5 reasons you should watch 1997’s Batman & Robin

Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin deserves a second chance, and here’s why.

Batman & Robin

Batman & Robin
Alicia Silverstone, George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell, all proud of their good work here.

1. It’s just as faithful as anything Christopher Nolan’s done

We’re a bloody lucky generation.

Those of us who came to Batman after Tim Burton‘s 1989 flick, or the ‘dark deco’ animated series it inspired have a very clear idea of what Batman should be – it’s the Batman of Frank Miller’s Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. We roll our eyes whenever our parents bring up the campy Adam West series, and we condemn the tone of the two Joel Schumacher films, 1995’s Batman Forever and 1997’s Batman & Robin, as being gross injustices to this character with all the ferocity of Stalinist denunciations at a Fifties show trial.

The truth is, Batman can be all of these things. He can be the tortured plutocrat of Christopher Nolan’s epic Dark Knight films, struggling with his own sense of purpose and place in the world; he can be the slightly fey angel of vengeance of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, and he can just as easily be the high-camp, pun-dropping Saturday night light entertainment star of Joel Schumacher’s movies, and we all need to celebrate that instead of worrying that somehow the existence of one invalidates the other.

Bat-Mite memorably pointed this out in an episode of the brilliantly daft kid’s cartoon Batman: The Brave And The Bold when he broke the fourth wall to inform us, “Batman’s rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways. To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation, but it’s certainly no less valid and true to the character’s roots than the tortured avenger crying out for mommy and daddy.”

Harald Belker Batmobile
Harald Belker’s fantastic production art for the Batmobile, find out more at www.HaraldBelker.com

2. Fantastically demented production design

Sure, it’s a neon nightmare, a shattered piñata leaking LSD and Skittles, but it is absolutely spectacular – every bit the equal in impact to Anton Furst’s neo-expressionist decay in 1989’s Batman and far more interesting to look at than Christopher Nolan’s ‘real world’ Gotham in much the same way that a burning My Little Pony is more interesting to look at than a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

That one is a far more significant cultural achievement than the other really isn’t relevant to what we’re discussing.

Batman & Robin has an absolutely huge art department, and was one of the last movies to involve extensive model making – all of which definitely shows. These guys worked their little hearts out, and you can criticise the tone of the art direction, but you definitely can’t slate the hard work and the sheer volume of quality set dressing because there’s absolutely no shortage of show-stopping visuals – from the theme park-like supervillain lairs to a car chase along the fingers of a giant hand!

It’s worth noting that this incredible version of the Batmobile – with more backlit blue lights than an the streets of Scunthorpe on a Friday night – was designed by SciFiNow favourite Harald Belker, who has also crafted pimped-up future rides for Minority Report and Len Wiseman’s Total Recall – about which you can read about on 3D Artist Online.

3. Joel Schumacher said he’s sorry

Nobody seems as contrite about the movie as the guy who made it all happen, so let go out your anger and your bitterness, and all those tired old rants about how he “got Bane wrong” (at least he doesn’t speak much, unlike the chatty bugger in The Dark Knight Rises) and how he killed the Batman franchise (would you really have wanted it to continue after this?)

Just enjoy it for what it is – an absurd piece of over-the-top kitsch.

4. Surfing on on doors, in the sky

Nobody knows how this is supposed to work; we just have to accept that it does. And then go out and buy the associated toys.

Batman & Robin is full of absolutely ludicrous set pieces: from the opening ice skating fight in which our heroes slide down a dinosaur onwards, but if we had to hold one up as a shining example of the kind of action sequences you can squeeze into a film where common sense and realism are dirty words, it would definitely be this one.

The whole chain of events defies logic, and then goes right ahead and defies physics; Batman and Robin chase Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) into a rocket, the rocket fires, Mr Freeze jumps out on a parachute, while Batman and Robin ‘surf’ back down to Earth on the rocket’s doors – Robin even has the decency to echo the age and yell “COWABUNGAAAAAAAAAAAA!”.

If you were aged between six and ten at the time and claim this wasn’t the best thing you’d ever seen, you’re lying.

Mr Freeze and friend
Mr Freeze and friend, thinking of brilliant new puns

5. Arnie wearing polar bear slippers and leading a singalong

C’mon, it’s the best bit!