Almost twenty years later and Joel Schumacher’s two Batman movies – Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997) – remain some of the most debated motion pictures in all of popular culture.
The films, and especially their director, are now considered the bastard stepchildren of the Batman franchise, transforming a beloved character and comic book mythology into a campy mess full of product placement, nipples and childish jokes. Batman Forever has a few defenders, but Batman & Robin is still considered one of the worst movies ever made. It is popularly believed that the films don’t make any sense, and don’t “work” in any particular way, shape or form.
But here at CraveOnline, we respectfully disagree. While Batman Forever and Batman & Robin may never be great or even particularly good movies, they do make sense if you pay attention to the details, and even Batman & Robin can be a lot of fun… if you look at it in a very specific way.
So how can you make the Joel Schumacher Batman movies work for you? Read on…
Watch all the 1990s Batman movies in a row and you’re bound to encounter a problem. At some point between Batman Returns and Batman Forever, practically every single thing about Gotham City changes. The architecture, the lighting, the villains, the attitudes of the townsfolk… even Batman himself segued from a mysterious vigilante to a public spectacle who decks his car out in neon and brandishes a Bat Credit Card.
These jarring changes don’t sit well with serious geeks, who often bend over backwards to make connections between beloved characters and smooth over plot holes within their favorite continuities. We’re no exception here at CraveOnline, because we’ve come up with the answer to how this…
…turned into this.
Gotham City’s Conundrum:
Watch Batman and Batman Returns again and you’ll notice a recurring theme: Gotham City is in serious trouble. Tourists are staying away in droves, leading the city officials to sponsor parades and Christmas tree lighting ceremonies in a desperate attempt to put the city back on the map. It doesn’t work, of course, because supervillains attack every single time.
But watch Batman Forever and Batman & Robin again and you’ll notice that all of those problems appear to have vanished. The city is flourishing, the citizens seem happier and giant statues have popped up in just a few short years. So where did all this money come from?
Gotham City Legalized Gambling
Legalizing gambling reinvigorates an economy, and for some reason usually results in neon lights getting installed all over any given city. The decor gets tackier, Cirque du Soleil comes to town (only to get taken hostage by Two-Face) and the whole feel of Gotham City gets changed from top to bottom.
And yes, you do remember a scene in which city officials were gambling in Tim Burton’s original Batman, but that was a charity function. The first time we see a proper casino in the 1990s Batman franchise is during a heist in Batman Forever. No gambling before Batman Forever, public gambling afterwards. Makes sense, right?
But What About Batman?
Legalizing gambling explains all of the changes surrounding our hero, but what about Batman himself? In the Joel Schumacher movies, Batman makes public appearances and doesn’t even go to great lengths to make the Batmobile look like a real car. If anything, the bright neon lights on the Batmobile call more attention to it. They might as well spell out: “Look everybody! It’s Batman!”
And that’s exactly what he’s doing. On purpose.
Batman is Gotham’s Mascot
Think about it. Batman isn’t just the savior of Gotham City’s citizens, he’s the savior of the city itself. Bruce Wayne repeatedly sticks up for Gotham throughout the 1990s films, contributing money and trying to expose Max Schreck’s plans to syphon energy from the city. Bruce Wayne is doing all that he can, so why wouldn’t Batman?
Turning Batman into a public spectacle, a tourist attraction, and even a mascot makes Gotham City a friendlier place to live and visit. Showing up at charity auctions, and even letting his insignia grace credit cards contributes to the sense that Gotham City is a thriving metropolis, and not just an economic cesspool under constant siege from psychotic maniacs.
Would Batman Do That?
It’s not entirely unheard of, even in the comics. In Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier, Batman realizes that instilling fear in the criminal element has the unfortunate side effect of instilling fear in law-abiding citizens as well. He dons a friendlier costume and gets himself a sidekick to prove he’s more than a deranged loner.
And all of this ties into Batman’s story arc in Batman Forever, which finds the tortured antihero confronting his past and emerging victorious, choosing to be Batman rather than using his vigilante persona as a coping mechanism. He lightens up in the Joel Schumacher movies and lets himself into the public eye more often, because he has less to hide. And fittingly enough, this is also when he gets himself that teen sidekick to complete his new public persona.
That may not seem very Batman-like to everybody, especially in the post-Christopher Nolan era, but at least it makes sense.
So What About ‘Batman & Robin?’
While these theories may make Batman Forever a little easier to accept, they don’t necessarily fix Batman & Robin, a movie so legendarily bad that even director Joel Schumacher spends the entire Blu-ray commentary track apologizing for it. (He really does. Give it a listen, it’s pretty cathartic.)
There’s no way to make Batman & Robin a better Batman movie. Some folks like it, ironically or otherwise, but the general consensus is that it’s a badly written, campily acted mess that exists to sell toys, not to tell a decent story. Some might claim that it’s an homage to the sillier era of the Batman comics, but even if that were the case, it would be a bad one. It’s a bad, bad, bad Batman movie.
But what if Batman & Robin wasn’t a Batman movie? What if Batman & Robin… was a luchador movie?
Pretend for a moment that Batman & Robin never existed. (Some of you may have been trying to do this already.) Imagine that the 1990s franchise just stopped at Batman Forever, for some reason, and never continued until Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. You’ve never seen this movie before, and you’ve never even heard of its existence.
Now imagine that someone at a party told you that there was a luchador movie – a genre about Mexican wrestlers, not well known for its ability to be taken totally seriously – that was based on Batman. And not just any luchador movie, but a luchador movie that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and got practically everything about Batman wrong.
Wouldn’t you want to see that movie? Wouldn’t you be super excited to see this cinematic curio that seemingly has no reason to exist? And if you tracked it down, and it played exactly like Batman & Robin but in Spanish, wouldn’t you be impressed? Wouldn’t you tell all your friends?
It would be a legendary motion picture, destined to go down with Turkish Spider-Man as one of the weirdest things ever captured on camera.
Try it sometime. Grab your copy of Batman & Robin (and be honest, you probably have one). Put on a Spanish language track. Watch it with new eyes and try to appreciate the utter strangeness of Batman & Robin as an asset, not as a drawback. It’s barely like Batman at all… isn’t that cool now?