Building the Bat: Batman & Robin (1997)A column article, Shot For Shot by: Dylan Garsee
Kids these days have it lucky. Between The Avengers saga and Christopher Nolan's Batman reboot, we are currently living in the golden age of superhero films. At best, we are treated to The Dark Knight and Iron Man, while at worst we get Captain America and Iron Man 2. So it's easy to forget that one single movie set the genre so far back that mankind had to set fire to the childhoods of the youth of 1998 to 2005, almost entirely abstaining from one of superherodom's most important franchises in order to rise from the ashes like the mighty phoenix, born anew. That film was Batman & Robin.
Joel Schumacher’s follow-up to the not so warmly received Batman Forever switched out Val Kilmer for George Clooney as the titular character. Chris O’Donnell returned as Robin, and Alicia Silverstone debuted as Barbara Wilson/Batgirl. Batman and the gang were forced to rescue Gotham City from the clutches Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy. Presumably shot with a kaleidoscope using only Dutch Angles, Batman & Robin sets the standard for weird-ass, unnatural cinematography only to be matched, if not exceeded, three years later with Battlefield: Earth.
Batman films have always been ridiculous to one degree or another; that’s why my main issue with the Nolan interpretations of the saga lies in his utter lack of joy. The Batman character is full of sternness and seriousness, which can be played for humor to a certain degree. Humor comes as a coping mechanism with tragedy, and Batman/Bruce Wayne has led a very tragic life, so even a little humor would definitely add to the Nolan Batmans. Batman & Robin takes this concept of camp and fun and turns it up to a deafening loudness, way past the point of no return. Many may choose to simply ignore the fun, but I’m all for it. As soon as Batman and Robin played hockey with a diamond against a bunch of snow demons, I knew I was in for the ride of my life.
An argument I always hear when I criticize action movies is “you just need to turn your brain off, that’s how you’ll enjoy Transformers.” That is a valid argument, when it fits the situation. But Transformers does not try to be the “turn your brain off” kind of film. If it was, the plot wouldn’t be so convoluted. Batman & Robin practically turns your brain off for you-- to enjoy the pun-filled dialogue, the over the top set pieces, the ridiculous gadgets, and of course, the infamous “Batnipples.”
Batman & Robin is flawed beyond belief or recognition, leading to its dismal box office returns, making almost half of what The Dark Knight made in three days in its entire U.S. run. It destroyed superhero movies for the rest of the world (excluding Ang Lee’s Hulk art film fiasco). However, Batman & Robin deserves a special place in all of our hearts as a film that laughed as it watch the world burn around it, and after all, some men just want to watch the world burn.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.