“Hi Freeze, I’m Batman.”
Right, I know this is not going to be a popular opinion, but I fucking love Batman & Robin and I think hating on it is probably the most boring opinion ever. When I took superhero movies way too seriously, I went along with the general consensus on this one–that it was an unmitigated mess and it ruined three villains for the price of one–and if you’re looking for any kind of faithfulness to the source material I suppose that’s the only opinion you can really have. But I’m just not sure why I would want to do that when I can instead admire the gleefully over-the-top action scenes that are fun as hell despite you never really feeling like anyone is in serious peril (including wire stunts that feel lifted out of a caricature of a kung-fu movie), the eye-poppingly outlandish architecture of Gotham City with its giant statues and completely impractical observatory being held up by one of those giant statues(???), and frankly pretty damn fetishy takes on half of the characters.
When I saw this as a child, I was gleefully appreciative of all the toyetic elements and the inclusion of Robin and Batgirl. I also really loved (and still love) how Robin’s costume in this is basically in between Robin and Nightwing. When I grew up and started taking these things “more seriously” I was pissed about how it “ruined” some of my favorite characters. Now I just love it for its over-the-top campiness and mish-mash of 90s trends. It’s also just pretty damn refreshing that Joel Schumacher had a very singular vision, and that vision was… well, honestly, pretty fucking gay. And I’m fully onboard with that.
Of course, everyone’s given a serious case of the not-gays. Bruce and Dick both unconvincingly lust after Ivy. (It’s weird, because you shouldn’t need much convincing.) Bruce is shown to have a random girlfriend he’s “been dating for a year” who appears in three scenes and about whom I can tell you absolutely nothing. But I don’t think there’s any way Warner would’ve let Schumacher release this movie without that. I mean, we’re talking about a movie where Batman and Robin (and later Batgirl) running around in form-complimenting rubber suits and an overabundance of lingering shots of Ivy’s boots are some of the least fetishy things about it.
I understand why I used to be pissed off that this movie turned Bane from a criminal mastermind who was intimidatingly sculpted even without venom into Ivy’s S&M-coded mindless pet. But honestly? I’m all about that now. And the scene where he’s first injected with venom is a bizarre and wonderful combination of the mad scientist trope and some super S&M vibes. God I love this movie.
I would like to see a more serious take on Poison Ivy as the sort of chillingly formidable force she was in Batman: The Animated Series, but… oh, hey, wait! I totally have Batman: The Animated Series for that. And seeing Uma ham it up here doesn’t do anything to change that, and it’s honestly fun as hell when you take it as its own thing, so why would I complain about it? I do wish that she didn’t use her vine bondage powers in just the one scene, which uh, is an opinion I have for totally story-related reasons and not anything else.
It’s no news that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze is also not the emotionally complex but intimidating adversary he is in The Animated Series, but, again, if I want that I can just watch The Animated Series! And I unironically love all of his awful ice puns. Also, I like his masked, skating, hockey stick-wielding henchmen way too much. I don’t know why I’m such a sucker for henchmen, but I really am.
You do have to shrug off this movie’s extremely superficial (and extremely 90s) “””feminism””” to enjoy it, by the way. It’s honestly pretty damn embarrassing. There are also a lot of line reads where it’s pretty clear that actors just don’t believe in their characters, especially Pat Hingle’s Commissioner Gordon, but it’s pretty easy to shrug off. Especially since most of the main cast is clearly just having the time of their lives, which doesn’t lead to anyone turning in the most compelling or complex performances of their career or anything, but it’s probably the right chord to strike with this particular kind of movie.
Despite this not being the best take on Barbara by a pretty wide margin, I still really appreciate this movie’s inclusion of the Bat-family, which has always been one of my favorite elements of any iteration of Batman in which it’s included. And no matter how much a lot of one’s enjoyment of this movie must necessarily include not taking it too seriously, there is actually a pretty great emotional through-line here about Bruce and Dick’s trust issues. It’s a story that’s been done better elsewhere, but this really isn’t an awful example of it.
I know I’ve said I really wish we had gotten some kind of Burton-directed follow-up to Batman Returns (even though I’m not usually much of a Burton fan), and that’s still true, but I also don’t want to live in a world where Schumacher’s Batman movies don’t exist. Honestly, my ideal scenario is for both of them to have made like 20 Batman movies each. And for Burton’s “Batman” movies to have turned into Catwoman movies even more blatantly than Batman Returns did.
Anyway, I love this movie, and I’m not sorry. Thank you and good night.