Stone Cold Awful – Batman & Robin (1997) 4K Ultra HD

By this point, 25 years since its debut, I suspect that the only people who would still willingly subject themselves to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin must fall into one of three categories: 1) Franchise completists who feel compelled to watch every entry no matter what, 2) Bad movie aficionados who revel in its awfulness, or 3) Film writers like myself who revisit it trying to determine exactly how this project could have gone so disastrously wrong. Surely, the movie can’t have any actual fans who would ever watch it unironically.

Almost immediately upon its release, Batman & Robin garnered a reputation as one of the worst movies ever made. It received scathing reviews from critics, vicious word-of-mouth from audiences, and was a box office disappointment (though, strangely, with $238 million in grosses, not a total bomb). The film very nearly ended the Batman movie series and is still regarded as the nadir of that franchise in most people’s estimation. For all that, I’ve got to say, I think I dislike Batman Forever more.

Clueless, indeed.
Title:Batman & Robin
Year of Release: 1997
Director: Joel Schumacher
Watched On: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Also Available On: HBO Max
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms

Make no mistake, Batman & Robin is a profoundly stupid movie filled with lousy performances, and its visual design is a gaudy, candy-colored nightmare. The Akiva Goldsman screenplay confuses groan-worthy one-liner puns for dialogue, the costumes are embarrassing across the board, and the action scenes defy both physics and common sense. Just as I said about Schumacher’s last entry, it feels like every creative decision is the wrong choice – perhaps even willfully so, as if the director shot down any halfway decent idea brought up during development and consciously went the opposite direction instead. This is a work of astonishingly poor taste and worse judgment. And likely none of that would have happened if Batman Forever hadn’t been such a huge success.

Everything wrong with Batman & Robin was already a problem in Batman Forever, to an equal if not greater degree. Yet the prior film had been a huge blockbuster hit, seemingly well-liked by audiences in spite of a mixed critical reception. Going into the sequel, Joel Schumacher must have felt that he had the support of the fans behind him. That, combined with pressure from the studio to make the franchise more kid-friendly and marketable to toy merchandising, convinced the director to double-down on the cartoonishness and juvenile humor, the dumb plotting, goofy characters, and absurd action spectacle.

I doubt he would have done so if Forever had flopped, or at least underperformed. Schumacher made his share of serious movies, some with dark subject matter. After the Batman & Robin fiasco, his very next project was the psycho thriller 8mm, from a script by Se7en scribe Andrew Kevin Walker. He also expressed a desire to do one more Batman movie that would be closer in tone to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns graphic novel.

Mind you, some of those “serious” movies of his were pretty bad for reasons of their own, and I really don’t think Schumacher would ever have been the right choice to make a dark-and-gritty Batman. But I do think he probably would have dialed down the camp if he believed that’s what audiences wanted. As it actually happened, he leaned in hard to everything that had seemingly worked for Batman Forever. In doing so, he went too far over-the-top this time, enough to make even viewers who liked his last Bat-film rethink that opinion.

Why don't you make like a tree and get out of here?

Because Val Kilmer was wise enough to jump ship, the studio replaced him with longtime television actor George Clooney (The Facts of Life, Roseanne), who’d finally broken out as a star in NBC’s smash hit medical drama ER and was eager to leap into a feature film career. Suffice to say, that would eventually work out for him despite this folly. One of the sad ironies of Batman & Robin is that Clooney actually makes a pretty good Bruce Wayne and might have carried this franchise for a while longer if he’d been given better material. He tries his best not to look too uncomfortable wearing a ridiculous Bat-suit with sculpted abs, pointy nipples, and a bulging codpiece on prominent display, but even a future Oscar winner can only endure so much humiliation.

Elevated to co-lead is Chris O’Donnell, who continues to play Robin as a petulant jackass. Joining him in the sidekick pool is Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, here identified for some reason as butler Alfred’s niece rather than as Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. Her character arc makes no sense (Alfred decides that a proclivity to steal motorcycles and participate in illegal street racing makes her qualified to join the crimefighting Bat-team?), her costume is equally unflattering, and the actress annoyingly slurs most of her dialogue out of the side of her mouth.

The primary villains this time out are Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. Both should be ashamed of their involvement. Schwarzenegger was still one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and this was the first time he’d played a villain since The Terminator in 1984. Just about the biggest laugh I got from this mess happened after the movie itself ended and I spotted a credit for “Mr. Schwarzenegger’s Drama Coach.” No doubt, the screenplay doesn’t give him much to work with (almost every line out of his mouth is an inane pun), but it’s still hard to believe someone actually guided the actor into a performance this bad. He’s totally out of his element playing a cackling maniacal lunatic. The role doesn’t suit any of his strengths and he’s simply atrocious in it.

For her part, Uma Thurman doesn’t even try to deliver a good performance. Realizing the type of movie she’s in, the actress goes straight into “ham” mode and never looks back. She’s also dreadful in the movie, but I suspect she fully realized as much and decided that she didn’t give a damn. I can’t say I blame her.

The plot is thoroughly idiotic. It has something to do with Ivy and Freeze attempting to use diamonds and a big telescope to somehow kill off all the humans in the world except themselves, so that they can rule over a planet of plant/animal hybrids. How their numerous henchmen, who would naturally be doomed to extinction in such a scenario, feel about this plan isn’t addressed. Worse, a subplot about Freeze trying to find a cure for his comatose wife’s deadly illness offers a convenient redemption arc to a character who literally attempted to commit genocide.

I expect that, in his mind, Joel Schumacher intended for both of his Batman entries to be spiritual successors to the comedy-focused TV series from the 1960s, more so than sequels to the Tim Burton films they actually followed. To that end, audiences are meant to turn off their brains and ignore questions of logic or plausibility. The problem is that he failed to hit the correct tone. The Adam West show had such cheap production values that it had to coast on a breezy, lighthearted attitude and a lot of charm. Batman & Robin, on the other hand, is entirely charmless. A mega-budget studio tentpole with all the resources Hollywood could throw at it, the film is big, loud, and aggressively obnoxious. No movie that cost $160 million to make should be this dumb, on purpose or not. The stakes are just too high. It’s virtually impossible to watch this thing without thinking about what an astounding waste of money it is.

That said, so was Batman Forever. Having just rewatched both of them, Jim Carrey’s frantic mugging grated on my nerves more than anything in this one and I found Batman Forever just about insufferable. Compared to that, this viewing of Batman & Robin was somewhat tolerable, after setting my expectations to rock bottom. That may not be much of a compliment (and it’s not intended to be), but of these two truly terrible movies, the one with Val Kilmer is a little bit more terrible than the one with George Clooney, in my opinion. If not exactly progress, well, it’s still something.

Job well done, everybody. Job. Well. Done.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Batman & Robin was released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in 2019 as part of a 4-Film Collection with Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), and Batman Forever (1995). Technically, a standalone edition is also available, but who would want to buy just this movie on its own without the excuse that it came bundled with the rest of the franchise?

Considering that the Batman Forever UHD looks to me like an older video master uprezzed to 4K, I would find it very surprising if the studio bothered to remaster Batman & Robin. The result on my screen, therefore, is a little puzzling, as the latter film often looks much better than Forever. The 1.85:1 image is impressively sharp. You can practically feel the texturing of Schwarzenegger’s facial makeup. It also has crisply defined contrast and a very nice application of HDR. On the other hand, some digital grain removal is evident, with occasional instances of grain patterns that freeze in place on the screen.

Arguing against the likelihood of this being a new master, the movie has not been given a teal-and-orange color grade. Schumacher’s original garish color palette is untouched and the abundance of eye-scorching neon colors pop off the screen with a lot of vibrancy. Unlike the 4K masters for Batman or Batman Returns, this movie has actual blues and actual greens in it, sometimes even in the same frame with neither pushed to teal! The colorists who worked on the Burton movies definitely didn’t lay a finger on this one.

"Ice to meet you," he said. Get it? "Ice." Oh, what a cut-up!

My assumption is that Batman & Robin was not remastered, but that perhaps its existing master was of better quality than the one for Batman Forever.

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack has tons of rumbly bass and the surround channels run very hot, but Elliot Goldenthal’s droning score sounds dull and the track as a whole is fatiguing. The overhead speakers drew my attention once or twice, but aren’t used especially creatively.

Similar to the other movies in this box set, the UHD disc carries over an old director commentary (Joel Schumacher passed away in 2020), while the Blu-ray in the case recycles some DVD-era featurettes, music videos, and still galleries, plus one deleted scene and a trailer.

Batman & Robin (1997) 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

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Note: All screenshots on this page were taken from the standard Blu-ray edition of the film and are used for illustration purposes only.

2 thoughts on “Stone Cold Awful – Batman & Robin (1997) 4K Ultra HD

  1. ‘who would want to buy just this movie on its own without the excuse that it came bundled with the rest of the franchise?’

    Haha, I’d really like to know the answer to this. Like, how many people ONLY bought ‘Batman & Robin’ on UHD, because they love the movie?


  2. I’ve actually grown to like it over the years. Approaching it as an ode to the old campy tv series works for me. I seem to remember maybe on E! Entertainment television (True Gossip segment?) before the movie was released that Sly Stallone was competing with Schwarzenegger for the role of Freeze. Maybe he fired his agent when he didn’t get it. Imagine Stallone as Freeze!


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