Superheroes: Batman & Robin

free stats

Contrary to its reputation as a garish, headache-inducing day-glo nightmare, Batman & Robin is, in fact, a sensitive, heartfelt examination of power, frailty, family, humanity’s custody of the earth, the ties that bind and the mysterious ways of the human heart.

I kid, of course. Batman & Robin, as every schoolboy knows, is ridiculous. A ludicrous traffic-jam of a narrative, it makes no goddamn sense whatsoever from any conceivable point of view. However, that does not mean it is unworthy of study. To paraphrase Charlie Brown, if one learns more from one’s mistakes, that must make Batman & Robin the smartest narrative ever created.

No fewer than six main characters vault into the narrative of Batman & Robin, each with his or her own agenda. Some of these agendas cohere into a compelling, thematically-linked narrative.  Others, well, not so much.

BRUCE WAYNE barely manages to hold on to the "protagonist" status he achieved in Forever — he’s closer to a traffic cop here, trying to balance the life of a busy industrial captain with the life of a superhero. In Batman & Robin he must cope with a vengeful ex-employee, a bickering super-partner, a dying servant, a fractious love-life and a sneaky houseguest — as well as attending no fewer than three charity events. Oh, and he has to save the world, of course, when his schedule allows. Given all this, it’s small wonder that Bruce’s main issue in the narrative is one of control. Bruce’s desire for control, the narrative says, stems from the shock of his parents’ death, but with all the crap being flung at him in this movie, his parents’ death feels utterly beside the point.

DICK GRAYSON, meanwhile, develops into something like an antagonist for Bruce.  Dick is chafing under Bruce’s desire for control (Dick is also chafing, most likely, under his rubber pants, but that’s another story), and says he wants his own "Robin signal." Dick forgets, of course, that the Bat-signal is lit by the police commissioner in times of emergency, it’s not a theater marquee. (Speaking of which, I admit that I’m a little mystified by the Commissioner Gordon of the Mark I Batmanmovies. The police department of these movies seems to have no role whatsoever in fighting crime in Gotham City, and Gordon does little besides ask Batman for help and look confused. Batman & Robin does not improve the situation.) Dick’s adolescent desire for independence comes to a head when Poison Ivy shows up to divide and conquer the dynamic duo.  By the end of the movie, Dick has learned to trust his mentor, to not trust older women, and to welcome aboard a teenage girl to the team.  No way that could lead to anything bad.

MR. FREEZE wants to cure his beloved wife Nora from the deadly disease she’s got. A brilliant doctor, Freeze’s plan is: stage a series of heists, which will afford him a cache of enormous diamonds. Some of these diamonds he will use to power the special suit he needs to stay alive, some of them will be used to build a giant whatsit that will transform the Gotham Observatory telescope into a giant freeze-gun. With Gotham hostage and the world next, Freeze will then demand the money he needs to continue his research. Yes, that’s right, that is his plan. He’s a brilliant doctor working on a cure for a deadly disease, and his plan for getting research funding is to hold a city hostage with a giant freeze gun made with enormous diamonds.  Let’s go through that one again. He’s a brilliant doctor, and he’s already figured out a cure for certain stages of this deadly disease, but that is not enough to attract funding for his research. He’s developed the technology to build a freeze-gun, but the patents for that device are not enough to attract funding for his research. He’s staged dozens of robberies in order to steal hundreds of diamonds, but the value of the diamonds themselves are not enough to fund his research. He’s figured out how to turn a telescope into a giant freeze-gun that could potentially destroy the world, but again, it’s a dead end — no funding could possibly come from gigantic-freeze-gun technology. No, to build the giant freeze-gun and hold the world hostage — this is the only way to get the funding he needs to continue his research to save his beloved wife.  Once again: Mr. Freeze intends to 1) steal a bunch of enormous diamonds, 2) use those enormous diamonds to fuel his suit/build a giant freeze gun, 3) use the giant freeze gun to hold the world for ransom, and therefore collect the money he needs to fund the research that will save his wife’s life.  Once he has his money, he will be free to devote his life to pure research.  Once he has installed his giant freeze-gun in the Gotham Observatory and held the world for ransom, then he will finally have the money — and the time, and the peace and quiet — he needs to complete his research. 

POISON IVY loves plants. She feels that humans are bad and plants are good. Therefore, she will team up with Mr. Freeze to cover the earth in a blanket of ice. Because then, and only then, will plants be able to reclaim the planet and — um, wait a minute…

ALFRED is dying — coincidentally, of the same disease that felled Nora Freeze. He’s looking for his brother, Wilfred, to come and replace him in the vital job as Batman’s butler. (Not too long ago, Alfred was urging Bruce to give up all this Batman bullshit. Now he talks about it as though serving Batman is the greatest honor of his life. By the time The Dark Knight comes along, Alfred will be kicking Bruce’s ass and telling him to stop being such a pussy. Alfred changes his mind a lot about how he feels about this Batman thing.)

BARBARA PENNYWORTH is Alfred’s niece. She has come to Gotham City to get Alfred out of Wayne Manor before he dies. To do so, she must compete in an illegal underground motorcycle rally. Later, she will find out that Alfred is Batman’s butler,and forget all about her vow to get him out of Wayne Manor. Instead, she will become a sudden instant crime-fighter. I think Visconti once made a movie with this same plot.

Hey, did you know that Batman villain BANE is in this movie? He is! Unfortunately, he doesn’t have an agenda, he just follows Poison Ivy around (and, later, Mr. Freeze) and repeats his bosses’ commands in one-world reductions like "Bomb" and "Kill." Few things in the cinematic Batman world depress me more than the sight of Bane acting as, yes, chauffer to Poison Ivy.

Just as much of Batman Forever‘s problems stem from the decision to make The Riddler its main antagonist, Batman & Robin‘s troubles begin with Mr. Freeze.  Because Mr. Freeze makes no goddamned sense, it follows that the rest of the narrative will follow suit. He fell into a vat of cold stuff, and therefore he can only live in sub-zero temperatures. Mr. Freeze is a cool (sorry) idea that has been retro-fitted to make some kind of bullshit pseudo-science sense. Once you bring that level of who-cares silliness to your narrative, you’ve got to bring the rest of the story up to that level or else your premise won’t make sense any more.  An entire universe of bullshit must be created in order to sell your initial premise.  And so in Batman & Robin we have not one but two villains who are created when they fall in pools of deadly liquid, a third who becomes a big strong guy when pumped full of toxins, a getaway car that, for some reason, comes with a built-in rocketship, a prison cell that comes with a "cold zone," a personalized Batman credit card, a stuffed dinosaur in an art museum, and on and on, absurdity after absurdity piling up as high as the colossal statues that tower over Gotham.

If nothing else, Batman & Robin is the purest example I can think of of the Somehow Syndrome. When a movie wants a narrative effect but doesn’t want to do the work to get there, things just happen "somehow." Somehow Mr. Freeze’s suit is powered by dumping handfuls of diamonds into a hole in the sleeve, somehow Pamela Isley is buried alive in a pit of plant toxins and is re-born as the deadly Poison Ivy, somehow a telescope can be turned into a freeze-gun, and somehow a few strokes on a computer keyboard will turn the freeze-gun into a heat ray. Somehow Barbara gets into the Batcave, somehow the dying Alfred anticipates her every move and makes for her a bat-suit, somehow Batman can show up for a celebrity auction sponsored by Bruce Wayne without anyone catching on to his true identity. There’s a somehow every minute in Batman & Robin, including "somehow this script got green-lit."

Obviously, it is not a movie to be taken seriously, but it truly sets an all-time record for what-the-hell-ness. The 1966 Batman is a sober, clear-eyed procedural in comparison. Audiences roundly rejected it when it came out, which I think is a good thing — I can’t imagine where the series could have gone if it had been a hit. Just as we needed George W. Bush to prove to us that we needed Barack Obama, perhaps we needed Batman & Robin to prove to us that we needed Batman Begins.

The design elements, which were clearly meant to be the movie’s calling card, mostly leave me cold (sorry). The one exception, I feel, is Mr. Freeze’s makeup — not his ridiculous Disco-Tin-Man suit, mind you, but his actual make-up, which I actually find rather compelling.

I will leave you with this, because it cracks me up every time.


35 Responses to “Superheroes: Batman & Robin”
  1. Just as we needed George W. Bush to prove to us that we needed Barack Obama, perhaps we needed Batman & Robin to prove to us that we needed Batman Begins.
    I feel dirty contemplating the level of truth in that statement. Like a piece of me dies inside if I have to admit the Bush presidency (or this atrocious film) could have possibly brought about anything positive, even by way of sucking so hard reality had to forcibly bounce back the other way.

  2. laminator_x says:

    There’s a similar video to the one you posted that has Victor’s repetition intercut with Schumacher apologizing in an interview to fans of Batman Forever who didn’t find Batman & Robin entertaining.

  3. stormwyvern says:

    A word to anyone contemplating watching Batman and Robin: I’m not going to suggest that you don’t, since I think watching the occasional really bad movie can increase your appreciation of good movies (and even some mediocre ones) as well as reminding you what not to do should you be inclined to pursue filmmaking yourself. I would suggest taking a few precautions to ensure a fun viewing experience. One is to know ahead of time that it really is quite bad. If you’ve read Todd’s comments on it, this shouldn’t be a problem. Getting a group of friends – who have also been forewarned that the film is very bad – is also a good idea. The method we used, which ended up working out pretty well, was to rent a whole bunch of other movies featuring Arnold and have a Schwartseneggerathon, effectively sandwiching Batman and Robin in between a bunch of far better films and lessening its impact of suck. Of the films we had, we liked The Running Man and Commando best. Predator was pretty good too, though I was too tired by that point to really appreciate it. And of course, you should mock Batman and Robin as much as possible. If you need help getting started, we began buy shouting “Ass! Balls! Ass! Balls!” during the shots of such in the opening “suit-up” scene.

    Loathe as I am to say much of anything positive about this movie, I do agree upon a second look that Arnold’s actual blue makeup is pretty decent, though the effect is greatly lessened by his silver monstrosity of a costume, made all the worse in light of the top-notch Mr. Freeze design from the Animated Series.

    And I agree mostly that Bane is a complete waste, though he does kind of provide a voice for the audience, who by that point in the movie were probably thinking thoughts along the lines of “bomb” and “kill.”

  4. pjamesharvey says:

    Mr Freeze’s genius being sidetracked is echoed in Spider-Man 2, with Dr Octavius. When he presents his miracle fusion-containment device he immediately beforehand dons a protoype of the most incredible multi-functional arms, which can interface directly with a person’s brain stem for control, made of a metal that is light enough for a human to wear yet will withstand the immense heat of a fusion reaction.

    I believe he even announces at least half of this to the reporters, who all shrug it off as nothing important and want to see the fusion experiment. It’s mind boggling.

    • laminator_x says:

      I believe the material in question is called “Handwavium.”

    • chronoso says:

      the metal is also non-magnetic. and not just non-magnetic like “cant pick up a soda can with a fridge magnet” non-magnetic, they’re “completely unaffected by the magnetic field of a fusion reaction that the character points out is in a magnetic force field

      …also, the failsafe keep-things-from-going-wrong part is a highly exposed, apparently easily broken crystal diode?

      come to think of it, maybe the reason they’re not an accomplishment on the scale of creating a small star is that they seemingly cause the user to go all evil insane. oops, that’s a Mark I design flaw right there..

  5. chrispiers says:

    Thanks, Todd. That was a fun read.

    I doubt there’s ever been a superhero movie as incomprehensible. Well, I suppose League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comes close.

    • laminator_x says:

      That’s interesting. While LXG had problems, I didn’t find it incomprehensible. Awkward and stiff, yes, but I could usually tell what was happening and why.

      My biggest fault with LXG was that if Tom Sawyer hadn’t introduced himself as such, nothing in his characterization would have remotely suggested that’s who he was.

      • chrispiers says:

        I should have taken a moment to be more clear. I meant incomprehensible to really understand why it was the way it was. You have a great blueprint that apparently was tossed right out the window. Yes, I understood the plot. But the whole thing was a big mess.

      • greyaenigma says:

        Topped only slightly by the fact that Tom Sawyer was in the movie at all.

        • laminator_x says:

          I’d disagree. I think the radical changes to Alan and Mina were worse in principle than adding a token American.

          If you’re going to add a token American, “What if Tom Sawyer grew up to be a secret agent?” is a pretty good idea. Sadly, they botched it.

          • Todd says:

            I think we can all agree that LXG would have been better if I had written it.

            • Anonymous says:

              Considering James Robinson’s almost exalted status among comics fans for his very good work on “Starman,” I’ve always wondered how he could botch the LXG script so very, very badly. I expect the execs had a lot of notes…

              — N.A.

  6. sean_tait says:


    I had given up reading comics for cheap, second-hand Michael Moorcock novels back when Bane debuted, so (thanks to this movie and that awful Mexican wrestling-inspired mockery of the character on BtAS)for over 15 years I mistakenly thought Bane was supposed to be a brainless uber-thug. Imagine my surprise, thanks to his eye-opening portrayal in Gail Simone’s brilliant “Secret Six,” to learn Bane was originally intended as an inverted pastiche of Doc Savage: a polymath who combines physical strength with a focused mind. It must be that costume of his that makes people want to portray him as mindless; Simone, admittedly, has him unmasked most of the time.

    • woodandiron says:

      Re: Bane

      While the accent of the Bane presented in BtAS is a tad ridiculous, the rest of the portrayal of him is done very well. He isn’t a mindless thug in the cartoon.

      • sean_tait says:

        Re: Bane

        He wasn’t much better than a thug in his first appearance (“Bane”), and that’s the appearance I meant. In the “new look” episodes that aired in The New Batman/Superman Adventures he was much improved (especially in “Over the Edge”). Because “Bane” was made closer to the character’s first appearance in the comics I assumed (mistakenly) that Timm and company were doing their usual respectful job of translating the character when in fact they weren’t. I actually the thought the new and improved S&M Bane of the later episodes was Timm and Dini improving the character, rather than just being truer to his original incarnation.

        And speaking of being truer to original incarnations, the tragic and interesting Mr. Freeze is the Timmverse improvement on a character who was legitimately derided by the Joker as a second-rate Captain Cold. It’s ironic that Schumaker and friends managed to turn him back into a farce. The only way Mr. Freeze makes sense is if he’s not a medical doctor or surgeon (like in the animated series) and therefore can’t save his wife himself.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: Bane

      The first episode of B:TAS that introduces Bane is poorly written, but the character himself gets a huge boost from the dulcet tones of Henry Silva, about whose badassitude as a character actor Netflix has happily enlightened me. By the time Bane returns, again voiced chillingly by Silva, in “Over the Edge,” I’d argue he’s as frightening and compelling a villain as any in the run of the series. “Say hello to dear Barbara for me.” Brrrr.

      To me, Batman and Robin’s greatest crime is taking the exact same Mr. Freeze origin that the animated series made heartrendingly poignant, and turning it into an embarrassment. After seeing “Terminator 2,” I believed that there was a good actor lurking somewhere deep within Schwarzenegger, and I foolishly hoped that he’d actually get some good pathos to play as Freeze. Silly, silly me.

      — N.A.

  7. curt_holman says:

    Victor Fries

    “Because Mr. Freeze makes no goddamned sense, it follows that the rest of the narrative will follow suit.”

    How would you compare Batman & Robin’s treatment of Mr. Freeze to the animated film Subzero? Subzero has its share of outlandishness — Mr. Freeze can apparently move inconspicuously about Gotham City, despite wearing his cold-temperature diving suit and being in the company of a pair of well trained polar bears — but I thought Mr. Freeze was a much more intriguing and poignant character there. I love details like Mr. Freeze hanging around the Arctic in his bathing trunks, unbothered by the cold.

    It’s funny to me that Mr. Freeze’s real name is ‘Dr. Victor Fries’ (pronounced “Freeze”), yet he goes by MR. Freeze as his villain name. Maybe he’s a Ph.D., not an M.D., so he doesn’t get hung up over the Mr./Dr. thing.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: Victor Fries

      Poking around Wikipedia, I learned that Mr. Freeze was originally called Mr. Zero. The name “Mr. Freeze” came from the 1960s TV show, which I’m guessing wanted a name that more directly reflected the character’s gimmick. If I’m understanding right, Mr. Freeze’s real name on the 60s TV show was either Dr. Schimmel or Dr. Schivel. So it seems like the idea that “Fries/Freeze” was both his supervillain alias and his last name wasn’t a concern until his appearance on the animated series. I’m kind of suprised they didn’t rename him “Dr. Freeze” since I think it actually sounds bit cooler (pardon the expression), but I guess tradition wins out. Anyway, as far as the animated series and its follow-ups went, Batman generally seemed to call him “Freeze” or “Fries” (impossible to tell without a script) once he knew who he was, which made it something of a moot poitn.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: Victor Fries

        They should have kept it as Mr. Zero, mainly because Mr. Freeze sounds like the name of a friendly purveyor of ice cream instead of a supervillian. Bonus points for promoting the metric system.

  8. misterseth says:

    Somehow Mr. Freeze’s suit is powered by dumping handfuls of diamonds into a hole in the sleeve, somehow Pamela Isley is buried alive in a pit of plant toxins and is re-born as the deadly Poison Ivy, somehow a telescope can be turned into a freeze-gun, and somehow a few strokes on a computer keyboard will turn the freeze-gun into a heat ray. Somehow Barbara gets into the Batcave, somehow the dying Alfred anticipates her every move and makes for her a bat-suit, somehow Batman can show up for a celebrity auction sponsored by Bruce Wayne without anyone catching on to his true identity. There’s a somehow every minute in Batman & Robin, including “somehow this script got green-lit.”

    And SOMEHOW, despite being connected to this turkey of a film, Arnie and Jesse Ventura (who played an Arkham guard) had significant political careers (Arnie is of courst the Governor of California, and Jesse was the Governor of Minnesota.
    And yes I DO know that both actors starred together in Predator and Running Man, but they were nowhere near as terrible as this film.

  9. r_sikoryak says:

    I clearly remember watching this, and during one of Poison Ivy’s monologues, I started scanning the edges of the screen, looking for something, ANYTHING that could keep me from dying of embarrassment. It looked so expensive and over-designed, I assumed there must be something in the set’s bric-a-brac that would be interesting…

    I think it was Anthony Lane who described the movie as “a monstrosity of nothingness.”

    Many years later, I heard an interview with Joel Schumacher. He sounded like a nice guy. And he was still apologizing for the movie.