In 1997, action-adventure movie Batman & Robin arrived in theatres. The film – the fourth entry in the Batman Anthology – starred George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell as Batman and Robin respectively, with Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing as Mr. Freeze, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl.
Unlike the three previous entries in the Anthology, Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), and Batman Forever (1995), Batman & Robin took a much lighter approach to the material. The gothic, brooding elements from the earlier films were stripped back, and in their place were big action set pieces which resulted in a bombastic popcorn movie.
But a bombastic popcorn movie was not what audiences wanted, and when Batman & Robin opened it was met with a less than stellar response. Critics panned the film, Bat-fans were not thrilled with the movie’s lighter tone, and Batman & Robin did not perform as well as its predecessors.
Years on from its release and Batman & Robin is still met with criticism. The movie regularly crops up in conversations about bad films, is criticised for its family-friendly material, and is often regarded as the worst Batman movie ever.
But is this a view everyone shares? What about Batman co-creator, Bob Kane? What did Bob Kane think about Batman & Robin? Was he on board with the picture, or did he think taking the Batman movies down a lighter path was a huge mistake?
Bob Kane and Batman & Robin
Before I discuss Bob Kane’s thoughts, I must first explain why Batman & Robin was lighter in tone than the other movies – and it is fairly simple explanation. The movie’s change in tone was a reaction to how the previous films had been received by audiences.
When Batman was released in 1989 it was dark and Gothic, and audiences loved it. In response to the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Batman, Batman Returns was taken down an even darker, even more Gothic path, but the reaction from audiences this time around was less positive.
To ensure the series moved back to a more popular stand point (and remain profitable), Batman Forever was pushed into a lighter space, and audiences responded very well. Therefore, the decision to make Batman & Robin even lighter was simply a natural progression, with the belief that audiences would respond well to the tone of the film in the same way they had responded to Batman Forever.
In hindsight, it is easy to see that Batman & Robin went a little too far in the wrong direction for the audience’s taste. However, at the time of its development this all seemed like what audiences might like.
Ok, so that gives a brief explanation about the tonal shift of the series, but what did Bob Kane think about Batman & Robin and the lighter approach to the Batman movies?
Kane was good friends with Batman Forever/Batman & Robin director, Joel Schumacher, and he was on set at various points during the production of both Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. He would regularly sit next to Schumacher when he was directing, and he would watch him call the shots.
Kane viewed Schumacher as a comic book fan, and noticed how he would take elements from the original comics to shape his films. In fact, Kane saw a correlation between the larger-than-life set pieces Schumacher used in Batman & Robin, and the stories which appeared in his own comics.
Speaking in the book, Batman & Robin: The Making of the Movie by Michael Singer (1997), Kane said: “When I started writing the character with the late Bill Finger – the unsung hero of Batman – he would bring giant settings and props around (the Dynamic Duo).
“We would have a giant telescope or laboratory, like the ones in this movie, or stage a fight on top of the Statue of Liberty.”
All of the over-the-top, theatrical props that Schumacher put in Batman & Robin (the giant telescope at Gotham Observatory, the frozen dinosaur at Gotham Museum etc), were nods and references to the Batman stories of the past, and Kane could see this. Did he have a problem with it? If he did, he certainly didn’t make it public while the film was in production.
Kane was very complimentary about Batman & Robin, and he was also very complimentary about the cast. Speaking in Batman & Robin: The Making of the Movie, Kane said: “I feel George is the best Batman of all. He’s suave, elegant, has a great profile with a strong chin, like the features of Batman in the comic books.”
He added: “Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze is just incredible, and Uma Thurman is superlative as Poison Ivy, every man’s desire with her flaming red hair and beautiful costumes.
“Chris O’Donnell is back, and he’s a tremendous Robin. He’s a great personality, and he really delivers the goods. And Alicia Silverstone is such a cute Batgirl… teenagers will love her!”
Now of course, Kane’s comments were included within a ‘making of’ book, released as a tie-in to publicise the movie, and these books tend to be very complementary. But what these comments suggest is that Kane was comfortable with Schumacher’s approach to the Batman movies – and this continued once the film was released.
During the premiere of Batman & Robin, Kane was asked about the script for the movie, while being interviewed on the red carpet. He referred to it as “a very good script”, and said: “Well, (the story) kind of coincides with what I had in mind. I mean, the script is generally the way I wrote my comic books.”
So, from the public comments that Kane made, both before and after the movie was released, it would seem that Batman & Robin was a movie he was fine with. And to a certain extent, this is backed up by Kane’s wife, actress Elizabeth Sanders.
According to Sanders, Kane was a fan of taking the Batman movies down a lighter path. Speaking on the 2005 documentary series, Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of The Dark Knight – Reinventing a Hero, she said: “Bob thought that because the second one was, perhaps in moments, a little too dark, then the third one should be a little more upbeat.”
So, according to Sanders, Bob Kane was keen on seeing the Caped Crusader move in a lighter direction, and he was certainly fine with how this played out in Batman Forever. Although, he may not have been entirely comfortable with the finished result of Batman & Robin.
During the same exchange on the documentary, she added that he didn’t want it “like the (1966) television show, by any means, but a little bit more lighter, brighter, than the second one.”
This comment is problematic, as Batman & Robin was tonally like the 1966 Batman TV show which starred Adam West. It would therefore appear that Kane was fine with Batman Forever, and he was completely on board for a lighter approach to the Batman movies, but he may have had some reservations about Batman & Robin veering into Batman ’66 territory.
But possible reservations or not, before he passed away in 2008, Kane had good words to say about Batman & Robin and he said them publicly. While not everyone enjoyed the movie, and it will forever receive criticism from some Bat-fans, Bob Kane appeared to be happy with Batman & Robin and he made this known whenever he was asked.
Thanks for stopping by I’ll Get Drive-Thru to read this post about Batman & Robin. For more Batman-related content, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.
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