And that’s before we even get to the villains. Tommy Lee Jones had just won an Oscar for his masterful portrayal of the no-bullshit antagonist cop in The Fugitive. A better movie could’ve found chilling use for his brisk efficiency and folksy authority. Instead, Batman Forever opts to turn him into a cackling lunatic. It’s like Jones watched Jack Nicholson in the first Batman movie and decided to see if he could do all the exact same things as that performance, except even more so. He gibbers and howls and lets loose with peals of maniacal laughter and speaks entirely in broad catchphrases. He has two girlfriends, Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar, who are supposed to represent the duality of light and dark, or something. He’s supposed to represent that same duality, but the movie never gets that across in any coherent way. He’s just one more force for randomized, chaotic evil, doing bad stuff because the movie needs someone who does bad stuff. His makeup isn’t chilling, either. It’s just ass-ugly.

But if Jones were trying to seize the movie through the sheer force of his personality, he never had a chance, not while circa-1995 Jim Carrey was there. Carrey played The Riddler, a role originally written for Robin Williams. Screenwriter Lee Batchler has said that the Carrey version of the character was “a little more straight” than what he’d had in mind for Williams, which is terrifying to contemplate. Because Carrey never bothers to act; he just hyperactively mugs his way through the movie. Even before transforming into a supervillain, Carrey is a rubberized gag machine. There’s a decent chance that he ad-libbed his entire role, barking out giddy non sequiturs (“Spank me!” “Joy-gasm!”) that I think are supposed to function as jokes. But they’re not funny. None of it is funny. I don’t know why I, along with the rest of America’s 15-year-old boy population, ever thought this guy was funny, other than maybe the lingering Fire Marshall Bill goodwill. (He’s good at twirling a cane, at least.)

Jones, it’s worth mentioning, hated Carrey. Carrey has talked about how Jones told him, to his face, that he hated him. And when Carrey asked why Jones hated him, Jones simply answered, “I cannot sanction your buffoonery”—a line better crafted than anything in the Batman Forever script.

No writing could’ve saved that Carrey performance, but the writing in Batman Forever really is fucking appalling. Batchler and co-writers Janet Scott Batchler and Akiva Goldsman clearly thought they had things to say about Batman’s duality, but that only manifested in characters constantly mentioning that duality. It never adds up to anything. Nothing adds up to anything. Bruce Wayne, with no buildup or foreshadowing, suddenly decides to quit being Batman just because Nicole Kidman likes him. He implies over and over that he’s Batman before this supposedly brilliant psychologist finally figures it out. The Riddler’s dastardly plan to steal everyone’s brainwaves or whatever fails because he kidnaps Batman and brings him to his lair without making sure that his brainwave-stealing machine is Batarang-proof. The Riddler sneaks into the Batcave and blows up everything he can find but somehow misses the enormous plane in there. Schumacher and the writers couldn’t even figure out a way to end the movie, so they just closed on a shot of Batman and Robin running at the camera in slow motion.

And we all thought this was fine. It’s remarkable that the superhero movie managed to recover from this era, that it became a world-dominating force. Because we really had to make it through some shit to get to where we are now.

Other notable 1995 superhero movies: The summer’s other comic book offering was a movie every bit as gallingly dumb as Batman Forever. Judge Dredd, the great hard-boiled British dystopian comic book series, was transformed into a witless vehicle for post-relevance Sylvester Stallone. The Stallone movie understands exactly none of what makes the Dredd character work. He shows emotion, he takes off his helmet, he learns his own origin story, and he falls in love, all while saving Mega-City 1 from a parade of indistinguishable Euro-accented bad guys, one of whom, I guess, is supposed to be his brother? Rob Schneider appears in comic relief form, and there’s also a big robot with guns for fists. Don’t watch this movie.

The straight-to-video sequel Darkman II: The Return Of Durant doesn’t try especially hard to live up to its predecessor. Director Sam Raimi and stars Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand don’t return, but we do get Larry Drake reprising his role as Durant, the first movie’s secondary villain who very much got killed. We also get Darkman finding a dead friend and then staring up at the camera and screaming Durant’s name.

Roger Corman produced the intentionally campy made-for-Showtime movie Black Scorpion, in which the former model Joan Severance plays a detective who becomes a costumed vigilante to avenge the murder of her father. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series got its own cash-in movie, which probably falls into the superhero genre. And while none of them were exactly superhero movies, Tank Girl, Crying Freeman, and Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight all served, in one way or another, as comic book adaptations.