Tim Burton Has Some Harsh Words For Batman Forever's Bat-Nipples

It's worth remembering that Michael Keaton was a controversial choice to play Batman in Tim Burton's 1989 film. Better known at the time for comedy films like "Mr. Mom" and "Beetlejuice," Keaton was seen an too "normal" and not tough enough to play a superhero. To add to the controversy, Burton designed the Batman costume with fake musculature sculpted onto its torso, giving Batman a nice set of rubber abdominal muscles. In the Faber & Faber book "Burton on Burton," edited by Mark Salisbury, the director talked about how he couldn't see a man who was already superheroic — say, a muscle man like Arnold Schwarzenegger — putting on a bat suit. An Adonis does not have to dress up and assume another identity to be a superhero; they already kind of are. As such, Burton cast someone who wanted to change their identity when they became Batman. An ordinary guy seemed more likely to dress up in a vigilante costume at night than someone who projected heroism during the daylight hours. 

Tim Burton's "cosplay fantasy" elements of the Batman suit were cranked up to 11 in Joel Schumacher's 1995 sequel "Batman Forever." In that film, the suit was fetishized to within an inch of its life, arguing that a large part of being Batman is the opportunity to wear the costume; Batman wouldn't be a vigilante if he didn't get to wear it. Many took note of the fact that the fake musculature on the suit now included prominent nipples as well. The nipples caused a minor uproar, and Schumacher eventually explained that they were meant to resemble statues of Greek gods. 

But Burton resented those nipples.

'Go f*** yourself'

To celebrate the anniversary of his sequel "Batman Returns," Burton was interviewed in Empire, and he expressed bitterness over the way he was treated on that film. While "Batman" was an immense success, "Batman Returns" was noted for how weird it was. The film was darker and notably kinkier. Catwoman (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) wore skintight vinyl, a corset, spike heel shoes, and carried a whip, the very image of a professional dominatrix. Her superhero kink expanded to Batman as well, whose costume became a kink accessory by association. Many modern audiences appreciate the bare-faced sexual themes on display, but in 1992, when "Returns" came out, it was lambasted for being off-putting and strange.

In the Empire interview, Burton recalls being told — too often — that "Returns" was too dark and kinky, a rich complaint, especially given that the ultimate studio decision would be to include fetish-ready nipples on the bat suit. Burton recalled:

"[In 1992] they went the other way. That's the funny thing about it. But then I was like: 'Wait a minute. Okay. Hold on a second here. You complain about me, I'm too weird, I'm too dark, and then you put nipples on the costume? Go f*** yourself.' Seriously. So yeah, I think that's why I didn't end up ['Batman Forever']."

Darker and darker

With his Batman films, Tim Burton kicked off a cinematic trend with Caped Crusader. Taking tonal cues from the "darker" Batman comics of the '80s, the popular version of the character turned from something broad and comedic — a perception lingering from the (excellent) 1966 "Batman" TV show — into something more brooding and stylized. As the films went, Batman became a more po-faced, "serious" character, and his darkness became a more pervasively definitive characteristic. That Schumacher tried to lighten the tone a bit — a choice, he admits, was dictated by studio heads seeking a younger audience — was antithetical to Batman now. Ever since, the trend — again, only as the films go — has been to make Batman more and more "gritty," more and more "realistic," and darker and darker as time passes. 

Schumacher's goofy "Batman & Robin" gave way to the relatively grounded "Batman Begins" in 2005, made by Christopher Nolan. In the 2010s, Batman became a bitter, greying man who fit into Zack Snyder's grim vision of the world. Earlier this year, director Matt Reeves made "The Batman," the grittiest Batman flick yet, made to resemble the aggressively dour 1995 serial killer film "Seven." Looking back at "Batman Returns," it seems cartoonish and even quaint in comparison. 

The nipples on the bat suit are now just one small detail in a bouillabaisse of Batman mythology that needs to be parsed more carefully than ever. Perhaps it's time to unclamp the nipples and set them free.