The Self-Hating Pantomime

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

There’s no particular reason to review Batman and Robin at this point; the consensus that it’s awful is pretty much settled. At the same time, I think there’s scope to ask just why audiences turned on it so hard.

The movie does, of course, have some major flaws. The rainforest themed party sequence with its appalling racial caricatures is, of course, hugely problematic – as is Uma Thurman’s entire arc as Poison Ivy, with the voice of ecological concern being an extremist anti-human strawman and all those nasty “nerdy woman suddenly becomes sexy” and “sexy equals evil, especially if it comes in the form of a woman” tropes coming out in full force. Unfortunately, whilst we might consider these issues problematic, none of them really constituted dealbreakers for cinema audiences in 1997 (and sadly wouldn’t today for a lot of people), so whilst they may be a reason for individual viewers to dislike the movie, they don’t constitute explanations for why audiences as a whole turned against the film.

Yes, it’s absurd, campy, ridiculous, silly… but the 1960s Batman was all of those things, as is the 1980 Flash Gordon, and people can’t get enough of those. Why can’t Batman and Robin slot into the same sort of niche?

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