Batman & Robin (which you can currently watch here) is a good film. It's fun, colorful, comedic, and doesn't take itself seriously. It's a meta-commentary on the history of Batman and the Batman franchise as a whole. So why do people disparage it? Partly because the movie -- and its predecessor, Batman Forever -- came off the heels of two of the most celebrated superhero films of all time. I've looked back at both Batman and Batman Returns here at DC Universe, and explored why they've become such beloved cinematic touchstones. But Batman & Robin is a widely reviled entry in the Bat canon. Although objectively I understand why, subjectively I love it with my life.
After Batman Returns made $266.8 million -- off an $80 million budget -- at the box office, it's unsurprising that Warner Bros. was eager to continue the success of the newly established Batman franchise. But when the next film appeared, it wouldn't star Michael Keaton or be guided by director Tim Burton, who gave the series its distinctive look and feel. Instead, the film would be helmed by Joel Schumacher and for one entry only would have Val Kilmer donning the mantle of Gotham's most infamous vigilante billionaire. Still, Batman Forever made $100 million more than Batman Returns at the box office, and despite mixed reviews that money made another Batman film a certainty.
It's since become part of Hollywood folklore that Robin was set to debut earlier in the series. Originally, Marlon Wayans was cast as Dick Grayson in Burton's Batman Returns, but due to script changes his version of the character never made it to the big screen. Three years after Marlon would've made his debut as the Boy Wonder, another actor took to the screens in the iconic domino mask. Chris O'Donnell's sassy gymnast was one part of the Batman Forever formula that stuck, and he starred in Batman & Robin alongside a brand new Bruce Wayne: George Clooney.
On paper, Clooney is an ideal fit for a debonair billionaire bachelor. After all, wasn't that essentially his real life role at that time? He's a wry and witty Bruce Wayne, one without the hangups and baggage of the past. A true playboy, both a caricature and reflection of the screen character made famous by Adam West and Michael Keaton.
Batman & Robin's bright palette and cartoonish villains, however, didn't satisfy fans in the same way as Batman Returns, and the film didn't make nearly as much money as Batman Forever, coming in at around $238 million. The lowest box office of all four Batman films plus generally bad reviews meant that Batman & Robin was the last we'd see of the Caped Crusader for nearly a decade. But not before audiences were given a fantastically fun, ridiculous, and cartoonish cinematic caper.
The fact that I grew up watching all of the Batman films -- my earliest memory is watching Jack Nicholson fall into a vat of acid -- probably impacts how much I love them, and Batman & Robin is no different. Arnold Schwarzenegger's ice-pun-spewing Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman's Mae West-vampy Poison Ivy are a match made in heaven. It's a campy coupling played by two completely committed masters of their craft being villainous in the funnest way possible. Though it isn't as well made or unique as Batman Returns or the original Batman, the film still creates an engaging and vibrant world, one that laughs at the commercial saturation of Batman, highlights how whiny Robin is, and -- most importantly to me -- introduces Batgirl.
Alicia Silverstone was at the apex of Hollywood stardom after Clueless and The Babysitter. Although Batgirl's debut film sadly omits her from its title and removes her backstory as a Gordon in exchange for that of a Pennyworth, Barbara Wilson is a badass hero who's both super smart and tough as nails. Barbara is also the first character who ever questions Bruce's wealth or the fact that he essentially keeps Alfred in indentured servitude whilst calling him family. Though she's not the Barbara Gordon from the books, Silverstone brings an attitude and fun to her character which is just wonderful to watch. Plus, she's much better than Dick on a motorcycle!
As much as the Bat family shine in their own way, the true stars are undoubtedly Schwarzenegger and Thurman whose outside-the-box performances make this one of the best throwbacks to the classic Batman '66 show we could wish for. Nodding to the vibrant performances of Cesar Romero, Eartha Kitt and Julie Newmar, Thurman and Schwarzenegger are a joyous, ridiculous pair who are incredibly fun to watch.
Though it may lack the critical acclaim of some of the other Batman films Batman & Robin stands apart as something to watch over and over. And what other Batman film lends itself so easily to a drinking game? Remember, each and every time Arnie lets out another so-bad-it's-fantastic ice pun -- bottoms up!