Bad Superhero Movie Showdown 1997: Batman & Robin vs. Spawn
Welcome to the Agony Booth’s second ever Bad Superhero Movie Showdown, in which we compare two justifiably reviled superhero movies to definitively answer the question of which one fails the most.
If the exact tone of Batman Forever had been carried over into Batman & Robin, we probably would’ve gotten a fifth or even sixth entry in that series. But, instead of continuing a legacy of tired mediocrity, director Joel Schumacher doubled down on the crotch shots, neon architecture, and quips from Forever. Batman & Robin is like someone filtered out all of the good parts of Forever, tossed them away, and then made a movie out of what was left in the strainer.
Spawn, based on Todd McFarlane’s hit comic series, is rarely mentioned in discussions about superhero movies, even when we’re only discussing the bad ones. There are no peaks of outstanding awfulness. No “Have an ice day!” or “Do you know what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning?” moments. It’s just a clumsy swing at some very uneven source material. Spawn, as a character, would not get his due until his awesome HBO animated series, which remains the best version of the character. But let’s get down to the actual movies at hand.
Round 1: Worse Hero
I think there’s an alternate reality where George Clooney is praised for his performance in Batman & Robin. No such universe exists for Chris O’ Donnell and Alicia Silverstone. I’ve seen eviction notices that have more entertainment value than those two brought to Batman & Robin. But I think had Clooney (and the movie itself) been steered in a more obvious Adam West-esque direction, his performance would’ve gone down the route of “misjudged” or “curious” instead of “Refund, please” and “God help me.”
Michael Jai White is awesome. The dude has to actively try not to kick ass on a daily basis, as our puny Earth can only handle so much ass kicking, and even less Michael Jai White-brand ass kicking. And he’s great in stuff like Never Back Down: No Surrender, Black Dynamite, and Blood and Bone. But he is done zero favors in Spawn, where his dialogue is made up of painfully forced insults aimed at John Leguizamo’s Clown and unconvincing screams into the night, each of which may as well double as a cry to be released from whatever’s binding him to this terrible film.
Clooney has mediocre direction to hide the fact that he’s blindly barreling through his film. Spawn’s direction forces us to sit though White’s tortured performance like it’s an awful talent show audition. You feel stuck with Spawn, and all you can do is hope that maybe the spotlight will one day turn off so that you can politely clap and then leave the theater forever.
Round 2: Worse Villain
Long after I’m dead and forgotten, and my tombstone has been rendered undecipherable by time and weather, people will still be saying, in a bad Austrian accent, “You’re not sending me to the cooler!” It’s not the best legacy, but I have yelled “What killed the dinosaurs? THE ICE AGE!” when I was drunk too many times to fault Arnold Schwarzenegger (and Uma Thurman) for their performances. Can perfection be bad? If so, they are the worst kind of perfect.
On the other side, we have John Leguizamo’s Clown, who delivers the most unwatchable performance in superhero film history. He’s burdened under what seems to be less of a fat suit and more of a collection of rogue pillows. And he hisses and groans every line like he’s struggling to escape an invisible boulder that’s fallen on him.
I hate that role with every fiber of my being. It makes me want to punch movies. Not a specific movie, or even a specific movie-related person. Just movies as a concept.
Round 3: Worse World
Remember when I said that Batman Forever lacked any sense of cohesion? That problem is actually fixed in Batman & Robin. Sure, Forever’s messy designs are replaced by a kaleidoscope’s idea of what heaven is, but it’s nice, in an “I hate it” kind of way.
Spawn’s world is just there. There’s no sense of atmosphere or escapism. It’s the bare bones of what could be considered a fantasy world. And it’s only considered that because, thankfully, you’re not currently sitting in it.
Batman & Robin attempts to be something other than the dullest-looking place in the world. It doesn’t quite succeed by any human definition of the word “succeed,” but again, at least it isn’t Spawn.
Re-watching Spawn for this column was probably the most unpleasant thing that’s happened to me lately, and that includes nearly getting hit by a car in the parking lot of a Taco Bell. It goes past the realm of simply being a bad movie and into the realm of “Why would you do this to someone?” Batman & Robin is just a goofy, bad movie. Spawn is a terrible experience.