Arnold Schwarzenegger Is The Only One Who Really Gets Batman & Robin

Arnold Schwarzenegger is still proud of his performance in Batman & Robin and for good reason: he knew what he was doing.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

arnold schwarzenegger

Batman is unique in comic books in that he is more defined by his villains than any other hero. Where Superman is defined by his Kryptonian heritage and cornfed decency and Wolverine became prominent because of his savagery and enigmatic origin, Batman is always seen in large part through the opponents he faces. It is not accidental that two different actors have won an Academy Award for playing Batman’s greatest foe, the Joker, but Bruce Wayne actors can’t even get a nomination. All of this is to say that Batman’s villains always understand their role better than the Dark Knight himself. To take it even further, the actors playing Batman villains understand what they are doing better than anyone, and no one gets it more than Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger portrayed perennial Batman opponent Mr. Freeze (aka Dr. Victor Fries, who oddly doesn’t use his professional title for villainy) in the infamous 1997 Batman & Robin. Long notorious for being the movie that essentially shut down the Batman franchise for nearly a decade, it is widely considered one of the worst superhero movies of all time. It is hard to argue against that, though it is not like Batman & Robin doesn’t have a lot of competition in that arena. Critics narrowed in on the strained humor, continual one-liner jokes, so-called toyetic intentions, and more than anything else, the cheesy acting. And oh how cheesy it is: 

Of all the actors involved in Batman & Robin, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only one who seems to truly understand that he is in a live-action cartoon. On occasion, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy (Dr. Pamela Isley, because scientists really get done dirty in Batman projects) almost reaches his level of ease with the broadness of the film. However, she is too aware of the campiness of her performance and is self-consciously playing to femme fatale archetypes; at one point, she literally does a Mae West impression. Uma Thurman is clearly having fun as Poison Ivy, but it feels like a lark for her. Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, is merely doing what he is best at: playing a wise-cracking, violent giant.

arnold schwarzenegger

In the 1980s, Arnold Schwarzenegger discovered and quickly perfected his ideal role. In movies like Commando and Raw Deal, he found that audiences love it when he spouts off a joke after casually killing someone. Even in a movie as devoid of humor (or even significant dialogue) as Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to fit it a “stick around!” after throwing a knife into a guerilla fighter. Batman & Robin is also entirely in line with the parallel comedic path Arnold Schwarzenegger was pursuing, with mid-1990s movies like Junior and Jingle All the Way being unrepentantly loud, dumb, and, importantly, commercially successful. Unlike many actors (including a few of his co-stars in Batman & Robin), Schwarzenegger knows why he was cast in the film and he is up for what it asks of him.

It is telling that Arnold Schwarzenegger is still a firm supporter of Batman & Robin, stating in interviews that he has no regrets about it and that director Joel Schumacher was at the height of his filmmaking prowess at the time. On the other hand, George Clooney has not stopped talking trash about Batman & Robin since its release, claiming to refuse to let his family watch it (for self-respect reasons) and at times claiming he was basically forced by the studio to take the role.

George Clooney would follow up Batman & Robin with roles in Terence Malick’s acclaimed war drama The Thin Red Line and Steven Soderbergh’s stylish, acclaimed Out of Sight. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s next movie was the supernatural cop thriller End of Days, in which he played “Jericho Caine” and fought Satan himself. Those are definitely men with two very different career aims and opinions of their work. One understood the movie. The other couldn’t wait to get away from it.

This doesn’t make Batman & Robin any better, of course. It is a bizarre movie that fully admits its main intention is to sell toys. It glories in its weird neon-painted Gotham City that is half Mad Max and half futuristic skyscrapers, and if anyone involved in the movie had any interest whatsoever in comic books, it doesn’t show. But Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast to do a job that only he could do in this movie, and he is the only one who fully commits to the role. What more could have been asked of him?