With Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice right around the corner, comics fans are getting excited for an opportunity to see two classic superheroes duke it out on the big screen. If promotional material is to be believed, Batman V Superman will deliver a dark, gritty and grounded vision of Gotham City which expands upon the cinematic legacy of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Yet while modern incarnations of Batman and his rogues gallery have worked hard to feel grounded in a degree of realism, it wasn’t always the case.
It’s easy to point out the flaws in unpopular movies, and it’s generally the case that even the most critically panned films have redeeming qualities. However, after twenty years, fan ire over the less desirable aspects of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin hasn’t abated. The campy, overblown spectacle is still widely regarded as one of the worst superhero movies of all time – and considering the frequency with which new comic book adaptations are being released, this is quite an impressive feat.
So without trying to be unnecessarily harsh, here are 13 Worst Things About Batman & Robin.
13. Bat Nipples
With both of his Batman movies, director Joel Schumacher was looking to recreate the aesthetic and inherent silliness of the ‘60s Batman television show on the big screen – for those who didn’t grow up reading comics inspired by Frank Miller, Adam West’s Batman was the quintessential Caped Crusader. As such, a lot of the design styles throughout Batman & Robin were meant to look stylish, colorful, and eye-catching.
The costumes certainly turn heads, but not in any way that Batman fans enjoyed. Since the release of the movie, the rubber nipples on the outside of Batman’s suit have become a focal point for the comic book community: they’re in many ways used as a shorthand to describe what happens when superhero costume designs go horribly wrong. With Batman & Robin, moviemakers learned an important lesson: just because superheroes look like they’re wearing plastic breastplates in cartoons and comics, it doesn’t necessarily work as well on the big screen.
12. Gotham City
Gotham is as much a part of the Batman mythos as the cape and cowl – the city is essentially a character in its own right, and the level of realism depicted on-screen is a good indicator of how grounded a movie will be. Tim Burton’s Gotham was dark, angular and shadowy, matching the director’s macabre style choices for the movies he directed. Nolan’s Gotham, full of brick, steel, and glass, highlighted a take on the Dark Knight that felt more believable than anything that had been seen before.
In Batman & Robin, though, Gotham is just as overblown, weird and as visually busy as every other aspect of the movie. With enormous towering statues, architecture that makes very little sense, and roads that wind and turn as if in a cartoon racing game, every location in Schumacher’s Gotham looks and feels like a movie set – somewhat ruining the immersive effect for moviegoers, and removing any trace of logic or believability that the movie might have been desperately clinging on to.
11. Bat Ice Skates
Again, in a continuation of the bizarre ‘60s Batman mythos, Joel Schumacher’s take on the Dynamic Duo is filled with a collection of oddly specific bat-gadgets. Considering that Batman had no idea that Mr. Freeze would turn out to be the big villain of the movie, it’s strange that he had already prepared a collection of ice-themed accessories, including a jet ski and special ice-themed costumes.
In their first run-in with Mr. Freeze, upon discovering that the floor has been frozen solid, Batman and Robin activate their “bat ice skates,” which appear out of the bottom of their boots with a click of the heels. The convenience of this gadget takes the silly accessories of Batman’s utility belt from the ‘60s show to a cinematic extreme, adding fuel to the fire of the joke that Batman’s true superpower is his magic utility belt which can produce anything the plot requires it to.
10. Bat Credit Card
Ka-ching! Batman’s ice skates aren’t the most egregious tool at his disposal in Batman & Robin: not by a long shot. After being seduced with mind-control pheromones from Poison Ivy, Batman and the Boy Wonder start a bidding match at a charity auction to win a night with Ivy. When the amount of money becomes obscenely large, Batman pulls out his bat-themed credit card, with the accompanying sound effect of a cash register being opened.
It’s likely that no single scene in this movie has angered viewers more than the appearance of the bat credit card. Many Batman fans see the weak joke as indicative of everything wrong with Joel Schumacher’s sequel – the Caped Crusader is reduced to little more than dumb gags and overblown cartoon silliness.
9. Robin’s Attitude
Tension between Batman & Robin isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the relationship between the two characters has always been nuanced, and the challenges of fighting side by side is likely to lead to disagreements. But with Batman & Robin, the conflict between the two titular characters comes off as little more than annoying.
Throughout the movie, Robin whines, yells and pouts his way through key scenes, which, rather than create any lasting tension, instead makes the character annoying and unlikable. For a movie that attempts to play with the dynamic between Caped Crusader and his sidekick, it mostly just makes viewers wish that this were a solo Batman movie.
8. Mr. Freeze
It’s difficult to say whether, with a different director and a different approach, Arnold Schwarzenegger might have done a better job with the character of Mr. Freeze. The musclebound Austrian has turned in plenty of performances over the years that have been intimidating and compelling. By the late ‘90s, though, Schwarzenegger was delivering a lot of cartoonish, slapstick performances, and his role in Batman & Robin stands as possibly the pinnacle of these more outlandish roles.
It doesn’t help that Mr. Freeze’s power-set throughout the movie relies heavily on cartoon physics – people can be frozen solid while still moving their eyeballs, and freezing inanimate objects will cause them to shatter for no reason when the plot demands it. While in the comics, Mr. Freeze can be genuinely creepy, his portrayal in Batman & Robin is about as scary as an ice-cube.
7. George Clooney
At the time of Batman & Robin’s release, Clooney was generally considered an excellent fit for Bruce Wayne – the actor was one of the most desirable men on the planet. Sadly, though, the actor was less of a fit for Batman, not least because he lacked the physical capability to do the character justice. What’s more, Clooney’s performance in the movie is incredibly wooden, as the actor fails to deliver the gravitas necessary to give his character any kind of emotional depth.
Clooney has since profusely and repeatedly apologized for his part in the movie, and has explained that his own distaste for Joel Schumacher’s directorial style – along with a very heavy, bulky costume, made it difficult to give his best to the role. Whatever the reason behind Clooney’s subpar performance, though, his turn as Batman is hardly the best version of Batman that’s been seen on-screen.
6. MacGregor’s Syndrome
Batman & Robin’s plot contains more than a few contrivances for the sake of moving the movie forward. Some of these are relatively excusable as necessary to ensure that character motivations make some form of sense, while others simply some across as lazy or illogical.
One of the biggest conveniences of the plot involves Alfred suffering from early stages of the fictional MacGregor’s Syndrome, which, conveniently, is the exact disease that Mr. Freeze’s wife suffers from – as such, the villain carries around a vial of a cure for early stages of the disease. This contrivance serves to temporarily incapacitate Alfred – thereby upping the stakes for the movie and providing an introduction for Batgirl – before allowing Bruce Wayne’s butler to make a full recovery by the end of the movie.
5. Bad Puns
In continuing the spirit of the old television show, Batman & Robin is replete with some of the most offensive, irritating puns imaginable. Most of these are ice-themed, and come from Mr Freeze as he cackles maniacally.
The movie’s bad dialogue and the constant annoying quips ensures that viewers are constantly reminded that they’re watching a “comic book movie,” which they’re encouraged not to take too seriously. It’s a strange choice for a blockbuster movie to try to deliberately trivialize itself, which is probably why future Batman movies have stayed as far away from puns as possible.
Speaking of the introduction of Batgirl, there’s plenty about the handling of the character which could have been done better. As it stands, the character’s intro leaves a lot to be desired – in this incarnation she’s Barbara Wilson, Alfred’s niece, and the butler is hugely protective of her during her stay at Wayne Manor, refusing to let her near the Batcave or discover anything about Bruce Wayne’s alter ego. Until, that is, Barbara sneaks into the Batcave anyway, at which point a computerized version of Alfred informs her that it was his plan for her to take on the mantle of Batgirl all along.
In a movie as convoluted as Batman & Robin, an entire subplot revolving around Barbara’s thrillseeking antics serves to do little more than further inflate the story with yet more bizarre costumes, gadgets and puns.
Many moviegoers were unimpressed with Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises – the character’s strange voice spawned many an internet meme as comic book fans rushed to ridicule a villain that many couldn’t take seriously. Nolan’s take on Bane was nothing compared with the character’s role in Batman & Robin, though.
Kudos must be given for a design for Bane, which is mostly true to the comic book source material – the character appears as a muscle-bound hulk in a wrestling mask, covered in tubes that pump the super steroid venom into his blood. Sadly, though, beyond appearance, there’s little of the comic book character in tact – whereas in the comics Bane is a force to be reckoned with – both an intellectual match for Batman as well as his physical superior – Bane in Batman & Robin does little more than stumble around, occasionally getting in the way of the Dynamic Duo. Considering the potential that the character has, it’s a shame to see Bane reduced to little more than a cheesy sidekick.
2. Sky Surfing
Batman & Robin peaks early when it comes to silliness. While there’s plenty of weird and embarrassing scenes throughout the rest of the movie, nothing really tops the conclusion to Batman’s first encounter with Mr. Freeze.
In a scene which sees the villain of the movie shooting a rocket into the sky with enough force to, according to Batman, destroy Gotham City should it return to Earth, the Dynamic Duo hatch a plan to explode the rocket in midair from the inside. Escaping the exploding rocket is easy for the pair – grabbing a piece of shrapnel each, the two sky surf their way to the ground, inexplicably unharmed from this illogical defiance of the basic laws of physics.
For a movie which is basically a live action Saturday morning cartoon, this early spectacle sets viewer expectations for the type of silly, illogical action sequences they’ll be seeing for the rest of the film’s run-time.
1. Poisoning the Franchise
Perhaps the biggest wrongdoing that Batman & Robin inflicted upon audiences was the notion that comic book movies don’t work. For a long time, the Batman franchise was considered dead, until Christopher Nolan revitalized it with a take on the story that couldn’t have been more different to the campy 1997 movie.
Without Bryan Singer’s dark, believable take on the X-Men or Sam Raimi’s groundbreaking first Spider-Man, it’s questionable whether the comic book movie genre would ever have bounced back from the critical flop that was Batman & Robin, and even to this day, Clooney’s turn as Batman casts a long, pointy-eared shadow. There are plenty of stories from the DC universe which have never been told because movie executives are worried about repeating the mistakes of Batman & Robin.
With Batman V Superman about to hit cinemas, there’s a general anxiety surrounding the project, with many wondering whether the movie will manage to live up to its hype.
For those who are unconvinced about Dawn of Justice and its ultra-gritty aesthetic, it’s important to remember just how wrong things have gone in the past when Batman movies have gotten too colorful and over-the-top. Batman V Superman may well turn out to be fantastic, but even if it ultimately isn’t the perfect comic book team up movie that some fans are desperately hoping for, but no matter what, it could be much, much worse.