Batman & Robin at 20: Time to Get Over How Bad It Is

I imagine our Film Editor, Dan Cohen, is foaming at the mouth right now over this headline, ready to murder me with a pickaxe. Let me explain. Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which came out 20 years ago this month, is garbage. It’s always been garbage and it will always be garbage. However, one must take the film’s impact into account. And I’m not alone in thinking this way.

Look at where we are. The superhero genre is the driving force of the movie industry. Wonder Woman is out while I’m writing this and it’s good. Even though some people don’t like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, most of us can agree Batman versus Lex Luthor’s thugs is the best live-action Batman fight scene ever. If you take a step back, you’ll see that Batman & Robin is the reason we got Batman Begins. Batman Begins influenced Marvel’s interconnected universe, the success of which later forced WB to create the DC Extended Universe. And without Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, there’s a good chance there’d be no Inception.

As Confucius said, “There are 1,000 lessons in defeat. But only one in victory.” Bam! Bet you weren’t expecting some philosophy in this article. Essentially, after the heights of 1978’s Superman: The Movie and 1989’s Batman, the superhero genre needed to grow. It’s nice to think every movie can be great, but it’s unrealistic. A film like Batman & Robin was inevitable and necessary. It’s not unlike the cleansing fire Ra’s Al Ghul talks about in Batman Begins. Even though he’s the bad guy, he’s right in this case.

If we’re going to be honest, there are a few positive things in Batman & Robin. Elliot Goldenthal’s score is catchy and his Mr. Freeze theme wonderfully captures the tragedy of the character. Also, Michael Gough shines as Alfred. Admittedly, this is more of a credit to Tim Burton, since Gough is a holdover from his Batman films. But Alfred’s relationship with Bruce is still the highlight of the movie, even if Schumacher presents it a little awkwardly. And speaking of Bruce, George Clooney effortlessly conveys the class and charm of his public persona, considering it’s just George Clooney being himself.

But the positives can’t outweigh the long, long list of negatives, of course. George Clooney is terrible in the costume, the movie turns Bane into a mindless henchman when Arnold Schwarzenegger should have been playing him, etcetera, etcetera. All I’m saying is that while it was right to be mad about it at the time, 20 years later there’s no point. I’m not saying you have to like it. Few could. But you could be like me and watch it with an it’s-so-bad-it’s-good mentality. I know that won’t work for everyone, though that’s what makes the lower budget, self-aware Adam West Batman so lovable.

If you can’t bring yourself to laugh at the stupidity, just move on. It’s not worth wasting your anger on something so far removed from the current pop-cultural landscape.

Aaron Sarnecky is The Pop Break’s Television Editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., among other things. He is a TV/Film grad of Rowan University and the fraternal twin of staff writer Josh Sarnecky. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed.