Comic book movies are all the rage in Hollywood these days, with 40 such projects scheduled to hit theaters over the next six years. However, there was a time when superhero adaptations weren’t all that fashionable – namely 1997, when Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin nearly killed the Batman franchise with its awful critical and commercial reception.
The film is infamous for being one of the worst of all time, and principle players such as George Clooney have gone as far as to apologize to fans for how it all turned out. In retrospect, some fans view the failed experiment as a twisted blessing in disguise, since it paved the way for Christopher Nolan to reboot the Caped Crusader with Batman Begins (re-establishing the icon as a box office force), but the mere mention of any of the movie’s more questionable choices will still cause many to shiver.
In a long list of sins against the source material, one of the ones people took most issue with was the addition of the “Batnipples” on the costumes worn by the titular heroes. While it’s clear to many why these were a questionable choice, it was something that was lost on Schumacher at the time. In an interview with Variety, the filmmaker expressed surprise over the negative reaction they received.
Read his quote:
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I think that will be on my gravestone. It’s how I’ll be remembered.”
Like the awful Mr. Freeze puns, Schumacher made the decision to include the Batnipples into the final product, so it shouldn’t come as a complete shock to viewers that the director thought they weren’t a fashion faux pas when he was working on the film.
Still, it gives fans an inside look on how Batman & Robin was perhaps doomed from the start, embracing a camp and over-the-top silliness that is in stark contrast from how the character is usually imagined. “Dark and gritty” are buzzwords that get thrown around a lot nowadays, but in Batman’s case, that tone actually works well.
In fact, it was Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy that helped launch the new era of serious-minded genre pictures, with just about every reboot or reinterpretation adapting that style to bring in a new audience (with some exceptions, of course). Schumacher was asked about the differing techniques the two directors used during his interview. Here’s what he had to say:
“I was never able to go into the darkness. Because of ‘Batman Returns,’ families had objected that it was too adult, which is no criticism of Tim Burton’s. When they offered it to me, I went to Tim and said, ‘This is your franchise and they want me to do it. I won’t do it if you don’t want me to.’ He said, ‘Take it, please! I can’t do another one.’ Even though ‘Batman Forever’ is really sexy, it was a movie the whole family could see.”
It’s common knowledge now that Batman & Robin was intended to be a more “family friendly” film than The Dark Knight since Warner Bros. wanted to use the movie as an outlet for selling toys and merchandise to the youngsters in attendance.
In a way, one can appreciate the difficulties Schumacher faced as the director. Superheroes have generations of fans spanning all ages, so filmmakers need to find the tricky balance between satisfying both the adults and children watching. There are ways to do this properly and we’re not saying Schumacher’s film is an example of that, but from a certain point of view, he was trying to make the best of a weird situation.
Director Zack Snyder thankfully won’t be incorporating Batnipples into his Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (then again, he did put nipples on Ozymandias in Watchmen), but that hasn’t stopped the film from generating lots of controversy over Bruce Wayne. From the moment Ben Affleck was cast in the role, the Internet exploded with a wave of differing opinions ranging from “hey, this could work” to “remember Daredevil?”
Schumacher had some thoughts of his own that he shared during his talk:
“I think a lot of people discounted Ben. I think they’ve been shown that they were foolish and that he’s doing great.”
Since we’re still a little under two years away from seeing the final product, it’s a pretty bold statement by Schumacher to call the naysayers “foolish.” Officially released images have indicated that the Oscar-winner looks the part (which has helped shift feelings over to his side), but until we see some finished footage, it’ll be difficult to say if the negativity surrounding his hiring was overblown or not. Count us among the Batfleck supporters, but we’d like to see him acting in the part before stating the final verdict.
He became an easy target during the 2000s, but Affleck revitalized his career this decade with a series of solid turns in acclaimed dramas like The Town, Argo, and Gone Girl. He’s shown through those works that he certainly possesses the acting ability to give fans a memorable Batman, so perhaps Schumacher’s proclamation will come true and Affleck will become a new Dark Knight for this generation. Stranger things have happened.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters March 25, 2016.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.