‘Batman & Robin’ Is The Gayest Superhero Film Of All Time
I’m not here to tell you that Batman & Robin is good. It’s impossible, especially after the director has publicly apologized for making the movie. But I’ve always had a spot in my heart for the campy Joel Schumacher movie.
Seeing it in my youth, the film is just a colorful assault on the eyes with eccentric characters & slapstick humor. Much like the 1960’s Batman, it plays to a child-like wonderment. Comparing the two, you can see many similarities between Adam West and George Clooney’s performances. Even the score & sound effects seem lifted from an episode of the show; the only thing missing are the “POWS!” and “BAMS!”. This is before I found out others thought Batman & Robin was a soulless cash grab or it exists only as a way to further the franchise from Tim Burton’s grim Batman Returns. In the eyes of the ignorant, it’s just harmless fun.
For me, Batman is the most versatile character in fiction. I love the brutal & callous version we see in Batman v Superman and I love the cartoony fun time in this incarnation. My love for this version made more sense when I later found out that Clooney played Bruce Wayne/Batman as a homosexual. Of course! It’s like a super gay bell rang in my head. The gay subtext also helps explain why Batman would keep around the annoying yet hunky Chris O’Donnell’s Robin. Touching on this subject matter is very meta. For decades, some questioned why Bruce Wayne would keep young boys as sidekicks. Batman & Robin took that idea and ran away with it…for better or worse.
“I was in a rubber suit and I had rubber nipples. I could have played Batman straight, but I made him gay.”
–George Clooney to Barbra Walters (2006)
Homoeroticism aside, Batman & Robin also has the two best Batman movie villains that aren’t named The Joker. Batman’s film franchise has a problem with no villain ever coming close to The Joker. The Nolan series is a perfect example but even the three Batman movies in the 1990’s struggle. Matching the legacy of Jack Nicholson’s Joker is hard. That curse broke momentarily with the memorable Mr. Freeze & Poison Ivy. Played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman respectively, the two understood what movie they were starring in and played it for the back row.
Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze is probably one of the most quotable movie characters ever. I won’t credit the screenwriters for much but they did find a variety of cold puns! Portraying Victor Fries in this way feels like another callback to the 60’s as Arnold Schwarzenegger would fit in with Cesar Romero’s Joker and Burgess Meredith’s Penguin. Other than The Terminator, no other Arnold performance sticks in our brains like this.
He has competition for chewing up the scenery because Uma Thurman lives comfortably in the Poison Ivy skin. I often cite Thurman as one of the first drag queens that I remember. She encapsulates this campy style of acting that I can only compare to Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. Every word Poison Ivy utters comes with Mae West attitude. She also looks straight from the animated series. Nothing about her performance feels wrong.
(Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jeep Swenson)
Getting to look at this film as an adult brings the same joy as it did 20 years ago. Being on countless “worst movies ever” lists makes it a prime candidate to be a cult classic. And that’s exactly what happened! Somewhere along the way, this insane Joel Schumacher movie found a fanbase. Gaining a cult following helps a movie live on forever in infamy.
Everything feels intentional in Batman & Robin. While cast & crew have apologized to disappointed fans, they knowingly made those decisions. And why should they be sorry? No one could know Warner Bros would put the franchise on an 8-year hiatus. They set out to make the campiest Batman ever and succeeded.
Like I said at the start, my intention wasn’t to sell Batman & Robin as something it wasn’t. The goal is to simply show there is a vocal minority who actually enjoy this film. Everyone deserves a little love on their 20th birthday!
It may not be the Batman and Robin of your youth but it was mine. I’ll never apologize for loving this masterclass in camp. And if you can’t find anything to praise about this movie…just remember that without this fiery crash, you’d have no Nolan Batman.
Let me know your feelings about 1997’s Batman & Robin in the comments below!