We Defend the Indefensible
Everyone one is familiar with Gotham’s leather-clad crime fighter, and Batman & Robin (1997) is a standout in the franchises 70+ year history. Yet, this is usually for all the wrong reasons. Director Joel Schumacher’s mid-nineties effort remains an unpopular adventure with the caped crusader. It’s universally panned by both the fandom and critics. This is unfair. Batman and Robin is the best Batman movie made.
With the new ‘The Batman’ Robert Pattinson film coming soon, has enough time passed to reassess this offering, maybe we can all come to our senses? Admittedly, this was the first film I saw in the cinema as a child, so forgive my soft spot for what is often regarded as a dumpster fire of a superhero movie. But is it actually that bad? Is it actually better than every other? Join me as explain why Batman and Robin is the best Batman movie of all time.
Cursed from the start
The year is 1997, the world is rapidly changing and Warner Brothers are fresh off the success of Batman Forever (1995). Eager to capitalise on this momentum, Warner set the release date of summer 1997 in stone, to ensure they had prime box office real estate.
Composer Elliot Goldenthal recalled to the Hollywood Reporter: “Suddenly you’re carrying what’s called the tentpole movie of the year. Which means that’s going to carry all the other movies, so you are going to open whether you have something or not. Those spots in the summer are so sought-after, it’s like, “Oh my God, I’m opening. But now I have to make something to open with… “It seems like you never have enough time, and seeing the posters all over Ventura Boulevard or Sunset Boulevard or the subways in New York, you are reminded how few days you have left to complete the project.”
Under these conditions, it becomes a bit clearer why the Batman and Robin movie currently has a score of 3.8/10 on IMDB and a dismal 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. With that caveat in place, it’s a miracle a film was even completed in this time, never mind one as iconic as this.
A return to the camp origins
Given the waters were muddy from the start, this bombastic version of Batman was a bold adaptation. Gone was Val Kilmer’s angsty Bruce Wayne and in was 90s TV Heartthrob George Colony. This immediately changed the tone of the character and introduces a softer Master Wayne. A Wayne more akin to the 1960s adaptation played by Adam West.
Whilst unaware as a child, obsessed with this movie, the flamboyant and homoerotic expects of this film are obvious now. Joel Schumacher, as an openly gay director, unapologetically rebuilt Batman with a queer gaze. From the infamous leather nipples on the bat suit and the chiselled leather muscles of the male protagonists to the nod to androgyny and drag culture. Both men and women are transformed into fantastical characters. Featuring sequined bodysuits, extreme hair dye and makeup.
Joel Schumacher had a budget of $125 million and people act like he turned Gotham into a fetish bar. What he actually did was proudly reimagine Gotham and its characters in an image that he sore fit.
Flamboyance is at the heart of the Batman and Robin movie. Even the frantic soundtrack of strings and trumpets used during the fight scenes almost resemble du nu nu nu nu BATMAN’… Ask yourself, is Mr freeze cascading over Gotham with huge icy butterfly wings, really that much different than the 1960s BATUSI’ dance numbers? I think not.
Joel Schumacher also introduced some iconic villains to the cinematic universe. There is no reliance on the Joker or Two-Face here, instead, we have some of the biggest stars of a generation reborn into pure comic book evil. This rogues gallery goes a long way to making Batman and Robin the best movie for the Dark Knight so far.
Fresh from the fame of Pulp Fiction, Uma Thurman becomes the toxic environmentalist, Poison Ivy. Whilst only a few years after being the lead in the most expensive film of all time, James Cameron’s Terminator 2, Arnold Schwarzenegger became the frozen pun-lover, Mr Freeze.
For context, Schwarzenegger was so in vogue that celebrities would come to the set just to give him gifts. Stogie Kenyatta, who played one of Mr. Freeze’s henchmen recalled, “Jon Bon Jovi came by and he brought Cuban cigars for Arnold. So Arnold had them colour it white so he could smoke it in the scenes.”
You could call the casting daring, but daring was nipples on the bat suit… this was revolutionary. Let’s not forget the fresh-faced Alicia Silverstone, plucked straight from the set of Clueless and into the Batgirl costume. Along with the introduction to Bane, yes BANE to this cinematic universe.
Ok, Bane is played as a meat-headed Frankenstein goon, that practically unrecognisable to Tom Hardy’s’ smooth-talking, dynamite enthusiast. But, in this cartoonish world, it actually makes sense. Bane is set up to be Ivys’ loyal monster as they are both unholy, accidental creations. Whilst accomplished Cryogenicist Dr Victor Fries and his band of outcasts, are simply searching for a cure for his wife’s fatal degenerative disease.
These are silly characters, but they are played by icons of a generation and given half-decent backstories as to why they are in the film. If nothing else, dastardly villains accompanied by goons are classic Batman tropes. The Batman and Robin movie does ‘comic book’ better than any of the other outings. This is the finest recreation of the outlandish energy that made this franchise famous.
This is why we CAN have nice things
Whilst my love for this film is true, I can’t deny that Nolan’s trilogy isn’t fantastic in their own right. But, if we didn’t get this fever dream of a Batman film, then the franchise wouldn’t have served an 8-year sentence in film jail’ before experiencing a full-on reboot and origin story. You have to thank this movie for The Dark Knight Trilogy.
This was the last hurrah for the world’s best detective. Eating itself alive as the cinematic capitalist machine washes it down with another happy meal toy. Since Tim Burtons two flicks, to Batman Forever and finally Batman & Robin, every incarnation was individual, inconsistent, yet an enjoyable outing. Each revelling in pure comic book fancy before the era of gritty, horror-inspired realism sunk its claws into every hero of the 2000s.
In a lot of ways, the Batman and Robin movie walked so The Dark Knight could run. It’s unfair to call it the worst of the Batman movies.
Who knew there were so many ice-related puns to be shoehorned into a comic film? Was it ridiculous? Yes. Was it memorable? Yes. If your still angry about this silly film doing silly things, then I’m afraid that might be a you problem.
Batman & Robin is a bazaar ride, but don’t mistake silly for stupid. The film is self-aware to the point of parody. It’s an old fashioned comic book tale. From the bat card’ to Robins rubber lips, but the dialogue throughout indicated that the tongue is firmly in the cheek.
The film manages to poke fun at itself for the older audiences whilst remaining an action-packed adventure for the younger. The film isn’t oblivious to its ridiculousness, it’s offering it up on the surface level. It’s laughing with you, not at you, something that has been forgotten when it comes to Batman.
Without humour and pomp, we will be left with continuous bland interpretations of this character. I fear for the upcoming ‘The Batman’ film.
Whether it’s the MCU or Deadpool, every modern comic book film has an element of humour woven into it. Yet people turn their nose up at the Batman and Robin movie because they have a preconceived idea that Batman must be the same endless gloomy cliches.
Why can’t we laugh with Batman? He’s a wealthy aristocrat detective’ that dresses like a bat to fight crime… so, why so serious?
A psychedelic Gotham
Before every superhero was based in New York, LA or sometimes a ranch, there was Gotham. A spooky, fantastical city that resembled a corrupt American setting, yet reflected the zestiest in a nightmarish underworld.
“Toyetic” was a term often used by Schumacher to describe his Gotham. A term that takes his situation of Warner Brothers demanding an easy to consume, merchandisable product. He uses it to create an empowered, glamorous setting.
The whole film is brimming with generously coloured set designs, miniatures, costumes and more. Batman & Robin is a film that deserves more recondition as a major box office comic book film. It created its fantasy set, without the reliance on digital technology.
From the camera choices to the extreme, saturated effects, the whole film is a vibrant experience. It’s oozing with colour and a fitting adaptation from a comic book. Compared to the bland colour pallets of the MCU and that the Dark Knight Trilogy and the DCEU rendered Gotham to any old U.S city. Schumacher’s Gotham was the last one loyal to the comic book fantasyland it should be.
Batman & Robin is not a perfect film and was never trying to be. It’s a cartoonish anomaly that successfully got a new generation of children into Batman. A play on the franchises past whilst blossoming in the midst of a box office cash grab.
This film took its genre to the limits and saw consumerism eat itself alive; paving the way for the golden era of comic book movies that were to follow. For that reason it’s the best Batman film there is and something that for better or worse, can never be replicated.
And that’s why Batman and Robin is the best Batman movie ever. Is there anything we missed out that you think could’ve been on this list? Or are we way out of our depth with this argument? If so, leave us a comment below.
We defend more of the indefensible HERE.
Read IMDB information about Batman and Robin HERE.
Jungle Cruise – Review
Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt swing in with force in Disney’s new Jungle Cruise. And while the movie has fun callbacks to the Disney Park ride and a clever plot, if this movie is trying to be the next Pirates of the Caribbean, it falls short. Here’s our review of Jungle Cruise.
SPOILERS: Warning there are spoilers ahead.
To be honest, I was expecting a much less creative plot from this movie. Following suit with typical adventure movies, I was expecting this film to be a less-funny version of the Jumanji reboot. But the plot has an unexpected emotional centre and a clever twist. And while the film suffers from CGI villain goopiness, it gives the CGI villains actual heart and motivations.
The film centres on Lilly (Emily Blunt), a botanist in search of a healing petal. The petal is said to be able to cure any illness and resides deep in the Amazon Rainforest. She is accompanied by her little brother, McGregor (Jack Whitehall) and their hired skipper, Frank (Dwayne Johnson).
But a curse resides around the petal. Spanish conquistador Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez) and his crew went in search of the petal four hundred years ago. The petal can only be found with an arrowhead sacred to the Umbala or Headhunter tribe of the region. When Aguirre and his crew are on the brink of death, the Umbala tribe saves them. But Aguirre betrays them to get his hands on the arrowhead, and the chief of the Umbala tribe curses Aguirre and his party. They can never stray from the river, or the rainforest will take them. For four hundred years, they’ve lain dormant, having strayed too far from the banks of the river. They cannot die.
Now the arrowhead rests with a sexist scientific community. Lilly steals the arrowhead, just before it was set to be sold to Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons). Joachim works for the German government during the height of World War One. He believes that the petal will not only bring victory to Germany, but will make him a world ruler. (How he thinks it will do that is unclear).
As Lilly, McGregor, and Frank make their way down the Amazon in search of the Petal, Joachim follows and occasionally attacks them in his submarine. Deciding he needs more help, he wakes up Aguirre, now a monster of the Amazon, and his crew. Aguirre, who is now made out of snakes, and his two colleagues, one of which is made out of honey and bees and the other mud and tee frogs, are sent on Lilly’s trail.
What happens next is the usual adventure. White water rapids, a run-in with the Umbala tribe (who become allies), submarine fights, swinging on jungle vines; you name it.
But after a run-in with Aguirre, Lilly learns the truth about Frank. In a plot twist I absolutely did not see coming, it turns out that Frank is actually Francisco, Aguirre’s cartographer. We learn that Aguirre was not looking for the petal for glory or gold, but to save his deeply ill daughter. Aguirre and Francisco grew up together, and they were willing to do anything to save his daughter. But when Aguirre betrays the Umbala tribe, Francisco tries to stop Aguirre. Francisco was also cursed to be unable to leave the riverbank, but Aguirre kept returning to fight and defeat (stab) Francisco.
Tired of constantly getting stabbed, Francisco traps Aguirre in a cave. Letting the Amazon have him and turn him into the monster he is today. Francisco then built a town on the river banks, built a boat in search of the petal, gave up, and now runs river cruises.
While the plot is very complicated, it’s easy enough to follow while watching the film. I will say that the motivations of Joachim are a little hard to follow. But the plot twist with Frank was very clever. It gives a CGI-heavy Aguirre a human heart. Now all he wants to do is break the curse and be allowed to die. To do so he needs a petal. The plot in and of itself was much more clever than I expected.
Characters and performances
One character that pleasantly surprised me was McGregor. At first, I thought he was merely queer-coded. He definitely fell into some gay stereotypes, but I thought that was all it was going to be. A guy who was subtly a little queer. But, when Frank asks him why follows Lilly, even through a jungle, he gives a surprisingly candid answer. He explains to Frank that he is gay and that Lilly is the only one who supports him.
When the world turned his back on him, she stood with him, and for that, he would “follow her into a volcano.” This is the first time I can remember that a Disney character was very, clearly openly gay. Disney has had about a dozen “first gay characters,” but all of them have been off to the side. None of them has stated their sexuality or been open about it. McGregor not only states it outright but is not ashamed of it and it is not his only character trait. He becomes brave and capable and is a good friend to both Frank and Lilly. It was really surprising to see good representation from Disney in this film.
Emily Blunt also gives a wonderful performance (as she always does). She’s headstrong and stubborn, but kind. The sexism was a little on the nose, with a tired bit about how she wears pants, but she was delightful.
And Dwayne Johnson was… okay. He plays the exact same character in every movie he’s in. And while his performance was good in this movie, I can’t help but think that another actor could have done better. He and Emily Blunt have a romance in this movie, but they have absolutely no chemistry. It was hard to believe their romance. I think another actor could have added a little more to Frank’s character. Frank is an interesting character, and another actor could have done more with him. This movie might have been better without Dwayne Johnson.
This movie also might have been better without Joachim. His motivations were really hard to follow. At the end of the day, he was just another stereotype of a German general who only complicated the plot.
It feels as though Jungle Cruise might be Disney’s attempt to re-make the magic of Pirates of the Caribbean. But I can’t see this film becoming a franchise. The first Pirates movie is masterful, with amazing rewatchability. But Jungle Cruise, while fun, is forgettable. It’s not a movie I see myself rewatching anytime soon. If this is an attempt to create a new franchise for Disney; it falls short. But, the film was fun to watch and was a good movie theatre experience.
CULTURE CROSSING SCORE 5/10
Thank you for reading our review of Jungle Cruise. Do you agree or disagree with our points or have anything to add? If so, leave us a comment below.
Read our review of Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place Part Two HERE.
Read IMDB information about Jungle Cruise HERE.
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