Joel Schumacher is one of Hollywood’s most successful openly gay film makers. In the past 15 years, however, no director has been more universally despised than him (with the possible exception of M. Night Shyamalan). Why? Well, according to some he did what the Joker could never do. He killed the Batman.
In 1997, Schumacher released his sequel to Batman Forever, Batman & Robin. To nobody’s surprise, it was a HUGE flop. The film had the worst script of a series that had poor scripts to begin with (thanks Tim Burton), was terribly cast (*cough* George Clooney as Batman *cough* Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze) and just made very little sense overall. But what really pissed off DC comic book fans was that Batman’s newest gadgets were literally rubber nipples and a bulging cod piece – Batman was now ‘gay’.
I consider Schumacher’s sexuality irrelevant, yet it is obvious Batman & Robin was shot from a gay male perspective. Both heroes’ costumes fetishize the male body, the film references several Hollywood musicals and it incorporates a strong undertone of self-parody throughout. But why was this a problem?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone who hated the sequel is a homophobe. Like most other 90s big budget films, Batman & Robin was aimed directly at teenage boys – and as anyone who has spent time with this demographic (or once was one) will tell you, nothing turns them into profanity-spewing, hormonally-charged hate monsters faster than when something is deemed ‘gay’.
Without the cash flow of mindless teen-boy zombies to support Batman & Robin, Schumacher’s sequel struggled. Styling the Batsuit after statues of Greek gods may have therefore proved the nail in the coffin, effectively ending the series for the longest time since 1989. But what if creating such universal hate for Batman & Robin was the best thing to EVER happen to the Batman franchise?
By 1997, the Batman on the big screen was boring as hell. Although he somewhat developed in Batman Forever, Bruce Wayne never really got over the death of his parents.
That’s fine motivation for a movie or two, but tedious as the focal point of four. Batman was stagnating, so to try and save the franchise, Warner Brothers brought in London-born director Christopher Nolan to reinvent the Batman mythology and ultimately reshape the franchise.
I love Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and although his interpretations of Frank Miller’s original are far from perfect, I’ve realised that without Schumacher’s nipple-laden Batsuit my favourite films may have never come to fruition. Without the campy nipples and cod pieces there would be no Batman Begins, Dark Knight or Dark Knight Rises, and Christian Bale would never have got to share his rendition of a throat cancer victim dying of a prolonged episode of constipation.
For those still whining about how ‘gay’ Batman & Robin was, it’s time to let go and move on. Joel Schumacher has suffered enough at the hands of critics and fans for making a film that almost nobody wanted to see – hell, he even made a formal apology to Bat-fans worldwide. And if you go up to George Clooney and say you hated the film, he will give you $8 (the price of a movie ticket in 1997) from his wallet. FACT.
Sure, the nipple suit sucked. But it needed to suck. Something needed to push the Batman franchise out of complacency. That something just happened to be replicas of male erogenous zones. The Bat-nipples are gone, but they should not be forgotten. Nor should they be thought of as the homophobic death of Batman. Instead, they should be thought of as symbols at a time when film makers were taking risks and challenging our pre-conceptions of heroes and masculinity.
And remember, Batman’s been Adam West far longer than he’s been The Dark Knight.