George Clooney shows off his Batsuit in 1997’s ‘Batman & Robin’
Joel Schumacher has had a long, storied Hollywood career, but he is well aware that prominent among his legacies will be the nipples he put on George Clooney’s Caped Crusader costume in 1997’s Batman & Robin.
“I think that will be on my gravestone,” the director told Variety over the weekend. “It’s how I’ll be remembered.”
Batman & Robin was the fourth film in the original saga, which was launched by Tim Burton in 1989. Burton and star Michael Keaton left the franchise after 1992’s Batman Returns, at which point Warner Bros. wanted to lighten the tone and make the series more family-friendly.
Schumacher’s first Bat film, Batman Forever starring Val Kilmer, received mixed reviews but did well enough at the box office ($336 million worldwide) that Warners ordered a fourth. Batman & Robin with new star George Clooney earned dreadful reviews and weak box office and effectively ended the Batman series until Christopher Nolan’s reboot in 2005. To this day, Schumacher regrets saying yes to another go-round.
“I never did a sequel to any of my movies, and sequels are only made for one reason: to make more money and sell more toys,” he told Variety.“I did my job. But I never got my ass in the seat right.”
Schumacher’s not the only one involved in the movie who has looked back on it ruefully. Years ago, in a documentary about the Bat-films, Chris O’Donnell, who played Robin in Batman Forever before sidekicking it again for Clooney’s Bruce Wayne, was blunt about the film’s pandering to commercial considerations.
“It just felt like everything got a little soft the second time,” he said. “On Batman Forever, I felt like I was making a movie. The second time, I felt like I was making a kid’s toy commercial.”
O’Donnell also criticized his costume for having a big ol’ codpiece, though he told Conan O’Brien earlier this year that he still has the Robin suit nearly 20 years later.
Alicia Silverstone, Clooney, and O’Donnell in ‘Batman & Robin’
As for Batman himself, Clooney appeared at New York Comic Con last week where he joked that he had to apologize to original TV Batman Adam West for the nipples. Clooney has regularly recalled his Bat-abomination with some amount of regret. Earlier this year, he said he “completely destroyed” the role.
A few years ago, he was a bit more diplomatic. ”With hindsight it’s easy to look back at this and go ‘Woah, that was really shit and I was really bad in it,’” Clooney admitted in an interview with Total Film back in 2011. “The truth is, my phone rang, and the head of Warner Bros. said ‘Come into my office, you are going to play Batman in a Batman film’ and I said ‘Yeah!’ I called my friends and they screamed and I screamed and we couldn’t believe it!”
In fact, he’s still sort of happy that he took the job.
"Batman is still the biggest break I ever had and it completely changed my career, even if it was weak and I was weak in it,” Clooney added. “It was a difficult film to be good in. I don’t know what I could have done differently. But if I am going to be Batman in the film Batman & Robin, I can’t say it didn’t work and then not take some of the blame for that.”
That was basically a nicer way to say what he said back in 2004, when Clooney told Esquire that he took the role for business reasons and knew from the start that it would be hot garbage.
"I never thought Batman & Robin was going to be a great film,” he admitted. “I thought it was a great opportunity for me. And suddenly we’re filming. The script isn’t together. I’m just miserable in the suit, trying to make scenes work. That’s not the way to make a movie.” On the plus side, the film did teach him a big lesson — which ended up helping make him one of the world’s biggest movie stars.
"The thing is, it took me Batman & Robin to get to the point where I am now,” Clooney said. “When I got in a position to greenlight a picture and get the picture made, I really had to adjust my thinking. Because when you’re an actor, you’re thinking about getting good roles. You go, That’s a great part! And you sign on to make the movie. Only now, those movies are being greenlit because you’re doing them, and when the reviews come out, you’re being held responsible not just for what you did in the film, but for the entire film.”
Some of Clooney’s co-stars were even more magnanimous about the bomb. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who played pun-happy villain Mr. Freeze, pretty much just shrugged when asked about it by Empire Magazine in 2012.
"I felt that the character was interesting and two movies before that one Joel Schumacher was at his height,” he said. “So the decision-making process was not off. At the same time I was doing Eraser over there and Warner Bros. begged me to do the movie…. In most cases I don’t regret the movies that failed or were not as good. It’s always easy to be smug in hindsight, right?”
His fellow villain in the film, Uma Thurman (who played Poison Ivy), even defended the film’s artistic and social merit, by declaring its campiness a shot against homophobia and the conventions of the time.
Well, it came out in a different time when people were still being bitchy about campy. Humor being campy and campy being a code word for gay has changed,” she told the Huffington Post earlier this year. “I think at the time, the idea of taking a male superhero and having fun with it and someone using the c-word [campy] on it caused people to be very nasty. And that kind of nastiness was acceptable on those terms. And I think that’s the reason some people were particularly annoyed. They didn’t like seeing that tone applied to their heterosexual male icon.”
In fact, Thurman wasn’t afraid to even be more than a little hyperbolic about the movie’s legacy. ”What Joel did was actually very threatening at the time, and I think it is truly one of the things that we should all feel — and me as a person — is beyond greater than the Berlin Wall coming down,” Thurman added. “Far more thousands or millions more have died under that discrimination and those biases and those scriptures being interpreted in such a cruel manner compared to those who died coming out of East Germany.”
Refresh yourselves with the wonder that is Batman & Robin by watching the trailer below: