1997: Looking Back At BATMAN & ROBIN - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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1997: Looking Back At BATMAN & ROBIN

Dominic Fellows looks back at Ratman & Bobin (well it may as well have been called that).

I suppose someone had to do write this. Is there even anything more to say on it? Maybe just one.

Batman and Robin is without doubt one of the biggest and most infamous disasters in cinema history. Not only did it end the Bat-franchise (for a time) it pretty much put a dampener on any other super-hero flick for quite some time too. So where did it go wrong? It’s not as if the film-makers didn’t know the market and the audience, ok they may have dumbed down ‘Batman Forever’ to make it more Happy Meal friendly and it’s nowhere near as good as its predecessors, but it’s ok. It has its moments, it’s enjoyable enough and was big business. Everyone’s a winner (More or less). Then someone said ‘You know all the bit’s in Batman Forever that didn’t work? Let’s do a whole movie of them’. That’s probably not how it was, but if you watch all the 90s Batman Movies in quick succession, the shift is very (and abhorrently) apparent. ‘Batman’ is very true to the source and clearly inspired by original late 30s/early 40s comics. Batman Returns makes a huge leap and becomes the Batman of its time, i.e. very 90s (The animated series that followed was heavily inspired by the look of this film - The Penguin in particular). ‘Batman Forever’ goes back to the source and so the natural route for it to take is the late 40s and 50s. The decade that would inspire ‘Batman and Robin’ is becoming horribly apparent… you guessed it! The 60s!

I love 60s Batman as much as the next geek, but that’s because it was a spoof! By 1997 we had come to expect a certain level of darkness form The Dark Knight (duh!). Also in the 60s the production values suited the tone. And one of B&R’s biggest mistakes is that it has a huge mid-90s Hollywood budget that visually leads the audience to believe it will be in the same tone as it predecessor. Then we get this;
‘This is why Superman works alone.’
Admittedly, this is self-aware, but not too ‘on the nose’ and for me that’s the problem. As a 90s update of 60s Batman, B&R is actually (and I can’t believe I’m about to type this) … quite good. The trouble is, it isn’t ‘on the nose’ enough. It’s essentially a spoof of a spoof (a questionable practice if ever there was one), but imagine if it had been marketed as such, more serious fans would have avoided it and anyone else might have approached it in the right spirit. Alternatively, if the humour had been more overt, we might have got the joke. Imagine for example if the opening scene went something more like this;
BATMAN: This is why Superman works alone.
ROBIN:  Batman... I don’t think I can do this anymore 
BATMAN:  Every hero feels that way sometimes Robin. It goes with the job.  
ROBIN:  It’s not that 
BATMAN:  What is it?
ROBIN:  It’s just… What are we doing? We are two grown men wandering around at night, in tight outfits and capes, we look silly! 
BATMAN:  You mustn’t think like that Robin 
ROBIN:  And why do you call me Robin when no one else is around? Are you afraid of revealing my identity to yourself? My name is Richard! 
BATMAN:  Shsssh Robin, you never know who might be listening. 
ROBIN:  No one’s listening you paranoid psycho!  
BATMAN:  What are you trying to say exactly? 
ROBIN:  I’m saying that maybe we’ve been doing this way longer than we should have been; it wouldn’t be so bad but why do we have to wear these tight-fitting, uncomfortable costumes with nipples on? And another thing, what on earth is a man of Alfred’s age doing in a dark cave making revealing, tight clothing for nubile young men?!  
ALFRED:  I took the liberty sir  
ROBIN:  You know they write books about guys like us, Seduction of the innocent! 
BATMAN: We can get drive through.
ROBIN:  Let’s go!

Now something of that nature perhaps might have set it up as a comedy and thus knocked the expectation down a couple of notches. Although having said that, it’s not as if the comedy element comes off too well either, good taste forbids me from quoting any of Arnie’s Ice-puns and the Bat-credit card is inexcusable. I wasn’t aware there was a Bat-bank that issued credit, and why would he need it? He’s a millionaire for goodness sake and wouldn’t having a government establishment such as a bank leave a paper trail of all his exploits as Batman? Still it does explain where he got his ‘Bat-loose change’ that he threw at Two-Face in the previous film from. With hindsight that moment really is an indicator isn’t it?
TWO-FACE: Ha ha! I’m going to kill you!
BATMAN: Hold on! You’re indecisive, remember?
TWO-FACE: Oh Gosh, silly me! I forgot. Hold on a sec while I flip my coin.
BATMAN throws handful of coins at TWO-FACE
TWO-FACE: AAAARRGH! Who would have thought that a handful of loose change would fall on me!
The marketing campaign didn’t help either, with trailers cut and presented in the deliciously melodramatic fashion we were accustomed too. Then there was the obligatory ‘Music-used-for-a-second-in-the-background-that-you-didn’t-even-notice-until-we-put-it-on-a-soundtrack Soundtrack’ AKA ‘From and Inspired By’. Which I have to say, with artists likes of REM, Jewel and the Goo-Goo Dolls isn’t half bad. It’s certainly better than the film that supposedly inspired it. The main theme song was by The Smashing Pumpkins for crying out loud! There’s definitely an alternative vibe to it. Well until R Kelly turns up on the end credits.

And that pretty much sums it up. Is it family fluff? Or an alternative take on a popular franchise. Sadly it’s both, a compromise that satisfies no one. Still, if one approaches it in the right spirit, like it’s 60s predecessor, it can be kind of fun, and as a step-by-step guide on how NOT to make a movie, it’s faultless!

Dominic Fellows is an actor and writer from Birmingham in the UK. He is also producer of the group Stripped Down Theatre (find them on Facebook). His shows have had more than one or two ‘geeky gags’ in them.  

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