Isnt It About Time You Gave Batman & Robin Another Chance?

Can it really be as bad as you remember? Could anyone mount a decent defence? Steve O’Brien gives it a go

Prosecution: “M’lud, my subject this week is a film so unutterably stinky that one cannot find any redeeming feature in it. A gaudy, cynical, empty-hearted, unfunny mess of a movie: Batman & Robin .”

Defence: “There you go again, repeating the endlessly repeated clichés about this film. Let’s take each of those insults in order. Gaudy? Visually rich more like. Cynical? It’s a sequel , silly. Empty-hearted? I’ll come to that later. And unfunny? With lines like, ‘This is why Superman works alone?’ You’re bonkers in the nut, my learned colleague.”

Prosecution: “Okay, let’s take it from the top. This film was a franchise killer. It murdered the original run of Batman movies and kept the Caped Crusader off our screen for eight years.”

Defence: “Okay, it wasn’t the roaring success Warner Bros was obviously hoping for, but it doesn’t deserve its squalid reputation.”

Prosecution: “What about George Clooney? It’s amazing his big screen career didn’t crash and burn after this sorry episode.”

Defence: “And there’s a reason for that. He’s great as Bruce Wayne. He has the perfect lightness of touch for Schumacher’s brand of Batman movie, but he’s also got the dramatic weight to make the film’s more emotional moments fly. You look at Clooney and think, yeah, this man has the athleticism and moral drive to be Batman. Come on, you could never look at Michael Keaton and believe he was capable of being a superhero.”

Prosecution: “But even Clooney himself bad mouths the film now.”

Defence: “And Alec Guinness used to bad mouth Star Wars . Doesn’t mean he was right.”

Prosecution: “But didn’t the film take the series too far away from Burton’s gloriously dark first and second films, reintroducing the campness from the ’60s series that Burton had tried so hard to convince the public wasn’t the true Batman?”

Defence: “The comic has gone through so many stylistic incarnations but its default mode isn’t the noir that so many of the hardcore fans prefer. Humour’s always been a part of Batman. Hell, when your foes are called Mr Freeze and Poison Ivy, you’ve got to acknowledge the ridiculousness! This isn’t Nolan’s Batman, but it’s not meant to be. Not every superhero movie has to go down the dark, gritty and realistic look to make mainstream critics respect it!”

Prosecution: “But the humour isn’t even well done. How can you ever excuse the torrent of bad puns that constitutes Mr Freeze’s dialogue. I give you, ‘You’re not sending me to the cooler...’ as well as too many more.

Defence: “Okay, okay. But who is this film really aimed at? Kids. I bet your bottom dollar there were thousands of children in 1997 pretending to shoot their friends and uttering lines, ‘Ice to see you!’ and ‘I’m afraid my condition has left me cold to your pleas of mercy.’”

Prosecution: “So, your defence is it’s a kids’ movie?”

Defence: “Erm…”

Prosecution: “Now, about the film’s penchant for homo-eroticism. Batman Forever was tolerably camp, but Batman & Robin looks like a companion piece to The Birdcage ! And – come on – what’s with the nipples on the Batsuit?”

Defence: “So what if there are nipples. Are nipples inherently GAY? And I know you’re going to bring up the cod-pieces. Well, they’re there for extra groinal protection. Simple as. As Joel Schumacher says about the costumes, ‘I had no idea that putting nipples on the Batsuit and Robin suits was going to spark international headlines. The bodies of the suits come from ancient Greek statues, which display perfect bodies.’ So you’re basically arguing with classical art, you philistine!”

Prosecution: “But what of the close-ups of their arses? This is meant to be mainstream cinema, not a fetish video.”

Defence: “You saying there aren’t women – and some men – who don’t get a little horny at the site of a Bat-bum? Come on, injecting a bit of male sex appeal into the Bat world is just adjusting the balance. Nobody complained about Catwoman’s skin-hugging catsuit in Batman Returns .”

Prosecution: “Which brings us to Batgirl. The Batman of only two films before was a haunted, lone crusader. By this film he’s got an entire family up at Wayne Mansion! And wasn’t Alicia Silverstone just hired become she was the face of the moment? The 14 years since have shown that she was just a flash in the pan. And – let’s be honest here – wasn’t she a little on the puppy-fat side for Batgirl? Wouldn’t Liv Tyler have been better?”

Defence: “Well, possibly. But there’s a genuine girl-next-door quality to Alicia Silverstone that audiences in the 1990s responded to. They liked it that she wasn’t 5’ 10” with a supermodel’s figure. Besides, it’s all about the chemistry and her and Chris O’Donnell are an easy fit.”

Prosecution: “Okay, you were going to defend this film against my insult that it was ‘empty-hearted’.”

Defence: “How can a movie that has a villain who is motivated only for the love of his wife be empty-hearted? And what of the subplot of Alfred supposedly dying? Both plot-lines played out with terrific actors and providing some touching humanity in-between the action and nipples!”

Prosecution: “Dare we even mention Bane? The feared villain who broke Batman’s back in the comics, here reduced to a grunting Mexican wrestler. Even though we haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises yet, you can instantly tell that Nolan and Tom Hardy have translated the character much better to screen.”

Defence: “Admittedly, the Bane in Batman and Robin has little to do with the one from the comics. But most of the audience wouldn’t have even heard of Bane. That wouldn’t have mattered to them.”

Prosecution: “Accepted. But forgetting about comparisons with the comic character, how would the defence say the movie Bane came across to audiences?”

Defence: (mumbling) “…As a grunting, Mexican wrestler.”

Prosecution: “Precisely. Not gritty Gotham. Not gaudy ’60s Gotham. Just dull and stupid.”

Defence: “The Prosecution does seem to skilfully avoiding any mention of where the film does impress. ”

Prosecution: “That doesn’t take much skill, believe me.”

Defence: “The Gotham cityscapes are quite magnificent, with their storeys-high art deco statues holding up elevated railways. And Uma Thurman is an incredibly sexy Poison Ivy. The moment in the film where she enters the fray to the sound of the song that bears her name is a highlight.”

Prosecution: “So, you’re arguing that some pretty production design and Uma Thurman doing what Uma Thurman always does outweighs all the negative points and means we should give the film a second chance?”

Defence: “That and fact that Clooney is nowhere near as bad as perceived wisdom would suggest. And certainly better than Val Kilmer.”

Prosecution: “Yet this film was a franchise murderer. It robbed cinema of Batman for eight years. That’s unforgivable.”

Defence: “Yeah, but look at this way. If it hadn’t killed the franchise, Nolan wouldn’t have been able to reboot it. Sometimes you need to reach the edge of one extreme in order to be able to pull back.”

Prosecution: (turning to judge) “M’lud, the defence has clearly gone gaga.”

Judge: “Agreed. I’m throwing this one out of court.”