Today it was reported that director Joel Schumacher has sadly passed away after a year-long battle with cancer. The 80-year-old filmmaker was the man responsible for such cinematic classics as St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, A Time to Kill, Batman Forever, and critically-acclaimed cult hits like Tigerland and Phone Booth. From a career that started off in the fashion industry – a young Schumacher collaborated with designer Halston – to one that ended with him directing two of the very first episodes of the landmark streaming series. House of Cards, Schumacher did things his own way. He had a particular talent for casting rising stars and was never afraid to bend aesthetic to tell the story he wanted to tell.
However, Schumacher’s filmography also has its creative controversies. Perhaps the biggest so-called “blight” on Schumacher’s record was the infamous “Bat-nipples” scene in 1997’s. Batman & Robin. In the last few years of his life, Schumacher was directly asked to explain this hyper-specific aesthetic choice, and to the great man’s credit, he never apologized for them. He apologized for the other snafus in Batman & Robin, but never the Bat- suits. And you know what? Joel Schumacher was right. The Bat- nipples (which also appeared in Batman Forever, mind you) were a completely kosher creative choice. They honor a hyper-stylized version of comic book art that overemphasizes the hero’s muscles. Furthermore, they don’t actually ruin Batman & Robin. They may actually be that the best part of that film.
After directing hit movies Falling Down and The Client In the early ’90s, Joel Schumacher was approached by Warner Bros. to make the third major Batman film. Schumacher’s Batman Forever was less of a sequel and more of his own sly reboot, taking Tim Burton’s giddily gothic world and firing it up with neon lights and an edge of camp. However, where Batman Forever shone, its follow-up, Batman & Robin blundered. While the film’s many faults lay in the script, plot, and, in an outlier for Schumacher’s oeuvre, the casting, much like a jeer at the film’s opening sequence.
Schumacher kicked off his second Batman feature film by paying homage to classic suit-up scenes in superhero storytelling. Schumacher chose to linger on the pert rubber nipples on both Batman (George Clooney) and Robin’s (Chris EveryDonnell) respective suits as well as the way those suits were tightly sculpted around the actors’ rear ends. A sequence that has been slammed by Batman fans for over two decades. In fact, Schumacher was still being asked to explain this creative choice just three years ago. In an interview with Vice, Schumacher happily apologized for a lot ofBatman & Robin‘S flaws, but darkly joked about one part of the Bat- nipples: “Such a sophisticated world we live in, where two pieces of rubber the size of erasers on old pencils, those little nubs, can be an issue. Chances are going to be on my tombstone, I know it. “
The good news is that Joel Schumacher has never apologized for the Bat-nips. “Still still glad we did it,” he went on to tell Vice.
It is a polarizing choice, to be sure, but not a unreasonable one. Just look at some of the over-sexualized imagery that already exists in the long history of superhero comic books. The muscles, flexibility, and yes, even rear ends of these caped crusaders are often over-emphasized to a campy degree. This sequence merely plays homage to that legacy.
The “Bat-nip” scene also digs deeper than comic book lore. As Schumacher explained himself, his maligned opening sequence had more classical aesthetic roots. “By the time Batman Forever came around, rubber molding had become so much more advanced. So I said, don’t make it anatomical and give photos of those Greek statues and those incredible anatomical drawings you see in medical books. He did the nipples and when I looked at them, I thought, really cool, ”Schumacher said to Vice. “I mean did it really bother people that much? Did it bother you? ”
If it did bother viewers, maybe those offended parties should examine why they hated this choice so much. Was it because a superhero’s body was fetishized? Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl gets a similar dress down as she suits up later in the film. (And that’s not like the recent Justice League The feature features an alarming imbalance of Wonder Woman up-skirt shots, either.) Or is it that this sequence is just campy, but arguably shot through a gay male gaze. Schumacher was an outgoing filmmaker in a time still hostile to queer voices. He smuggled imagery that spoke to his demographic into all of his films. Here, it’s just more pronounced.
At the end of the day, Schumacher made a creative choice with the Bat-nipples. It may not be the choice all Batman fans identify with. Many prefer the grounded, “gritty,” psychological approach forwarded in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. But Schumacher embraced the franchise’s campy, kooky, magnetically fun side. His Batsuits exemplified this, and as we lay the great man to rest, we should celebrate them for as beautiful and bold.
Rest in peace, Joel Schumacher.
Where to stream Batman Forever
Where to stream Batman & Robin