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The UnPopular Opinion: Batman & Robin

04.06.2017

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

There are two very different types of Batman stories out there: the dark and the campy. Since his inception in the pages of DC Comics, Batman has been the Dark Knight, a figure of menace and fear for the criminals of Gotham City. But, like Superman and all of the Golden Age heroes, Batman wasn't scary. He was like a costumed Sherlock Holmes and kids could easily appreciate his alter ego of the rich and debonair Bruce Wayne. The pathos and gravitas of Batman did not come until much later and that is the character we have seem immortalized in Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT trilogy as well as Ben Affleck's iteration in the new DCEU films. But, the 1989 franchise that Tim Burton started seemed to balance the dark and the camp very well while still making a film that was distinctly Batman in nature. When Joel Schumacher took over for BATMAN FOREVER, the descent into full campiness begun and by 1997's BATMAN & ROBIN, the franchise was all but dead. But, in retrospect, BATMAN & ROBIN is not nearly the disaster we make it out to be. In fact, BATMAN & ROBIN may be the best homage to the classic 1966 television series we will ever get,

When Adam West portrayed Batman on the small screen, the character was steeped in the 1960s and was more of a live action cartoon rather than a live action superhero. With animated title cards, pulpy cliffhangers, and ridiculous villains and gadgets, the '66 Batman is still beloved by countless fans. When Joel Schumacher gave us BATMAN & ROBIN, he encapsulated the '66 show in big budget form and the final movie is an absolutely ridiculous blast. From Arnold Schwarzenegger's brutal puns to the much debated Bat-nipples, BATMAN & ROBIN is chock full of everything you would expect from a B-movie rather than a hundred million dollar film from a major studio. Completely designed to sell toys and product tie-ins, Schumacher removed absolutely all respect from the previous films in the franchise and instead delivered the very definition of fun. None of the actors are taking themselves seriously here and that allows them to just enjoy playing dress up. As kids, when we played superhero, were we standing on top of the jungle gym, staring into the distance, and contemplating the banality of our existence? No, we were creating insane weapons to defeat our nemesis, constructed with materials that made no logical sense. BATMAN & ROBIN in every kid's imagination come to life.

The UnPopular Opinion, Batman & Robin, Joel Scumacher, George Clooney, Alicia Silverstone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Superhero, Batman, COmic Book, DC Comics

In comparison to the Tim Burton original or any of the Nolan films, BATMAN & ROBIN is a fucking trainwreck. A disaster both critically and financially, BATMAN & ROBIN has been disowned by virtually everyone involved and scrapped plans for a follow-up from Schumacher entitled BATMAN TRUIMPHANT. It was apparent with BATMAN FOREVER that the franchise was going into a more kid-friendly direction, but Joel Schumacher puts his balls to the wall with this flick and throws everything else he has right after it. The growing relationship between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson is all but ignored here with the heroes taking a backseat to the over-the-top Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy. Shockingly, both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman are the best part of this movie even though George Clooney got short shrift as Batman. Clooney has evolved into one heck of an actor and director and likely would have fit better into Nolan or Zack Snyder's vision of the Dark Knight. Still, he is affable enough here to help deadpan the proceedings and prevent Batman from losing all credibility.

In a series where the villains have always been the showcase, BATMAN & ROBIN gives us three foes who are all totally different. While Bane is tacked on and virtually useless here, his traditional appearance compared to Tom Hardy's more utilitarian take on the character was nice to see. Arnold Schwarzenegger, when not speaking in cold-themed puns, is pretty damn good as the heartbroken scientist trying to save his dying wife. In fact, Schwarzenegger himself has proven that he can actually act and not just shoot guns in sleeveless shirts and this role proves that. You feel a sympathy for Freeze here that is overshadowed by one-liners and illuminated clothing. Maybe if he was the sole bad guy he could have had more to do here, but nonetheless I still think that the finished product makes Mr. Freeze a formidable foe for Batman and one that works perfectly within the campy context of the movie.

But the best aspect of BATMAN & ROBIN is Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. Her origin is almost a cross between Selina Kyle in BATMAN RETURNS and Edward Nygma in BATMAN FOREVER. Like those predecessors, Uma Thurman goes from meek wallflower to vibrant and over-the-top villain and commands the screen every time she is on it. While Poison Ivy may not have had quite the dramatic arc as Freeze, Thurman clearly is having a ton of fun in the role and makes the character her own. In the pantheon of Batman villains on the big screen, I would put Uma Thurman's Ivy right at the top alongside The Joker. In fact, with the DCEU aiming for Batman to have been a hero for a long time already, would it be so out of left field to bring Thurman back for another crack at Poison Ivy? Maybe have her escape from Arkham and join up with Harley Quinn to wreak havoc in Gotham? I am completely serious that I would love to see that happen.

Of course, there are weak spots in BATMAN & ROBIN. Both Chris O'Donnell and Alicia Silverstone are miscast in their roles as Robin and Batgirl. Silverstone was at the peak of her fame when this movie was being made but there was a mistake in making her the niece of Alfred instead of her traditional backstory as daughter of Commissioner Gordon. Nonetheless, taken with the campy nature of this movie, I can accept both actors in their parts. But this still a Batman movie and George Clooney doesn not disappoint in the part. Clooney is already the Hollywood equivalent of Bruce Wayne in real life and he looks perfect in the cowl as the Caped Crusader. The problem is this movie has so many characters that he is never given sufficient time to be Batman. I was prepared to see Clooney as Batman for multiple sequels and I am confident he could have easily overshadowed both Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer in the part. 

The UnPopular Opinion, Batman & Robin, Joel Scumacher, George Clooney, Alicia Silverstone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Superhero, Batman, COmic Book, DC Comics

BATMAN & ROBIN is a perfect candidate for any number of columns here on JoBlo.com. But, I feel it fits here as a movie that has long been lamented as a disaster when it really should not be. BATMAN & ROBIN is exactly the movie it set out to be and is a testament to a very different kind of comic book movie. While I love a good dark and gritty superhero flick or even the bright and vibrant Marvel Studios offerings, there is still room for a pulpy and campy good time that harkens back to a very different style of superhero. If you try to compare this movie to the modern age of superhero films you are going to be disappointed each and every time. But, if you look at BATMAN & ROBIN through the lens of the 1966 television series, you will come to appreciate it on the level it was designed to be viewed on. BATMAN & ROBIN is a blast from start to finish and only needs to be viewed through Bat-glasses with a Bat-beet and some Bat-popcorn.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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