I’ve gone on record many, many times about how much I enjoy bad movies. Many of my favourite films of all time are famously awful train wrecks. Troll 2, The Wicker Man (Nic Cage’s Woman-Beating Extravaganza, not the original one) and The Happening are all films I heartily recommend to anyone, even you, who I would almost certainly despise if I ever met. There’s something admirable about them. Maybe there’s something remarkably human about a pathetic, incompetent effort of a bad film. Maybe I appreciate that it actually was an effort. Maybe I’m just insane and, shortly after writing this blog post, am going to shit into my own hands and hurl it at the moon, but the point is there’s a soul to the bad movie that I just find really endearing. Well, not quite every bad movie.
You see, on the latest edition of The Highlight Reel we discuss bad comic book movies, specifically ones from that faraway land of the 90s, and while films like Steel, The Phantom and Tank Girl are laughably bad, and miles away from what your average comic book movie today is, there at least seems to be some value to them. A picture drawn with human shit is still art to some people, after all. You’ll notice I’m referencing excrement more than I usually do in this article, a theme which is appropriate given the final film we talk about on The Highlight Reel: Batman and Robin.
Now, it’s hardly a revelation on my part to suggest that Batman and Robin is a bad movie. The film has been universally panned by anyone who has so much as caught a glimpse of a frame in their peripheral vision, not least by the entire cast and crew who spent much of the promotional featurette that went out on the DVD apologising while looking sheepish and profusely ashamed of themselves. The cast refers to the film in much the same tone as that rehab group leader in Breaking Bad recounting how he accidentally killed his daughter. Director Joel Schumacher apologised to the fans for making such a gaudy, horrible light show instead of thinking about what the hell he was doing for more than 5 seconds. And honestly, I don’t like this kind of senseless rage that this film brings out of me. I like to have a bit more poise about my criticisms. While I love film, I don’t like to take it too seriously. I like to separate my passion from my inner Youtube commenter. Rarely will I flip out and let a film get under my skin so much that I fly into a Tazmanian Devil-esque rage at the mere mention of it, over fifteen years after its release, with a desire to write a lengthy, ranty blog post about it before shoving blunt sticks into my eyes to make the nightmares go away. But holy fucking shit, this film is terrible.
After Tim Burton made things too dark and weird with the vastly overrated Batman Returns, a shift into lighter territory wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. So, when they turned to Joel Schumacher to make Batman Forever with the instruction to make the Dark Knight that little bit brighter, it was pretty successful. That film isn’t without its faults, but it’s a decent watch. Of course, in typical Hollywood fashion, following the success of Batman Forever they immediately decided that, hey, the lighter tone worked so well, so that means going several hundred miles further in that direction is the only logical course of action! Let’s have everything daubed in gaudy, horrible neon. Let’s have every other line of dialogue be some crushingly awful pun, let’s have the costumes based on what a five-year old would find cool, and let’s turn the entire relationship between Batman and Robin into some bickering nonsense that would make even the worst buddy cop movies cringe (assuming a film could cringe, of course, which they can’t unless you live in Peewee’s Playhouse where everything has eyes and a mouth or something).
Batman and Robin is so bad because it’s a slap in the face not just to Batman fans, but to film fans in general. It’s so obviously toyetic, geared to sell action figures and theme park rides and horrible little collector cups. It’s corporate bullshit being poured into your eyes, and if you try to blink and look away you can’t because the horrible ice puns and frantic editing and screechy children and bat-nipples all surround you until it swallows you up, swallows you up in gloopy brown filth, the rotten hands of Chris O’Donnell grabbing at your ankles as he pulls you down to whine about how he hasn’t got his own shit little car, and all this steamy shit roars up your nostrils and into your ears and into your brain and it’s whirling, whirling around the inside of your mind and oh god it just won’t ever stop because it’s Batman and Robin, fuck me it’s Batman and Robin and they’re in your brain forever screeching BUY THIS, BUY THIS SHIT PLASTIC TOY FOR YOUR MORONIC OFFSPRING until you eventually relent and begin convulsing, naked and sweaty, on your bathroom floor at 3am as the last wisp of your soul evaporates through your red withered eyeballs and you live out your days as a shrivelled husk, not quite dead yet not really alive.
What I’m getting at is: this film has no soul. It was made to sell crap to you and your kids by people who think you are incredibly stupid. It was made by the kind of people who only exist in episodes of Scooby-Doo, cartoonishly evil folks who sit around working out how they can stab each other in the back for a 0.0000001% increase in their Christmas bonus, if they even believe in Christmas, which they don’t because they spend their holidays kicking orphans and hacking up baby animals with a rusty cleaver. I hate this film and everything it stands for. I hate the sheer, sneering contempt it shows towards people like me. There was no artistic endeavour whatsoever from anyone involved. Everything resembling character, or setting, or atmosphere, was reduced into some horrible neon sludge that SM:TV Live would consider tacky and lowbrow. I know Batman’s reinvention into some badass, dark crimefighter is a relatively recent thing, and I’m by no means denying the history of the franchise here, but during post-production of Batman and Robin someone made the decision to insert comedy sound effects when people fall over. Someone actively made a decision to turn Mr. Freeze into a big blue pun machine who only ever talks about ice. Someone threw out all that great, rich history that Batman had by this point because they wanted to make toys with George Clooney’s nipples on them. They wanted to make this lowest-common-denominator pap that they thought would get little kids to pester their parents into buying the toys, and the obvious, blatant cynicism of this is what really gets me. I know it wasn’t the first or last film to do this, but few have done it so blatantly at the expense of absolutely everything else in the movie. Not only is Batman and Robin completely without any artistry whatsoever, there was a conscious effort on the part of the filmmakers to avoid it altogether.
As I stated earlier, there’s something weirdly likable about an incompetently put together movie – like Steel – that shambles along, put together by a bunch of people who had no clue what they were doing, as evidenced by the fact they cast Shaquille O’Neal as a superhero. You can’t be mad at it any more than you can be mad at a baby for soiling itself every day. With Batman and Robin, there’s a callous, almost malicious disregard for the audience on show. You are an idiot, and you will buy what we tell you to, it says, more loudly and more clearly than almost any other movie I care to remember. Whenever anyone whines about how bad movies are today compared to “back in the day” (when “back in the day” actually was varies on when the cretin using it was born. For my generation, it usually means the 90s), I often like to hold up Batman and Robin as a counter-example. After Earth sucks and I’d never tell anyone to go and watch it, but at least it doesn’t insult you while it steals your time and money. It’s for precisely that reason why Batman and Robin is one of the worst films ever made. It’s underpinned by this seething ocean of greed, made by suits of the kind only previously thought to exist in Wayne’s World, and it’s inescapable. It’s as if the film was written by feeding a bunch of sales figures into some monolithic supercomputer, which then churned out the script for this film before becoming self-aware and threatening to release dirty bombs all over the world unless it was made exactly as it thought it should be. It’s this forced, artificial version of cool that nobody in the world actually thinks is cool, and in the end, looked horribly out of place both “back in the day”, and even more so in the cold, harsh light of 2013.
In short: I don’t mind if your movie is shit. As long as it has a bit of soul.