With entertainment.ie turning 25 this year, we're rolling back the clock to 1997 and revisiting movies on release during our site's early days. Each week, we'll take a trip down memory lane and come back with a movie you may remember, may have forgotten, or in this case, you'll have worked hard to forget.
Like it or not, 'Batman & Robin' has come to define how we view the Caped Crusader on screen because every director and actor that followed after it made a conscious decision to do the exact opposite of it. Sure, there are aberrations like 'The Lego Batman Movie', but generally speaking, Batman and Robin haven't been this much fun in a live-action setting in years and are unlikely to be again any time soon. Since 1997, Batman has been two things - gritty and dark. Christian Bale's Batman? Gritty, dark, very rich, growls a lot. Ben Affleck's Batman? Gritty, dark, does CrossFit, also growls a lot. Now with Robert Pattinson's Batman? Gritty, dark, listens to a lot of Joy Division and The Cure, also growls a lot.
Much as it may seem, there was once a time when comic-book movies and characters could have a sense of humour and adaptations of them were decidedly more geared towards the colourful pages of comic-book nostalgia than anything else. It's not to say that comic books weren't doing dark, deliberate stuff until 'Batman & Robin' either. Frank Miller's 'The Dark Knight Returns', released nine years prior to 'Batman & Robin', featured the Joker breaking his own neck, Superman being a pawn of Ronald Reagan's government, and plenty more besides. Likewise, Alan Moore's 'The Killing Joke' saw Barbara Gordon shot through the spine while Jim Gordon is stripped naked and driven insane by the Joker.
Joel Schumacher, following on from 'Batman Forever', was determined to keep Batman on a trajectory of light-hearted, over-the-top entertainment. Schumacher was deliberately evoking the campiness and the silliness of the '60s Batman and Adam West. Mr. Freeze, for example, utilised every pun known to mankind for his ice-cool one-liners. The Batmobile looked like it was designed by a twelve-year-old high on sugar. The Batsuit had nipples and Batman carried a credit card. Even the choice of villains spoke to just how determined Schumacher was in making things fun. Poison Ivy, played with the subtlety of a hammer to the face by Uma Thurman, cavorted her way across the screen in skin-tight green and red. Bane was played by an ex-wrestler and had no lines, save for a random assortment of grunts and screams.
In comparison to what followed after it, 'Batman & Robin' looks ridiculous and just downright stupid. Contemporary reviews followed a similar vein. Roger Ebert dismissed it as a cheap cash-in for toys. The Washington Post called it "winged defeat", while the San Francisco Chronicle declared George Clooney to be the George Lazenby of the entire franchise. For his part, Clooney still answers for the role to this day by apologising. Chris O'Donnell, his on-screen partner, frequently lampooned the odd size of the codpiece for the suit and the superfluous nipples. Yet, for all of this, 'Batman & Robin' was merely trying to honour a very real part of the character's legacy - namely, its utter ridiculousness.
We live in a world of billionaires who frequently will say and do ridiculous things in order to gain attention. Others will donate money to charitable causes and get behind political activism. Not one of them - and remember folks, there's a lot of billionaires out there - has decided to buy expensive armour or gadgetry, train to beat people up with their hands, and go out into the night looking for petty criminals to kick the crap out of. That we know of, at least. Why hasn't this happened? Because the idea is just downright ridiculous. Batman at its core is a very silly idea, after all. He dresses up like a nocturnal animal that causes diseases to scare people, but he won't kill anyone because that would be breaking a moral code. Throwing them off the side of a building and breaking their legs, however? Totally fine. Snapping their arms like a twig and leaving them with a hospital bill that would probably bankrupt people? Absolutely A-OK. Hell, most criminals would most likely rather have a quick death than be bled by a thousand cuts from insurance companies.
It's not that comic-book movies now aren't fun anymore, because you only need to look at 'Deadpool' and its Pythonesque humour to see how it can be done, and done well. Yet, the campiness, the ridiculousness inherent in them is gone. It's all treated seriously now. 'Deadpool' even brings out the idea of self-acceptance in Ryan Reynolds' performance as he's so horribly disfigured underneath the red suit. Yet, in 'Batman & Robin', the concerns were less pointed. If Batman got sad, it was only briefly. There was too much neon to sift through, too much homoeroticism to flounder around, and far too little time to sit and brood.
'Batman & Robin' existed in a carefree time, you have to understand. With Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight', you had themes surrounding terrorism, mass surveillance, suspending democracy in order to fight crime. Zack Snyder's take saw a dried-up and embittered Batman who hates immigrants (Superman being the ultimate immigrant, after all) and prepared to kill. Robert Pattinson's Batman, meanwhile, frequently questions whether he's having an impact in a city that is rooted in corruption. Throughout these three iterations - Bale, Affleck and Pattinson - our world has been examined in their lenses. Yet, in 'Batman & Robin', Schumacher and co. are just out to have a good time and make something fun. Did it succeed?
Absolutely. You can't look at Arnold Schwarzenegger's performance and tell anyone that he's not having a good time. Just look at this.