So, over at the Escapist, MovieBob just wrapped up a four-part series * analysing the four Batman films – starting with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, and finishing on a somewhat sour note that is Joel Schumacher’s 1997 Batman and Robin.
The first three parts of the series offer an interesting look back on the 90s Batman franchise **, and set up the series nicely within its proper context, taking account of the comic zeitgeist and the excellent animated series. While Bob’s views differ sharply from mine (I find Batman Returns to be the best of the three) we seemingly agree that Batman and Robin is easily the worst of the four films. However, Bob does manage to point out that the film may not be as bad as we remember.
This is a fair point, as the movie is generally regarded with a hatred which is perhaps unwarranted after all this time. I think where Bob goes too far is suggesting that a (perhaps minor, but important) factor in the continued revulsion the public feels for this film is that it was ‘informed by the gay aesthetic’ of the ‘one of the few openly gay filmmakers’ – Joel Schumacher.
Frankly, I find this assertion to be dubious, and I’ll explain why in just a second. Bob goes on to add that the backlash against the gaudy, neon-coloured design was so severe that it directly lead to the darker gritty feel of comic book movies to follow. Specifically, he cites the costume design for the x-men featuring boring black leather outfits and the reactionary over-serious tone of the Nolan Batman films. While he is entirely correct in that the kitsch aesthetic of Batman and Robin was rejected by audiences, I think this is more attributable to the very poor quality of the film and a changing taste of the 90s audience – especially considering that in 1997 the excellent animated series was going from strength to strength giving viewers (and not just kids) a vision of a serious Batman, but not so serious that it couldn’t be fun.
In any case, I seriously doubt that the reaction against the campy look and feel of Schumaher’s Batman films has anything much to do with his homosexuality. Why? Well, primarily because only three years later, the next big success of the superhero genre came at the hands of another openly-gay filmmaker. The director? Bryan Singer. The franchise? X men!
Even if we accept Bob’s somewhat bizarre conclusion that the (mostly teen boy) audiences were put off by Schumacher’s vision of Batman because it was associated with gay culture, then the real point is surely that Singer’s homosexuality informs the X-men franchise in a much more interesting way. Consider:
– The ostracism of the mutants in the X-men universe is clearly inspired by the prejudice towards various minority groups, including homosexuals. Ian McKellen (incidentally a noted gay rights activist) has publicly stated that this approach is what convinced him to play magneto.
– Iceman’s ‘coming out’ scene in X-men 2
– The relationship between Stryker and his mutant son
– Some of the Senator Kelley’s persecution of mutants (“Should mutants be allowed to teach in our schools?”) echoes real-world anti-gay legislation such as the notorious Section 28.
So to summarise – Singer uses homosexuality to explore facets of the human condition. In MovieBob’s view, Schumacher’s homosexuality is reflected in gaudy neon colours and the bat suit nipples. Or to put in another way – people don’t dislike ‘Batman and Robin’ because Joel Schumacher is gay, people dislike it because it’s very, very bad.