While Richard Donner’s Superman gets a lot of credit for kickstarting the comic book movie genre, Tim Burton’s Batman deserves nearly as much credit for leaning into the darker and more mature aspects of comic book stories, broadening the reach for these films. And with its success — financially and culturally — a boom followed.
Christopher Nolan also deserves credit for moving the genre forward following the post-Burton boom and the successes and failures that came with it. His films stand out as the most extreme version of a blueprint that smashed together human vulnerabilities and recognizable worlds with larger than life heroes and villains. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman seemed possible, as did the damaged and dangerous Rogue’s Gallery that Nolan brought to the screen. Psychopaths in search of chaos and disorder. Nothing cartoonish about their villainy. All shockingly real and frightening.
Since the end of Nolan’s trilogy, Marvel has taken comic book movies to new heights, moving toward a middle space that occasionally offers complexity and grim/dark themes before swinging back to the “heroing can be fun” angle. DC, in response, has worked to (at times) echo that idea while also trying to build its own connected cinematic universe. But the results have been inconsistent. Wonder Woman and Aquaman seem like healthy franchises, but indecision plagues the future of Henry Cavill’s Superman, and Ben Affleck is leaving the cowl behind and “passing the torch” to a new, ostensibly younger Batman.
Yet despite, or maybe because of the long history of the character on the screen, do we really need another Batman movie, and can it be a worthwhile endeavor? Two UPROXX writers, Jessica Toomer and Jason Tabrys, hash out this pressing issue.
Jessica Toomer: We’re living in extraordinary times. Right now, we have the power to shirk the traditional Hollywood formula of studios relying on a cash-cow property like Batman for something more. Do we want future generations to look back at this moment and say, “Huh, they made another Batman movie,” or do we want to introduce them to new, exciting characters with inventive storylines and origins that haven’t been done nearly a dozen times before on the big screen? I don’t need to see another shot of Martha Wayne’s pearls bouncing off the sidewalk.
Jason Tabrys: I don’t want another origin story either. I look at Spider-Man: Homecoming as a really good model for a reboot of a character that didn’t so much need to be introduced to audiences as redefined and established as something somewhat different. Maybe that’s a bigger swing than The Batman director Matt Reeves intends to take. Maybe this is more of a continuity push to keep the DCEU alive without Affleck, and the “younger” stuff is overblown, at least in terms of the character on screen. Who knows? But regardless, this is not going to be easy with the long legacy of Batman on screen. One could argue that the success of another Batman movie will beget more Batman movies, but I choose to believe that a good Batman movie that pushes the audience might be a sure way of seeing more comic book movies from WB and more unique characters from their stable. I don’t love the idea of a shared universe as I think they can be creatively stifling, but they do have that side effect. Marvel didn’t just make a dozen Iron Man movies after the first. They diversified … and also made like a dozen Iron Man movies. Basically.
Jess: Since we already have a dozen Batman movies, it’s hard to believe DC isn’t going to lean on the character in that way. What I respect about Marvel is its willingness to shine a light on “lesser” heroes, either with their own film or with large supporting roles. It’s a very organic way to introduce and solidify a universe. DC hasn’t been able to accomplish that same feat. Maybe that will change now with the success of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, but if you look at those films, the reasons they performed so well don’t match up with the Batman that DC has made canon. They were full of humor, they were set in mythical worlds not the gritty, dark streets of Gotham. They had fresh characters that weren’t chained down by past interpretations, and they were fun. Will Batman ever be a character described as “fun”?