Finally, we made it to the end!
Last week on Story Punch we’ve began exploring a theory that explains how a potentially good movie ends up as a bad movie. So far we’ve looked at several well known bad movies with just enough redeeming qualities to let us know they could have been good movies with just a few major changes.
However some movies are unique. They weren’t intentionally made to be bad, yet by some miracle of possibility they ended up wholly bad with no redeeming features whatsoever. Bad movies like these rarely gain much traction or notoriety, except of course when they come packaged as the latest installment of one of the biggest global franchises ever.
The movie I’m talking about is Batman and Robin, a movie that will forever live in infamy as the worst Batman movie of all time.
The 1997 film directed by Joel Schumacher is unique in its commitment to its unbearable self-mockery. Even though this is a comic book film with masked superheroes, it takes nothing seriously. Gravity is optional. Puns are obligatory. And story tumors arrive early and often, eventually overwhelming any sense of narrative coherence left.
Story Tumor #1: Batsuit Closeup
As uncomfortable as it was in Batman Forever, somehow the closeup shots of the batsuits are worse this time around. No one wants to see Batman and Robin’s butt, crotch, or fake nipples yet this movie decides it should grace the opening scene. Way to set the tone for the entire movie.
Story Tumor #2: Opening Dialogue
The first dialogue we hear is a petty argument between Batman and Robin, with a baffling reference to Superman. Robin is a whiny man-child obsessed with impressing “chicks” and wanting to use the Batmobile for just that purpose. Batman is the cold distant father we never wanted. He won’t even let Robin ride in his car. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Story Tumor #3: Ice Skating Battle
The next scene takes place in a museum where Mr. Freeze is stealing an oversized diamond to fuel his suit. It also introduces us to what will be a touchstone feature of this entire movie: bad Mr. Freeze puns. But not to worry, soon the scene erupts into a tussle on ice.
Why does Batman have ice skates in his shoes?
Why are things flying through the air at rate one third the speed of actual gravity?
Why is everybody ice skating again?.
Movies at times require us to suspend belief but this is an all out war against the senses. In this world, the only constant is sheer improbability.
Story Tumor #4: Mr. Freeze’s Rocket Ship
Next Batman and Robin climb inside a rocket ship blasting into space. It is an act of utter incoherency. No reason could be good enough to connect the outlandish ice battle we have just witnessed to the homage to old sci-fi movies we are now seeing. Also Mr. Freeze will use his ship to freeze all of Gotham. This will help him save his wife somehow.
Before he can succeed, Batman and Robin blow up the ship and make their way from Earth’s upper atmosphere all the way back to the ground. Temporarily suspending the law of physics, our heroes invoke the law of improbability and emerge unscathed.
This cannot be happening. And yet it is. The assault on reason continues.
Story Tumor #5: The Robin Popsicle
Sidekicks are sidekicks for a reason: they lack the sufficient skills and experience to be their own hero. Robin affirms this notice and runs ahead to challenge Mr. Freeze alone.
Immediately he is turned into a Robin Popsicle. In real life, having your entire body flash-frozen would kill you or at least cause some major tissue damage. But this movie thrives on the improbable.
Batman kicks the human ice cube into a tank of water and turns the water red with his laser. Yes, the laser turns water red. Red means hot. This defrosts Robin and makes him all better. Mr. Freeze gets away and Batman and Robin live to fight another day.
We’re only 15 minutes into the movie.
Does It Fit The Bill?
It’s only been 15 minutes and we’ve already suffered five indefensible sins against the art of cinema. Five terrible crimes against our delicate senses. Five insufferable stakes driven into the heart of the Batman mythos.
Possibly this would make sense in a cartoon. And wait, now it all makes sense. I am a watching a live action cartoon. This movie has nothing to do with the previous three Batman films in terms of tone or dramatic effect. It is one giant gimmick, a slideshow of strange and anti-rational things designed to dazzle and provoke. It is Wylie E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner in circles for the amusement of small children.
Batman and Robin is special. Unlike most bad movies (ones that could have been good except for three or four major missteps) somehow it manages to make a major mistake every few minutes. But ultimately its major issue is tone. The film panders to kids with its garish cartoonishness without any actual heart that makes a kids movie watchable for adults. The result is over-the-top antics and logic-breaking ridiculousness that defy explanation.
But does it fit the theory?
Well in many ways it takes the theory and carries it to the furthest possible conclusion: What if every scene was a story tumor? What if every scene didn’t make sense and made the viewer scratch their head? What if every scene was worth ridiculing and laughing at? What if every scene was terrible and interrupted the audience’s enjoyment of the movie? That would be the baddest movie of them all.
Sadly this is what makes Batman and Robin an important film to rewatch and study. It is a masterclass in how not to make a movie. It interrupts the narrative flow with one story tumor after another in an incredulous display of bad taste. If you want to see the power of story tumors, look no further.
So Is There Really Such a Thing as a Universal Theory of Bad Movies?
I think I’ve spilled enough digital ink on this topic. I’m not sure I can handle watching any more bad movies. While this series probably deserves some kind of conclusion, I’ll leave it up to you to decide if the theory holds up. Are bad movies too deeply flawed to save or could they be largely fixed by removing a few story tumors? You tell me, because after slogging through these six articles I simply refuse to write one more word.