With an A-list Hollywood cast and the legacy of eight years of Batman movies behind him, how did Joel Schumacher manage to drive his Batman Forever sequel into the depths of despair? Well, 1997 was a dark year for superhero movies, as it was the year that Batman & Robin stuck a codpiece in all our faces. Becoming the laughing stock of directors everywhere, Schumacher threw a Batarang at his own career, George Clooney, and poor Chris O’Donnell. Twenty years after Schumacher killed Gotham City with a splash of neon and some rubber nipples, Batman & Robin still remains one of the most divisive movies ever made – let alone in superhero circles.
Jump forward to 2017, and comic book movies are staring down the barrel of the culmination of the DCEU. Assembling (most of) the Justice League, Zack Snyder suited up to bring Warner Bros.’ answer to the MCU to our screens. Following in the footsteps of Schumacher, Justice League is all anyone can talk about at the moment. From some calling it magnificent to others saying the DCEU should close its doors already, it appears that most don’t really know what to make of Justice League. With this in mind, let’s cue the hatred, because here are 15 Reasons Batman & Robin Was Better Than Justice League.
15. THE VILLAINS
Say what you will about OTT villains in Batman movies, but that’s what the Batverse was built on. Looking at Batman & Robin, the star power of Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger eclipses Justice League on its own. Two Hollywood megastars at the peak of their game in 1997, versus Game of Thrones alumni, Ciarán Hinds — there is really no contest. However, this is just the tip of the “iceberg” on why Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze kick Steppenwolf’s cinematic butt.
The B&R villains had heart. Ivy was the doomed botanist caught in a freak accident, while Fries had that superb subplot about his wife. Steppenwolf had one flashback and was quickly dragged away by Parademons. In a couple of decades, who are people going to remember more? Arnie’s “ice to meet” you puns and that cryo-suit, or Steppenwolf spouting rubbish about old gods while wearing his CGI helmet?
14. IT HAD THE ’60S TONE
Continuing being camp for the sake of being camp, it wasn’t just Schumacher’s villains that channeled the tone of William Dozier’s ‘60s series. Rubber nipples, codpieces everywhere, and that legendary Bat-Card, Schumacher even snuck in that “holy rusted metal” line as a nod to Burt Ward’s Robin. Whatever Batfleck was portraying, there wasn’t an ounce of Adam West there.
Even Tim Burton’s era had Joker’s Prince dance and that giant motorized duck as an homage to the ludicrous decade that made the Caped Crusader. Jump to Justice League, and it came off as a rather expensive knock-off of the Nolanverse without the cool gadgets.You only have to see the reviews of Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders to see that there is still a market for flamboyant ‘60s nostalgia. Box office figures for Justice League show that our patience for dismal superhero movies is running out.
13. IT WAS OPEN-ENDED
Justice League ended in the burned ruins of Wayne Manor with Batman and co. picking table plans, but if you ignore the post-credits scene, there were so few dangling plot threads to warrant another movie. Batman & Robin, on the other hand, saw what Dark Knight fans had waited for since 1989 — the whole team together. The TV series had always worked well with the trio of Batman, Robin and Batgirl, and Schumacher finally managed to assemble them in his movie.
Also, with bold plans to continue the story — and even bring Scarecrow into the mix — Schumacher was by no means done with his second entry. While it may have been a lousy vision, at least Schumacher had an idea where he was going next. JL sadly felt like a bit of a filler movie, and who knows what Snyder’s plans are (if any at all), but he seems pretty done with crafting the League.
12. GOTHAM CITY
Putting the “goth” in Gotham, Schumacher’s neon steampunk world looked like the Burtonverse on acid. With colossal statues and Renaissance sculptures, set pieces like the Gotham Observatory were something truly magical to behold. The bridge bike race, Ivy’s lab in Brazil, and Mr. Freeze’s lair all sung with color and character that were blissfully Schumacher-esque.
Head over to Snyder’s Gotham and everything was a bit lame. In the director’s typical style, he opted for style over substance and a dark CGI backdrop with so little imagination. Starting from the opening rooftop scene and heading to yet more rooftops, Gotham seemed to only feature in Justice League as a place for Jim Gordon to light up the Bat-Signal. Batman & Robin’s set pieces were full of life, whereas Snyder hopped from one gloomy locale to another, spending most of the Justice League’s shortened runtime trudging through tunnels and towers.
It is easy to call Jeremy Irons’ casting as Alfred as one of the better DCEU choices, but is it really up their with the late, great, Michael Gough as Bruce’s loyal Butler? For many, we grew up with Gough as Alfred and a mainstay of the Batman movies from 1989-1997. With his frail but sassy charm, Gough was a proper gentleman with his stiff upper lip. Let’s also not forget that Alfred had his own self-contained storyline in Batman & Robin, leading to that tenuous family tie to Batgirl.
Nowadays, Alfred seems all too comfortable jet-setting around the world with Bruce and tinkering with dangerous inventions in the Batcave. Alfred may have evolved thanks to the comics and the Nolanverse, but Gough represents a classic era of the character. Sadly, in a world of Michael Gough and Michael Caine, Irons comes a dead last in a ranking of “favorite Alfreds.”
10. THE EFFECTS
Seeing Chris O’Donnell sky surf against a green screen background isn’t particularly impressive by today’s standards, but at least the cast of Batman & Robin had some actual villains to fight instead of just Hinds in a mo-cap suit. Snyder has always struggled with this, while movies like Sucker Punch and Batman v Superman have really overdone it on the CGI. However, taking the biscuit, is Justice League the worst offender yet?
Perhaps Justice League’s biggest ball-drop in this department is the Russian climax, following gloopy tentacles of purple CGI as they chased our heroes round an equally unrealistic battleground. Oh, and all of this is before we get onto Henry Cavill’s upper lip — all the money of Warner Bros. and you can’t even make a mustache vanish realistically? In comparison, Schumacher’s Gotham and a bit of dodgy background work looks relatively timeless compared to Cavill’s botched mouth caterpillar.
9. THE BATMOBILE
It just wouldn’t be a Batman movie without the inclusion of the Caped Crusader’s own set of hot wheels. However, while Schumacher gave us something new, Snyder just rehashed Christopher Nolan’s tumbler for Justice League. Snyder also added a weird array of other vehicles, including Bruce’s corporate jet and the spider-like Nightcrawler. All in all, his Justice League transport was much like a lot of the film — a little grey and boring.
Looking back to 1997, Schumacher’s Batmobile was garish, but fit with the whole movie’s aesthetic. As a nod to the elongated Batmobile from Batman: The Animated Series, it had some pretty cool roots. Also, who doesn’t want a light-up Batmobile? The B&R Batmobile represents the last Dark Knight vehicle that kids were actually inclined to play with. Come on, there’s only so much fun you can have with a tank, really.
8. BATMAN’S BACKSTORY
It’s easy to argue that Justice League didn’t have much of a story, and when you break it down per superhero, the problem gets even worse. Apart from providing the empty ruins of Wayne Manor as a Hall of Justice, it seems that Batman’s sole purpose as “leader” of the League was to bring back zombie Superman. At least Batman & Robin gave Bruce some meat for George Clooney to sink his teeth into.
Batfleck was a bruised depressive suffering from envy issues that an alien can lead a more normal life than him. Even lines like “I’m rich” about his “superpower” painted him as an arrogant grump. Clooney had Robin’s growing pains, Alfred’s ailing health, and a saucy love triangle with Poison Ivy — plus preventing a deranged supervillain from starting another ice age. It makes Batfleck sipping whiskey on a plane look pretty tame in comparison.
7. THE WOMEN
The idea was simple, really. After the success of Wonder Woman, all Snyder had to do was give Gal Gadot more screen time. Instead, Justice League became a pumped-up macho affair where Wonder Woman hopped about, the Amazons came under fire for their skimpy outfits, and Lois Lane gave up on life. If there was a message from Justice League, it was basically that men are still in charge.
Alicia Silverstone may be lamented as “Buttgirl” in Batman & Robin, but remember that she and Uma Thurman were both fiery female powerhouses in Schumacher’s movie. Even Nora Fries called the shots, with Victor’s entire motive being the search for a happily ever after with his frozen wife. Given that Whedon has tackled female-first characters like Buffy — and the upcoming Batgirl — Justice League was desperately missing a woman’s touch a’ la Patty Jenkins.
6. THE MERCHANDISE
It was no secret that Warner Bros. wanted to shift more toys and asked Schumacher to “kiddify” his movies, but who can forget the joy of heading to Taco Bell and slurping from an officially licensed Batgirl cup. From t-shirts to car mats, Warner Bros. churned it all out to cash in on the hype. Ironically, you can still find B&R merchandise floating around on sites like eBay and it can fetch a pretty penny.
While most of it was all a load of rubbish, the action figures were some of the best around at the time. Schumacher may have criticised the studio for making his movie too family-friendly as a way to sell toys, but Justice League seemed to go too far the other way. It’s doubtful that many kids will be asking for a posable Steppenwolf toy under their tree this Christmas.
5. COMMISSIONER GORDON
Just like any Batman feature without Alfred, it just doesn’t seem right if Jim Gordon isn’t battling a moral dilemma and flicking the switch to call Bruce to Gotham’s aid. However, as just another JL character lost in the mix, Jim Gordon seems surplus to requirement in the DCEU. There was a veritable media storm surrounding J.K. Simmons’ casting as Jim — mainly thanks to his lauded role as J. Jonah Jameson — but was it really worth it?
From watching Simmons get ripped on his various Instagram posts, Commissioner Gordon spent most of his time in a trench coat in the rain. By the time Schumacher got to Batman & Robin, Pat Hingle’s three-movie arc had established him as a plump but jolly Jim. Barbara wasn’t his daughter, but maybe that was for the best. Sadly, Simmons lives in the shadow of Gary Oldman and the acclaimed Arkham series of video games.
4. THE MUSIC
Back when Batman movie soundtracks were a little more than background music from Hans Zimmer, Batman & Robin pulled out all the guns for its album. Featuring songs from R.Kelly and R.E.M., it may not have topped “Kiss from a Rose,” but it was a damn good effort. In fact, the Smashing Pumpkins even won the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance thanks to “The End Is the Beginning Is the End.”
What did Justice League do? Reused Danny Elfman. Elfman has been outspoken about movie’s scrapping a hero’s original score, but we might’ve expected something a little different. There is no Denying that Elfman is THE Batman musical maestro, but even he couldn’t save Snyder’s movie. Ironic that the soundtrack also features Junkie XL’s reimagining of “Come Together,” because that original tagline of “Unite the Seven” didn’t really pan out did it?
3. IT ACTUALLY MADE MONEY
Batman & Robin was hardly a record-breaking success when it came to the numbers, but earning $238 million over its $125 million budget, it is nothing to be scoffed at. Also, when adjusted for ticket inflation, Batman & Robin actually made more than The Lego Batman Movie. On the flipside, Justice League’s figures seem to be damaged beyond repair.
In a year where movies like Logan, Thor: Ragnarok, and Wonder Woman have run away with ticket sales, Justice League is a bit of a laughing stock. Box office numbers are steadily increasing, but there are still increasing rumors that it could cost Warner Bros. a whopping $100 million loss. With an over-inflated budget thanks to the Whedon era reshoots, any plans to break the $1 billion mark or even rule the DCEU appear to have been hit with Fries’ ray gun.
2. IT DIDN’T PUSH FOR COMEDY
Love or hate this part, you have to give Batman & Robin some credit for being a comedy. It may not be officially classed as a “superhero comedy” like Kick-Ass, but B&R was funny without having to nudge the audience to say, “that was a joke,” every two minutes.
Unfortunately, Justice League slathers its viewers with far too much of Ezra Miller as the comic relief. The geeky newcomer schtick works for about 30 seconds, but when Diana rolls her eyes at the Flash, it is hard for fans not to do the same. If anything, Jason Momoa’s rugged Aquaman was about the only remotely funny person in the cast. Snyder attempted to avoid the assumption that he can only produce macabre movies about death and destruction, but it felt out of place at times when the League was trying to save the world from destruction.
1. ITS LEGACY
Finally, there is perhaps Batman & Robin’s most redeeming feature. With 1997 credited as the year Batman died, it would be another eight years of canceled continuations, possible spin-offs, and stalled projects before Christopher Nolan restarted the Batmobile with his Dark Knight trilogy. If Batman & Robin hadn’t been the car crash that it was, we probably never would’ve got the Nolanverse or the change in the comic book movie landscape that came after it.
Unfortunately, Justice League doesn’t seem to be quite there to press the reset button. With Warner Bros. having invested so much in its DCEU, it would be virtually impossible for any of its movies to suck enough to warrant the kind of change Batman & Robin brought in. So, the best thing Batman & Robin ever did for cinema was to join the ranks of worst superhero movies ever — congratulations Schumacher!
Do you think Batman & Robin was better than Justice League? Sound off in the comments below!
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