Earlier this week, director Joel Schumacher once again took the blame for his 1997 film, the critical and financial disaster known as Batman & Robin. “Look, I apologize,” Schumacher said. “I want to apologize to every fan that was disappointed because I think I owe them that.”
Of course, he has absolutely no need to apologize. As painful as it may be for many to admit, Batman & Robin is unironically a great film in its own right. Yes, it diverges from the more familiar, gritty take on the Dark Knight that has been oh-so-popular for years among fans. However, it’s glorious for what it is: A modern interpretation of a Bright rather than Dark Knight. And, in light of Adam West’s passing — a man who embodied the Caped Crusader on the small screen in live-action and in animation for decades — I think it’s a good time to appreciate Batman &Robin for what it set out to be: A boldly happy, goofy, campy, neon and, yes, rave-inspired take on one of the greatest comic book characters of all time.
The thing about Batman is, he doesn’t have to be interpreted in the same manner in every incarnation. He can be dark, he can be light, he can be grey — and each of those takes is totally fine. Bruce Wayne is not Superman, who is by his very nature an incarnation of justice for all. Batman is a malleable character that can stay true to his core elements — dead parents, tons of money, night-time vigilante — and still be a somewhat different character depending on the project. What Adam West’s take, and Joel Schumacher’s film did, was showcase a different reaction to tragedy. Schumacher’s Batman put a smile on, moved past his parents murder, took on a Robin — and was still Batman. And that’s great.
Batman & Robin is a movie for kids — get over it. I was three years old when the movie came out, and a year later, I watched the film so many times I quite literally destroyed my VHS tape. I loved the freaking thing, in all its ice pun glory. The film is remarkably tonally consistent, which is a lesson that could be passed on to the modern Ben Affleck take on the character. It was goofy through and through, and knew exactly what it was.
It didn’t bother with presenting a love interest for Bruce Wayne — Robin was the focus of all of his attention. Not romantically, but in a fatherly sense. Batman & Robin is a story about a father struggling with his son’s adolescence, and a son struggling with coming into his own, outside of his father’s shadow. As I grew a little older, but was still kid, I could really latch onto that theme. My dad was my hero, but there were no doubt moments that I felt I wanted to be more independent and forge my own path. Batman & Robin got this.
The film is openly described as “toyetic.” In other words, it was essentially designed to market toys. But, boy, those toys were great. You bet your ass I had that Batmobile, Robin’s motorcycle, and Bane, Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy action figures to waste my day away. The film’s bright colors, flamboyant costumes and vibrant sets were total eye candy for a kid, and painted the picture of a Gotham City that was truly alive. Certainly, more so than the current take on Batman’s home turf we see on a weekly basis in the Fox TV series.
Batman & Robin also had some wonderful, theatrical performances from its stars, bringing to life some of the most memorable movie villains in the franchise. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s turn as Mr. Freeze is absolutely maniacal. Uma Therman’s Poison Ivy is deviously sexy. Jeep Swenson’s Mr. Bane… well, he wears a fedora. Each of these characters were a joy to watch on screen, their goofiness making kids almost root for the bad guys.
There are a lot of awesome things about Batman & Robin — so many that we can’t get into the nitty gritty here, but let’s go over a brief rundown of some truly great aspects about the film: The Warner Bros. logo turns to ice in the opening credits; Elliot Goldenthal has a killer intro theme; Robin’s motorcycle crashes though the Batcave wall in the opening, leaving behind an unmistakable Nightwing symbol; there are indeed butt shots in the costume-change montage; the character Gossip Gerty (played by Bob Kane’s wife), who debuted in Batman Forever makes her triumphant return; Mr. Freeze’s goons wear hockey skates, and there are (of course!) dozens and dozens of ice puns; ’90s hip-hop icon Coolio cameos as “Banker”; it contains the first-ever DCEU reference with “This is why Superman works alone”; there’s a nod to Batman Forever‘s Riddler and Two-Face, further enhancing the Schumacher-era continuity; Once again, Bane indeed wears a fedora; and last but by no means least, Alfred, niece becomes Batgirl!?!
At its heart, Batman & Robin shows how we can move past tragedy, and those dark periods in life (or a franchise, in this case), and find the goofy, neon joy in things.
Like Adam West’s perennially popular television show, Batman & Robin proved the Caped Crusader could be a happy-go-lucky hero. It was a box office failure, sure, and in many ways is criticized for killing the franchise, but that isn’t the best way to measure Batman & Robin’s success. That success, rather, lies in the fans, who were likely kids when they watched it, and who loved it, without irony. It showcases the lasting power of Batman, and how great the character can really be in all its forms. The bottom line is, Batman & Robin proves that there’s a Batman for everybody.