As we all know, the four Batman films that came out from 1989 to 1997 are called Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin. Those first two Tim Burton titles are fine. Batman appears on the scene and then he returns. Makes sense. As for the other two (directed by Joel Schumacher), wouldn’t it make more sense for their names to be switched? Then it would be Batman, Batman Returns, Batman & Robin, and Batman Forever. It’s more than a cosmetic change. I will offer several compelling reasons why it would be far more appropriate for Batman Forever to be entitled Batman & Robin and vice versa.
The Third Film Is More About Robin
Batman Forever is more about Robin than Batman & Robin is. Dick Grayson has to come to terms with his family’s death at the hands of Two-Face. He struggles with the decision of whether or not to take vengeance on Two-Face and how to direct his anger in a positive way. Bruce Wayne is also on a journey in the film, pondering whether or not to continue in the role of Batman. His ultimate decision mirrors Dick’s when they join forces to save Gotham City from the Riddler and Two-Face. Robin’s story in the fourth film is much less dramatic. He flirts with the idea of going solo, but in the end he simply has to learn to accept his place in the superhero hierarchy. There’s not much change or growth involved.
The final shot in Batman Forever is of Batman and Robin running toward the camera. This is in contrast to the start of the film when Batman leaves the Batcave to fight crime by himself. Compare that to Batman & Robin. The titular characters are already partners at the start of the film, and the final shot is of Batman running with Robin and Batgirl. The third film is about Batman making a big change by adding his first sidekick while the fourth film’s addition of Batgirl isn’t as dramatic since it is just more of the same. It would have been better to call the third film Batman & Robin to emphasize its significant departure from the first two films.
The Opening-Title Sequences Are Perfect When Switched
The third film could have opened in a subtle (even clever) way by utilizing the fourth film’s sequence of the Batman and Robin logos flying around and eventually coming together. Of course, the audience would know what the Batman logo is because of the groundwork laid in the first Batman film’s opening-title sequence and because it’s so ubiquitous. But the Robin logo is much less familiar-looking, so the symbolism might go under the radar for most people. Once the logos unite, the film should immediately cut to Batman preparing for battle and skip the actual title altogether. Saving the words Batman & Robin until after the last shot in the film would then be much more powerful, a la the title at the end of each film in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. In this case, the film’s final image of the titular characters running side by side would actually serve to punctuate the title, and it would reinforce the point that the opening image of their logos uniting was a microcosm of the whole film.
The fourth film’s opening image of the Warner Bros. logo freezing would have been even more symbolic if it had been followed by the title Batman Forever freezing, too. That would go along with Mr. Freeze’s line later in the film, “Unless the city bows for my demands, it’s winter forever in Gotham.” The Bat credit card would also be more meaningful if the film were called Batman Forever because its expiration date is “Forever.” I know it’s meant to be a fun callback to the previous film, but the idea of associating never-ending debt with a dead world stuck in eternal winter would be more interesting than an Easter egg. This theme of conspicuous consumption could have been richly explored in the person of billionaire Bruce Wayne and the other Gotham City elites after being hinted at with something as silly as a Bat credit card. That is, if the toy companies financing the film had allowed it.
It Works Better Thematically
A major theme of the fourth film is the legacy one leaves behind. Bruce has trouble committing to his girlfriend after being burned in the three previous films, and he wants to save Alfred from dying. Poison Ivy sees Bruce’s legacy as one of environmental destruction and her role as the planet’s liberator from mankind. Mr. Freeze has frozen his wife in eternal slumber until he can find a cure for her terminal condition. He wants his legacy to be as a healer, but he’ll settle for freezing the world to take revenge on it, if necessary. Robin wants to get out from under Batman’s shadow and be his own man. Alfred wants to leave Bruce and Dick in good hands when he passes away. And Barbara wants to protect Alfred and take him away from his troubles. Everyone wants to make their mark on the world in one way or another, either saving lives or gaining a new lease on life.
There’s really nothing like that in the third film. Bruce finally accepts that it’s his choice to be Batman instead of feeling like it’s his duty. Dick overcomes his murderous desire and embraces being a crimefighter. Edward Nygma is obsessed with comparing himself to other people and learning their secrets, which leads to his downfall when he loses his mind. And Two-Face is basically just evil. On the other hand, the final line of the fourth movie (“We’re going to need a bigger cave”) hints at a growing family of superheroes who can carry the torch for Bruce one day, which further adds to the theme of this being a long-lasting story that goes beyond just Batman and Robin. Thus, it’s more appropriate to call it Batman Forever.
The Fourth Film Is All About Puns
If Batman & Robin is known for anything, it’s an abundance of puns. Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy are constantly spouting wordplay intended to be comical. It would be perfectly in step with the rest of the film for its title to be a pun as well. Think about it. It’s the fourth Batman film, so it should be called Batman 4ever. There is precedent for doing this. Shrek Forever After was the fourth and last one in that series (not counting the spinoff Puss in Boots movie). Of course, that movie came out more than a decade after Batman & Robin, and I don’t know of any similar fourth-title schemes as of 1997. Also, both of the Shrek sequels before Shrek Forever After had numbers in their titles, and it made sense to cleverly put the number four in that one. The earlier Batman sequels had no numbers in their titles, so having a number in the fourth one could be seen as out of place. But Batman & Robin is about as distant in style and tone from the earlier entries as possible, which means it’s not out of character to do something different with its title.
Also, in defense of the titles as they stand, this year’s Bad Boys for Life is the third film in its series. It was preceded by Bad Boys and Bad Boys II, and it easily could have been titled Bad Boys III. I guess they don’t intend to make a fourth one. Otherwise, they might have saved Bad Boys for Life for that one as a subtle nod to it being the end of the series while also including the number four in the title.
One last thing. It would have added an extra layer of irony to the fourth film if it had been called Batman Forever because it was the film that effectively killed the series for nearly a decade. That title would remain a bitterly humorous reminder of man’s hubris, like the unsinkable Titanic, ironically stating that nothing lasts forever.
Now and Forever
It might be a fool’s errand to wish for things to be different when they are set in stone. There’s no going back to 1995 to change the name Batman Forever to Batman & Robin. That is not really my purpose, though. I think of this more as a fun exercise in analyzing films the way I would analyze any other aspect of them. It wouldn’t have made these films any better or worse to rename them, but pointing out that this one small change would be appropriate does give us further insight into what they are and what we can get out of them. Looking at films in new ways is what we do around here now and forever.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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I really wished WB had named the third film, “Batman Triumphant”.
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I understand that the fifth movie was going to be called that. Why do you think the third one would be better off with that title?
Tri ~ three. Plus he wins at the end, right?
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That is clever 😀
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