The fourth and final film of what was originally the Michael Keaton-led Batman franchise is famous for being a disaster. Twenty-five years later, the 1997 Batman & Robin is still looked at as one of the worst – if not the worst – superhero movies of all time. Countless things are wrong with humanity, but this might take the cake. Batman & Robin is, quite possibly, one of the greatest films the genre has ever produced and easily one of the most enjoyable things one could possibly do on a Wednesday night after a bottle of wine. I have no problem comparing it to The Godfather or Citizen Kane, maybe because I haven’t seen them. But I can say for certain that Batman & Robin is a cinematic masterpiece for anyone with taste.
Batman & Robin doesn’t mess around – it is about Batman & Robin. George Clooney’s Bruce Wayne alongside Chris O’Donnell’s elderly Dick Grayson is a masterclass in the exploration of complex character relationships. From the moment the Batman & Robin logos form a bond in the opening credits, the movie screams “two’s a party, but three’s a crowd.” It is incredibly weird and uncomfortable that the two of them spend most of the movie fighting over Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy, especially considering Robin is supposed to be…a kid? Realistically, that man looks 57-years-old, so this secondhand embarrassment of a dynamic is a little less creepy. Not really. But this nails-on-chalkboard-adjacent feeling is one of the many unique experiences on the emotional tapestry that is Batman & Robin.
Otherwise, Dick spends the film in either adolescent angst or midlife crisis demanding respect from the man who brought him straight home after witnessing the deaths of his entire family to throw him in a suit with detailed nipples and give him a moped instead of Batmobile. To be fair, considering he could be 74-years-old, it is hard to blame him for being angry that he is treated like a child. But still, much of his motivation to stray from Bruce revolves around their shared interest in being erotically murdered by Poison Ivy without consent. Is there any better way to show that two men can have an emotionally close and healthy relationship than to bond over the downfall of an attractive evil woman? No.
Past that, whatever train wreck Poison Ivy was is better left mostly unacknowledged, among others (Bane). The real villain of Batman & Robin – the future governor of the State of California when it was filming – is, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. There is so much to say about the guy, but it’s pretty simple: he is great. He looks amazing – even if his personal traveling hockey team is less impressive – he only speaks in ice pun so that you don’t forget he has ice powers, and his background motivation is relatively fleshed out (his wife is floating in a tube). Mr. Freeze (and Poison Ivy as well to be fair) has global-destruction-level ambitions. It is not entirely clear why someone trying to reverse climate change on the entire planet has such a Gotham fixation, or why the New Jersey National Guard never gets involved when the City is constantly overrun with overindulgent mass murder with no defense but squabbling homoerotic father-son rubber-suited bird people.
At a certain point, you realize that Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl/Barbara Gordon is also in the movie. She is not necessary. None of this is strictly necessary, but anyone watching Batman & Robin is just trying to be involved in a Mr. Freeze/Poison Ivy/62-year-old Robin plot smoothie. Frankly, no one cares if she breaks out of a mansion to go street racing or soul-crushingly guesses passwords to top-secret information given to her by Alfred: “ALFRED”. She also ruins the “three’s a crowd” analogy because the moral of the story is apparently that three makes a happy Bat Family, but getting into “keeping it in the family” is maybe too much right now.
Batman & Robin does give a touching ode to Michael Gough’s Alfred, the only consistent part of the four-movie franchise. Gough is basically the only person who was willing to see Batman all the way to the end. Even when you said, why is Batman fighting penguins? Gough was there. Even when you said hey that’s not Michael Keaton .. or Val Kilmer! Gough was there. Even when you said why is Robin 47-years-old? Gough was there.
I know what you’re thinking. Why am I reading this review at all? More importantly, how has this gone on so long without mentioning how Batman & Robin sparks more joy than Marie Kondo could even dream of? If you cannot enjoy nature or tents, or fires, or nights, then yes, Batman & Robin – the campiest piece of media that has ever been produced – is probably extremely painful. I wouldn’t know, because even though I’m normally not the biggest fan of camp, I have never laughed so hard in my life as I did while watching this movie, and it is the most fun I’ve had with a movie in a long time. When I said this movie was for people with taste, I meant that anyone who can laugh alongside this movie is in for the time of their life.
Every single frame of Batman & Robin is cornier than 300 dad jokes combined. It is entirely consistent, and it has no crisis of identity. Everything matches. The sets match the costumes which match the characters which match the dialogue and on and on. There is no way in Mr. Freeze’s frozen hell that it is unintentional. The dialogue and delivery throughout the film are also the worst and corniest you can possibly come by. You have to work hard to stay at O’Donnell’s impressive level of convincing the audience this is the worst acting they have ever seen.
The only tragedy of Batman & Robin is that it can’t be summarized coherently. It just absolutely makes no sense but in the best way. Poison Ivy dressed as a gorilla does a sexy dance 20 feet in the air at a benefit where costumed Batman and Robin are acting as props to a crowded auction that they intentionally lured a mass murderer (the sexy gorilla) to. The action level in this movie compared to its predecessors is off the charts. The Dynamic Duo flies around in ways that make Olympics gymnastics look like walking. At one point, they surf the air. Not much to add to that. Robin is 49-years-old, and he owns it. There are gender-neutral but extremely aggressive closeups of Bat people putting on their suits. I would say you can’t make this stuff up, but clearly, someone already did. And for that we give thanks.
True, director Joel Schumacher has indeed publicly apologized for how bad Batman & Robin is. And listen, if you want high-quality cinema, character development, storytelling, dialogue, or logical thinking, look elsewhere. This is not for you. It will probably always be a mysterious and unhygienic-looking cocktail of joy, but it is pure joy if you have a taste. Were the 1990s hard on Batman? Sure. But Batman has his 56-year-old Robin by his side and if that doesn’t make you smile, nothing will.