Batman & Robin: The Film That Killed A Franchise - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Batman & Robin: The Film That Killed A Franchise

Tom Pheby looks back at one of the most maligned superhero films in history, and where the franchise would have gone next.

1997 is thought to be a bad year for The Bat, for that was the year that Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin came to the big screen and effectively killed the franchise.

It was a dreadfully glossy, wishy washy attempt to put a comic on the big screen and remains a complete turkey by Hollywood's standards. You know you're in trouble when Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is the best thing on offer (not inclduing Uma Thurman in a skin tight costume that is).

Lets deal with some issues; the script was awful, the fight scenes were comical and had me looking for the wires, and the relationship between Batman and Robin was simply a rehash of the 60's television series, minus the charm or appeal.

George Clooney must have borrowed David Coulthards chin for this full-on camp shenanigans, and was surely thankful that he was hidden in a rubber outfit - complete with nipples!

On its release, Batman & Robin came in for a barrage of deserved abuse, with reviewers using words such as 'unbearable', 'mindlessly overwhelming', 'clueless' and my own personal favourite 'cornball'. These were just some of the more polite outbursts relating to this gigantic cow pat which even George Clooney is still apologising for 18 years later.
“I always apologize for Batman & Robin"
He said this year and added
“I thought at the time this was going to be a very good career move. Um, it wasn’t.”
He probably still cringes at the mere mention of it and rues the day he signed on the dotted line. Yet, today, Clooney enjoys a status that few can aspire to after making such a well publicised crock.

On the other hand, someone else must have been touched by the 'stick of good fortune' because Val Kilmer, that well known movie misfit and Hollywood's favourite dunderhead, avoided appearing in this sequel by the skin of his teeth, opting to star in the equally maligned movie 'The Saint'. I know someone who worked on set of 'The Saint' who told me of a scene where Val (Simon Badtempler) had to go on his knees and scamper through water in a suit. First Val objected to the waters temperature, they got another suit. Then he wanted something underneath the suit to keep him warm, they got another suit. He then wanted the tank padded ... yet another suit, after which he demanded knee protectors ... you get the idea. The makers should have kept the suit and thrown Val away, or hung him out to dry!. Which is probably the same as what would've happened if he had appeared in Batman & Robin.

Prior to release of Batman & Robin, studio executives were so impressed by Schumachers film (what were they drinking?) that they told him that he would be back in the directors chair for the next instalment. Schumacher was delighted (grateful more like) and wanted the next Batman film to be much darker, more along the lines of the Christopher Nolan trilogy. So plans were supposedly in the development stages for a follow up. There were two possible options looked at, the first of which was 'Batman - Year One'.

'Batman - Year One' would've been based on the 1987 American comic book story arc published by DC Comics which focuses on Batman's emergence as a crime-fighter. It was written by Frank Miller, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli and appeared in issues #404 to #407. It had gained critical acclaim and is featured high on the list of many rankings. IGN Comics ranked it number 2 of the top 25 greatest Batman graphic novels ever, just behind "The Dark Knight Returns", which unsurprisingly was also by Miller.

Film Director Darren Aronofsky was also linked with this project, but probably viewed Batman films as something of a poison chalice and smartly gave it a wide birth, churning out a series of quality movies such as The Wrestler and Black Swan. On reflection, Batman - Year One sounds great. The kind of film we'd all like to see, but if Schumacher had been involved who knows what we may have ended up with.

The second possibility was 'Batman Unchained' also referred to as 'Batman Triumphant'. The script by Mark Protosevich, the writer of I Am Legend, would have seen Batman hallucinating and being put on trial by past villains, and included cameos from Jim Carrey, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, and even Jack Nicholson (hopefully) reprising his role as The Joker.

Now before you get all worked up by the loss of both those options, Schuey was intent on retaining the services of Clooney, O'Donnel and Silverstone in their respective roles. Now, suddenly, none of the above seems as appealing, does it?

On the flip side, nutty Nick Cage was said to have been the favourite to play Scarecrow in 'Unchained', which may have made it delightfully eccentric. Remember Face off as Castor Troy? Overacting to the max!

But none of this matters, Batman & Robin was mauled so aggressively that the studio ran for cover and shelved the idea of any sequel. Schumacher has said in his defence that he was under pressure to make a 'family friendly' film which would allow the studio to cash in on a range of toys, similar to Star Wars, but I doubt any self respecting child would have wanted a memento from the unholy travesty that ended up on the screen.

Even all these years later, Batman & Robin remains a dreadful experience, and it's hard work trying to find anything positive about it. No matter how many people apologise it never seems to make it any better. 

It's a pity that the series took such a drastic turn away from the disturbing madness of Tim Burton's vision. But then again, if it hadn't have stunk quite so badly then Schumacher may have continued with the franchise, never giving Christopher Nolan the chance to pick up the baton and make his memorable trilogy of films. So there's something positive about Batman & Robin!

Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter

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