Bad Superhero Movie Showdown: Batman Forever (1995) vs. Judge Dredd (1995)
Welcome to the Agony Booth’s first 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.
In 1992, director Tim Burton delivered Batman Returns to the world. But the Black Vomit-spewing Danny DeVito toy didn’t sell a lot of Happy Meals, so Warner Bros. began looking for a replacement. In 1995, they decided on Joel Schumacher, who would go on to create two movies that aren’t just considered bad in the grand scheme of superhero movies, but considered bad in the grand scheme of all things. As in, plague, famine, and Batman Forever.
In the same year, we got Judge Dredd, which featured Sylvester Stallone, Rob Schneider, and a wide variety of shoulder pads. While it would be great to look back at Judge Dredd and find an unsung classic of the 90s, that’s just not the case. Judge Dredd is a screaming, bumbling ode to a comic book character that no one making the film quite understood. But is it worse than the wretched neon afterbirth that Batman Forever? That’s what we’re about to find out.
Round 1: Worse Hero
Between Rocky V and Rocky Balboa, Stallone entered an era that can best be described as “uneven.” At his best, he exuded the feeling of an aging bad-ass, muscling his way through a world that was more about computers than fist fights. At his worst, he had all the range of that football-playing kid that gets roped into high school theater because not enough dudes tried out for Much Ado About Nothing: shouting, grumbling and delivering lines as if he’s still trying to work through in his head what exactly he’s saying. In Judge Dredd, he stares menacingly a lot and every sentence sounds like an alligator mating call. It’s okay though.
With Batman Forever, goofy, lonely, intense Michael Keaton was replaced by Val “if I do more than two facial expressions, I’ll rupture my skull” Kilmer. There’s never been a more boring Batman or Bruce Wayne than Kilmer. He enters every scene like he’s surprised to find out he’s in a movie, and he never musters anything more than amused indifference to any conflict or plot turn.
I would watch Stallone do multisyllabic grunts forever as long as I never had to sit through Kilmer’s aimless Dark Knight again.
Round 2: Worse Sidekick
Rob Schneider in Judge Dredd is the ’90s comedy sidekick ideal. He doesn’t deliver jokes as much as he just complains about any situation that he’s in. There’s nothing witty or sympathetic about this character. He’s just here to whine about being Rob Schneider in the apocalypse.
Chris O’Donnell shouldn’t be blamed for Robin’s shortcomings in Batman Forever. The people behind that movie desperately wanted to shove Robin into it in any way possible, without first asking, “Hey, what is a Robin, anyway?”
At least O’Donnell adds to the plot. Schneider exists in Judge Dredd to remind you that Rob Schnieder was a thing in 1995. You’d achieve the same effect by pausing Judge Dredd every four minutes to watch a 90-second clip from The Benchwarmers.
Round 3: Worse Villain
People get on Jack Nicholson for playing Jack Nicholson when he should’ve been playing the Joker in the first Batman, but that complaint is hogwash. Especially when you look at Jim Carrey as the Riddler. Jim Carrey turns up his ’90s Jim Carrey-ness 150% in Batman Forever, vomiting catchphrases from every orifice and collapsing in a puddle of his own charisma by the end. Tommy Lee Jones tries to keep up, but never leaves the range of “middle-aged man that just now wants to get into skateboarding.”
Armand Assante plays Rico Dredd like most people did most things in Judge Dredd: with no clue about what he’s supposed to be doing. Luckily, he never seems embarrassed about the role and hams it up whenever possible. He also says “law” like everyone should say “law.”
Loser: Jim Carrey, by a mile.
Just watch The Cable Guy instead.
Round 4: Worse World
Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One kind of reminds me of a less inspired version of Anton Furst’s design work on Batman. It’s nothing memorable, but at least it doesn’t grate on you.
Speaking of grating, the lack of cohesion in Batman Forever’s Gotham City is stunning. Neon signs and buildings clash with grim alleyways. I don’t know what Gotham’s city planning committee was going for, but it seems like someone said, “Glow stick juice and bricks,” and the everyone else applauded for ten hours.
Loser: Batman Forever.
The design drains atmosphere from the film, leaving you with nothing but a jarring, messy interpretation of Gotham. And every other part of the movie follows suit.
Judge Dredd is the perfect representation of a “I caught it at 11 AM on TNT one Sunday morning” movie. Batman Forever kind of sticks with you. I can be in the middle of a work meeting or picking up stuff at the grocery store, and I’ll suddenly remember “Man, Batman Forever is kind of bad, isn’t it?” I’ll never forgive it for that.