Batman & Robin's Comic-Book Splendor

Before computers got cheap, movies had to use physical effects. Filmmakers had to think about how their movies would look before filming was over. Completely changing the aesthetic with a new green-screen background was not possible. Do-overs were known as re-shoots, and people physically built sets that reinforced the themes of the film. One movie used every one of these tricks while lightly stepping into the CGI era: 1997’s Batman & Robin. It has the questionable distinction of being in IMDB’s bottom 100 movies. The IMDB community is dead wrong.

Batman & Robin is easily comparable to only two other movies I’ve seen: the previous Batman Forever (1995), and Speed Racer (2008). All three have been maligned by critics and audiences alike - Speed Racer tops the pack with a mediocre 6/10 on IMDB, and each film averaged 51/100 or below with critics. These films are too different and too good for most people.

I can almost start and end the explanation of why those three movies rule with “visuals”. Batman Forever has killer setpieces balanced out by normal-looking scenes. In contrast, it’s hard to think of a scene here not influenced by Mr. Freeze’s blue or Poison Ivy’s green-maroon combo.

Starting with the visuals and going all the way down, Batman & Robin swings for the fences. Often, it connects. There are few truly bad moments, because it tries so hard to achieve the campiness of old comics and the Batman TV show. Most conventionally bad moments are there as a wink to the audience. It’s lightly comedic with often-criticized gags like the “Bat Credit Card” and multiple allusions to action figures. Other parts are just all-out bluster from the director. Either you’re onboard for Bat-butt (the very first scene) or you’re not. My favorite scene was Poison Ivy’s introduction at the gala. She is always at 100% and her introduction matches. I’ve watched her intro up through her first line five times - it’s a masterpiece. It tells you everything she’s about. Her theme in the scene is show-stopping.

Mr. Freeze has two concerns - his terminally-ill wife, and making bad puns. For as thin as his character is, the wife stuff is believable and somewhat heartfelt.

The early scene with her in the cryo-tank


Screenshot of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Batman Forever. In his blue Mr. Freeze makeup, he holds a 5-inch-tall ice sculpture encased in a glass jar. The sculpture is a woman in a wedding dress and well-carved. Freeze wears striped a prison uniform and the background is a brick wall.

a later scene where Freeze carves his wife in ice

add a lot - one, to the visuals, the other, to Freeze’s character.

Comic book sensibilities carry Batman & Robin. Everything is larger-than-life, from the intense bubbling of Freeze’s cryo-experiment to the sewer motorcycle race. This is Joel Schumacher’s second Batman movie and he returns to what he likes - florescent ravers, neon, theatrical hideouts, etc. Mr. Freeze’s silvery ice makeup is phenomenal and must have been a pain to work with. This movie and Speed Racer are the only ones I think could fully work as a comic book. It’s committed to making every frame a painting.