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Joel Schumacher embraced his campy bat-past with open arms

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Jun 22, 2020, 5:04 PM EDT

In light of beloved filmmaker Joel Schumacher's recent death from cancer at the age of 80, fans everywhere have expressed their affection and admiration for the director of such fare as The Lost Boys, Flatliners, and more. But perhaps Schumacher's most memorable additions to the cinematic canon were his pair of Batman films. Batman Forever and Batman & Robin suffered harsh appraisals from fans and critics alike, but that doesn't mean everyone denied their extravagant appeal and campy fun — and that includes Schumacher.

The director often reflected on his Bat-duo, the specific elements fans of the character called out from his films, and his thoughts on their legacy. But, in spite of the lasting shadow they cast, he never referred to them with anything but a good-natured ribbing that was fitting for a comic book film where a man dresses up like a bat. Hammy, hilarious, and homoerotic, Schumacher's Batman films were always a source of amusement for the filmmaker.

Never one to avoid stirring the pot, Schumacher would say apparently contradictory things about his actors depending on when he was asked. In a 2012 interview, the director quipped: "For me, Val Kilmer was the best Batman. I thought he looked great in the costume, and I thought he brought a depth to the role. I thought the relationship between Val and Nicole Kidman was very sexy. Jim Carrey, of course, was the perfect Riddler. And then I had the great Tommy Lee Jones and a lot of other great people are in that movie."

Of course, he also described Kilmer as "the most psychologically troubled human being I've ever worked with" and Jones as "an ass****."

But that's partially because Schumacher could roll with those dualities. He knew that the controversial nippled batsuits of Bruce Wayne actors Kilmer (Batman Forever) and George Clooney (Batman & Robin) were the object of much discussion. He gave fans an apology — "Look, I apologize. I want to apologize to every fan that was disappointed because I think I owe them that" — before, in the same interview, delving into their funny, intriguing origin story with a focus on the craftsmen behind them.

"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," Schumacher said. "[The suit] was made by Jose Fernandez, who was our brilliant lead sculptor. If you look at Batman and Batman Returns, it was the genius, Bob Ringwood that created those suits, so by the time we got to Batman Forever, the rubber and techniques had gotten so sophisticated ... By the time Batman Forever came around, rubber molding had become so much more advanced. So I said, let's make it anatomical and gave photos of those Greek status and those incredible anatomical drawings you see in medical books. He did the nipples and when I looked at them, I thought, 'That's cool.'"

Did he regret including them in hindsight? No way. "I'm still glad we did it," he said in 2017.

Batman & Robin/Warner Bros.

Aside from the skintight visuals, the one-liners and the camp also owed themselves to Schumacher's proud gay identity.

"If I wasn't gay, they would never say those things," he once explained. Sure, some segment of the audience wasn't going to vibe with his artistic choices. Schumacher knew that. "A lot of it was my choice," he said of Batman & Robin. "No one is responsible for my mistakes but me."

He also knew that looking back, he still thought these choices (even if some viewed them as mistakes) were cool and that they would continue to be a part of a timeless character's history.

"Batman has survived since 1939 — we're the same age," Schumacher said in 2019. "Nothing has ever stopped Batman."