It may have shifted a fair few toys and given us some great Arnie lines to recite, but Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin will mainly be remembered as a franchise killer. What Tim Burton began with the luscious, gothic brace of Batman and Batman Returns, Schumacher well and truly wrote off with the colourful crapness of Batman & Robin.
The Bat-franchise managed to live on after Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones chewed the scenery into tiny little pieces during Batman Forever, but Bat-nipples, “cool party!”, and Alfred making a skin-tight costume for his niece was just too much for the series to survive.
Nowadays, if reviewers savage a film, the cast and crew come out and defend it. They say things like ‘we made this for the fans, not those heartless meat-sacks known as critics.’ But enough time has gone by since Batman & Robin that everyone’s now being brutally honest about it. Some have outright apologised for the film, and others have tried to stand up for its merits…
Joel Schumacher was a hot talent when he landed the Batman gig, coming off the back of the Oscar-nominated crime drama The Client. But by the time the Warner Bros ‘make blockbusters, sell toys’ machine spat him out, he was an object of much derision from fans of DC’s caped crusader.
Mr Schumacher has addressed fans a number of times since Batman & Robin, notably apologising on video (see above) to anyone that came out of the film disappointed. He only ever wanted to entertain us, Schumacher insisted.
More recently, as you may have seen all over the internet this past week, Schumacher dished out another apology during a phone interview with Vice.
“Look, I apologise,” said the director, twenty years after Batman & Robin first showed us rubber-clad Clooney arse up on the big screen. “I want to apologize to every fan that was disappointed because I think I owe them that.”
Schumacher also admitted that he has to shoulder a fair bit of the blame for how the film turned out. He told Vice: “A lot of it was my choice. No one is responsible for my mistakes but me.”
The full interview, which goes into a lot of detail (even about the nipples), is well worth a read. You can find it here.
No one has been more scathingly candid about Batman & Robin than its star George Clooney, who was best known for his work on E.R. before squeezing into the Bat-suit. It’s fair to say that his career bounced back after Batman.
In 2015, while promoting Tomorrowland on Graham Norton’s sofa (see above, where the Bat-chat starts at about 01:35), Clooney revealed that he “always apologise[s] for Batman & Robin.”
“I actually thought I’d destroyed the franchise, until they… somebody else brought it back, years later, and changed it.” That would be triple Oscar-nominee Christopher Nolan – who changed the superhero landscape with the Dark Knight trilogy – that he’s talking about there.
“I thought, at the time, this was gonna be a very good career move”, Clooney admitted, before adding, “It wasn’t.”
Speaking at San Diego Comic Con before that TV interview took place, Clooney gave some very specific apologies during the Tomorrowland panel. “Sorry about the nipples on the suit,” he said. And also, “Freeze, Freeze! I apologise for that one.” He also revealed that he apologised to Adam West backstage before the panel.
Although he hasn’t gone as far as issuing a verbal apology, Robin actor Chris O’Donnell has had some negative things of his own to say about Batman & Robin.
“There was a lot of waste”, he lamented, looking back on his second film as Dick Grayson during an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “I felt it wasn’t tight and it wasn’t thought out. People just got greedy.”
“And everyone dealt with it differently,” he added, talking about the backlash. “Some people became very reclusive about it and freaked out by it. I thought George handled it great. He was like, ‘Well, we killed the franchise,’ and funny about it. For me, I will always look back with fond memories. But of course, I’m not as proud of the second one as I was of the first one.”
O’Donnell is also quoted as saying, by Flickering Myth, that “It just felt like everything got a little soft the second time. On Batman Forever, I felt like I was making a movie. The second time, I felt like I was making a kid’s toy commercial.” Holy brutal honesty, Batman!
Clueless put Alicia Silverstone on the map in a big way, so it’s no surprise that she landed a huge blockbuster role off the back of it: playing Barbara Wilson, aka Batgirl, in Batman & Robin. And, to be fair, the problems in the film weren’t her fault at all. She owes us no apology.
But still, Silverstone came out recently and – to a degree – smack-talked her own work in the film. “I feel like I could do a much better Batgirl than I did then”, she told USA Today. “It would be fun to tackle it again, because I’m older and my acting is better. I know I would bring so much more to it”.
If you read between the lines with that one, there’s an implication that her performance in Batman & Robin was subpar. But, as we noted earlier, the problems with the film hardly fall on Silverstone’s shoulders. Moving on, then…
Akiva Goldsman picked up the Oscar for best adapted screenplay in 2001 (for A Beautiful Mind), but a few years earlier he was the sole credited writer on both Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. He went on to become a behemoth of a writer/producer, and he’s recently scripted The Dark Tower.
But, naturally, the film fan community isn’t going to let Goldsman get a free pass on his franchise-killing Bat-double-bill. The LA Times asked him about it back in 2009, and Goldsman offered a surprisingly honest appraisal one what went wrong with those films.
Here’s an extract from the LA Times’ article…
“What got lost in Batman & Robin is the emotions aren’t real,” Goldsman said, picking his words carefully. “The worst thing to do with a serious comic book is to make it a cartoon. I’m still answering for that movie with some people.”
Again, that isn’t an apology per se, that it’s interesting to see that the film’s writer, director and a fair few of its stars are now openly admitting that the film didn’t work. Perhaps, in a couple of decades time, we’ll be able to read honest inside track insights on modern disappointments such as Suicide Squad.
But still, there are a few people from the cast and crew that refuse to slam Batman & Robin…
Producer Peter MacGregor Scott – who oversaw both Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, behind the scenes – refused to be drawn into a debate when Crave Online asked him about the public perception of the film, and how there was some positivity around Batman Forever but utter vitriol for Batman & Robin.
“I can’t answer that question”, he said, when asked ‘how does that happen?’ “I don’t have a significant answer to that. I think it’s just the whim of the population.” The closest he came to admitting fault or apologising was in saying “I think we were a step behind.”
MacGregor-Scott hasn’t enjoyed the same post-Batman success as Goldsman or Schumacher. The most recent feature he’s credited on is the 2006 Kevin Costner flick The Guardian.
Poison Ivy herself, the mighty Uma Thurman, also won’t be drawn into slagging off the film. While she was promoting Nymphomaniac in 2014, a Huffington Post interviewer mentioned Batman & Robin’s notoriously ‘campy’ tone, and Thurman shot down the use of that term as a derogatory describer.
“Well,” she said, “it came out in a different time when people were still being bitchy about campy. Humor being campy and campy being a code word for gay has changed. I think one of the most beautiful things I will get to say I’ve witnessed in my lifetime is to have lived through part of the major movement of trying to quell persecution of human beings who have a different sexual orientation.”
Later, she added this: “I think at the time the idea of taking a male superhero and having fun with it and someone using the c-word [campy] on it caused people to be very nasty. And that kind of nastiness was acceptable on those terms. And I think that’s the reason some people were particularly annoyed. They didn’t like seeing that tone applied to their heterosexual male icon.”
Thurman went on to state that “what Joel [Schumacher] did was actually very threatening at the time”, implying that – to some extent – the finger of blame for the film’s failure should be pointed at the 1990s’ perception of camp.
“I don’t regret it at all”, Arnie told Empire back in 2012, on the topic of his notorious turn as Mr Freeze in Batman & Robin. “I felt that the character was interesting and two movies before that one Joel Schumacher was at his height. So the decision-making process was not off. At the same time I was doing Eraser over there and Warner Bros begged me to do the movie.”
“In most cases I don’t regret the movies that failed or were not as good,” the Austrian icon added, with Empire describing his tone as “defiantly unrepentant”.
“It’s always easy to be smug in hindsight, right? To look back and say, ‘Oh man, I should have tweaked that script a little bit or had a different ending.’ But when you’re me, you can never complain. Because with the ride I have taken in my life, from the time I came off the farm in Austria to here today and all the things that I’ve accomplished, I really cannot complain about anything.”
What a guy. Mr Schwarzenegger has a very humble and refreshing way of looking at things. Warm-hearted, you could say. Victor Fries would not approve.