Robin saving him from said rocket ship by using a lazer to melt the ice and then surfing back down to Gotham on the rocket doors that break
That’s not even everything. What felt like the dumbest shit on the planet as a kid now seems like a respectable level of insanity that never lets up. It’s a level of ridiculously stupid crazy that unfortunately the rest of the movie isn’t able to sustain. Sure there are moments like the infamous bat credit card or a bat saw that is used to cut through vines, but after re-watching that opening scene I was ready for a lot more from the “silly fun” department.
The plot …exists? Kind of? There are attempts at character arcs like Robin being sick of being in Batman’s shadow (which mostly means that Robin whines a loooooot) and Alfred dealing with being sick but it certainly isn’t interesting. For villains we have Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) and Bane (guy in a bad looking rubber suit). This is back in the time where 90% of villains were created by falling into stuff so there are no interesting origins to be found. “Oh shit I fell and now I have super powers and am evil! Bwwwaaaaaa!” Freeze actually comes the closest to being an interesting character since at least they delve into his motivation a little further as he is doing all of this evil stuff to help save his dying wife who has had cryogenically frozen while he looks for a cure for her movie disease. He’s painted as sympathetic at the end but Batman feels a little too willing to look past all that murder from earlier. Also the reveal that Batman somehow recorded Ivy confessing she “killed” Freeze’s wife despite not being in the area or paying attention to that conversation is a good bit of stupid.
One of Batman and Robin’s most impressive feats is taking a very impressive cast and pulling off the incredible achievement of making them all look terrible. This may have been early career Clooney but he still had already proven himself in ER and, for me especially, From Dusk Till Dawn. He is bland and flat here, neither engaging as Bruce Wayne or Batman. None of his Clooney charm shines through but when you look at the dialogue he had to spout (“Hello Freeze. I’m Batman.”) he was doomed from the beginning. Everyone else from Chris O’Donnell to Alicia Silverstone seem to be struggling with dialogue that is either overly jokey or overly expositional. Seriously, all the characters do in this movie is make lame jokes and explain out loud what they are doing and thinking. After Ivy becomes Ivy, she devotes a minute of screen time to explaining all her powers to literally nobody. Freeze also speaks his plans outloud to a crowd of nobody.
Thurman and Schwarzenegger are at least fun to watch. My opinion of Thurman went through a complete 180 as the movie went on. I wrote off her performance in the early scenes (the weird dialogue I mentioned before certainly didn’t help) but eventually started to enjoy her absolute scenery devouring. She adopts a ridiculous accent and mostly makes references to plants and boning but she feels like the only person who looked around and decided “Well, this seems super stupid so I might as well have some fun with it.”
Schwarzenegger’s barrage of ice puns is infamous at this point and they are indeed quite something. I would have loved a scene of Freeze at home writing puns down and crossing out the ones he has already used because I’m impressed at his ability to crank out fresh material at a consistent rate. Yes the puns are awful, but if there is one thing I have learned to appreciate more as the years have passed it’s some terrible pun work. As a result, I can’t help but enjoy every one of them. I mean come on, here’s Arnold Schwarzenegger in a bulky glowing suit with a crazy blue face, saying ridiculous shit like “Allow me to break the ice: My name is Freeze. Learn it well, for it's the chilling sound of your doom.” That’s quality word work right there!
Let’s keep the positives going and say the movie is quite something to look at. The Gotham architecture is impressive, particularly the observatory that is perched atop a giant statue of a dude holding it up. Then there’s all the bright colours and gangs with glowing face paint and over the top costumes. There’s almost always something bright and shiny to look at. The set designers look to be one of the few people on set really giving it their all.
Now the negatives….you guys this movie is still real bad. I don’t think it’s terrible because there’s enough dumb stuff to hold my attention, but objectively it’s quite terrible. Its far too long, has surprisingly little action and really does feel like the extended toy commercial it reportedly is. I didn’t hate my time revisiting it, but I am now ready to put it back on the shelf for another couple of decades.
What kind of impact did the movie have? Quite a big one actually. Despite opening to solid box office numbers, it quickly fell off and was not able to turn a profit. Plans for a fifth Batman never came to fruition and the comic book genre, Batman in particular, felt tainted. Nobody attempted another film about the Caped Crusader until eight years later with Batman Begins and I clearly remember people casting doubt at that movie pre-release because their last memory of cinematic Batman is this neon coloured nightmare.
The cast escaped relatively unharmed. Clooney is well…George Fucking Clooney. O’Donnell has that NCIS thing going for him and apparently was in the sequel to Cats & Dogs so he clearly is crushing it. I suppose one could argue this and Jingle All the Way represented a turning point for Arnold in that he didn’t really produce any classics after this one, though I will defend Terminator 3 to my dying breath. Uma Thurman has that Fall Out Boy song and Silverstone…man I miss Silverstone. She did do Blast from the Past after this which is notable for having one of Brendan Fraser’s least punchable performances so it’s worth checking out.
Worth revisiting? Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Even now, this movie earned it’s reputation and while I can give it more credit now than 20 years ago, that really just means I feel ok giving it a 4/10 instead of a 2.