There are several reasons to consider Batman & Robin a bad movie. It certainly possesses many flaws as a film. There is one category, however, where it succeeded beyond all expectations – as the best toy commercial ever made. Frequently ranked as one of the worst movies ever, Batman & Robin was neither a financial nor critical success when it was released in 1997.
It nearly ruined the entire Batman cinema enterprise until Christopher Nolan took the reins in 2005 and rebooted the franchise with Batman Begins. Batman & Robin was directed by Joel Schumacher, starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and George Clooney as Batman. It tried to ride the success of the previous film, Batman Forever starring Val Kilmer as Batman, which only hit theatres two years prior. Warner Bros. did not have the time or the effort available to make a movie of quality, so instead the filmmakers chose to create a live-action cartoon.
For context, it’s important to go back a few years. In 1986, Hasbro made an animated feature film, Transformers: The Movie, to usher out their old product line and herald the new. In Transformers, Optimus Prime is killed in a battle with Megatron and the mantle of leader of the Autobots passes to the new, younger, Hot Rod. Hot Rod is anointed Rodimus Prime upon his ascension by the Matrix of Leadership. Even the leader of the Decepticons gets an upgrade after he suffers a mutiny at the hands of the treacherous Starscream. Megatron gets savaged and tossed into the cold empty space to be drawn in by the powerful planet sized Unicron. His body is then renewed as a new figure, Galvatron. There are other cosmic body upgrades and outright character deaths like this that changed the assembly line for Transformers toys.
In 1990, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was released that propelled the still-going franchise to record-breaking heights. The property became a colossal toy and merchandise seller. In the same vein as Transformers and TMNT, Batman & Robin was created with the aim to sell action figures, vehicles, and playsets released by the Kenner toy company. This time, instead of kids playing in their backyard with imaginary action figures or animated characters resembling their toy counterparts, the commercial had real celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, and Uma Thurman playing along.
Batman & Robin advertises new locations, new vehicles, new outfits, and most fun of all, new characters like Bane. This version of Gotham City is eclectic, to say the least. Its architecture, color palette, even its street layout is bizarre to outlandish. It presented “playsets” as varied as a new Batcave, Mr. Freeze’s Ice Fortress, Poison Ivy’s Turkish Bath, and the reaching arm of that giant statue the Batmobile races off of in pursuit of Mr. Freeze. All of it built as the backdrop for the “toys” to interact.
Iconic to all Batman films, a new Batmobile had to be designed. This vehicle had the largest batwings ever attached to a car, multi-colored LED lights along the sides and at the front, and of course rocket launchers. To counter the frozen road conditions caused by Mr. Freeze’s freeze ray, Batman drives the “Bathammer,” a long and wide-winged sled-like vehicle. Mr. Freeze had a stainless-steel tank called the “Freezemobile,” equipped with the Freeze Gun. Both Robin and Batgirl had motorcycles, one the “Redbird” and the other the “Batblade.” The heroes don new armor, the infamous nipple suits, and they all had a winter-themed secondary wardrobe designed to defend against the freezing temperatures spewed out by the Freeze Gun.
Batman and Robin were characters carried over from the previous film and could not add more than what was already there as action figures. Their figures could only be altered and given new themes so many times. To increase the cast, and profit potential for the toy line, they added in Batgirl, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane, each with unique accessories. Every vehicle was used in an active, fun way in the movie. Each new character had a central scene, and all the “toys” got their glorious time on screen.
Batman & Robin is a toyetic movie. The term generally means something that is suitable for tie-ins, such as cartoons, video games or toys. 1977’s Star Wars is the granddaddy of all toyetic movies. The difference between Star Wars and the films mentioned earlier is that Star Wars was unintentionally a toy phenomenon. Transformers, TMNT, and Batman & Robin were deliberately made to promote a wider marketing strategy and pump out merchandise. Successful or not, those movies were made specifically to showcase new toys and collectibles. Star Wars was designed by George Lucas to be a fantastic sci-fi film. The toy line was a secondary hope, albeit an enormously lucrative one.
Whether the audience is little kids watching the spectacle of Batman fistfight the silly pun spouting Mr. Freeze, or adults scratching their head at the nonsensical and cumbersome plot lines, no one can disagree that it is a visual delight. From the wacky design of Gotham City to the rotation of vehicles, Batman & Robin is a well-made toy commercial that is unlike any other. What other toy commercials can boast not one, but two future state Governors? Arnold Schwarzenegger served as the Governator of California from 2003 to 2011 and Jesse Ventura was the Governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003.
Batman lovers blame this movie for derailing the Batman franchise established by Tim Burton in Batman (1989). They also call its creation a blatant and insincere cash grab. There are several lists ranking it as the worst Batman movie ever made. At times it is even placed in the top five list of worst movies made in the 20th century. Batman & Robin clearly did not work as a movie, but if viewed as a 125-minute toy commercial, it turned out great.