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”?
Jason: That’s the challenge, really. If this is meant to be a character that functions as a part of a larger world then how do you make sure that that works and what is the overriding tone of that world? I think they’ve struggled there but I’m also not sure WB cares anymore. You look at them seemingly throwing away the last Suicide Squad film for whatever James Gunn has planned and how they’re making a stand-alone Joker origin movie … I love these moves. I want them to trash continuity if it means better films. I imagine someone in some meeting was like, “but what about Wade Wilson and Ryan Reynolds’ appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and I hope someone threw a shoe at them. But perhaps that’s the other question: should this film be tied to Wonder Woman and Aquaman, or should DC just let these things be their own thing? To me, you’re going to get a more interesting Batman story if it exists in a bubble and isn’t concerned with what has come before it.
Jess: I guess if I’m forced to accept that another Batman film is happening, I’d want it to answer some questions I have for DC. We’re living in a box office market saturated with superheroes, so why are we revisiting this character. What’s different, how is it better? If he’s going to be younger, let’s skip the dead parents schtick. If he’s going to stay middle-aged, let’s have him raising up a new era of superheroes, maybe Nightwing or Batgirl or Robin. I loved Affleck’s banter with Ezra Miller as The Flash. Maybe that kind of fatherly dynamic could work, and inject some humor. But, if I have to boil it down to just one thing that would get me excited over yet another Batsy flick it’s this: Michael B. Jordan. If Michael B. Jordan plays Batman, DC can do what it wants story wise. I’ll give it my money.
Jason: I would have been excited by a Batman: Beyond situation. That would have been a bold move; turning Batman into a Creed-like passing of the torch with Bruce Wayne as an aged Rocky-type. I agree with you completely. I don’t know that a Batman movie can work absent people in his corner. People he cares about. Stakes. It’ll humanize Batman, but it’ll also be a counter against the spectre of death and grief that is so tied to the character with his parents dying (spoiler alert!). Batman can be fun if his focus is on the future and the mission and not the past. That’s the biggest change I’d like to see in the character as we move to a new era. In terms of casting, I am a white straight male in my thirties. Cast me! No … I’ve seen comic book heroes that are representative of my race, gender, and sexuality my entire life and I really enjoy seeing the reaction that kids have when they have the chance to experience that for the first time with Black Panther and with Miles Morales in Into The Spider-verse. The latter was a reminder of how joyous and inclusive these stories can be because of the focus on good vs evil, heroism, finding your place in the world, and rising above obstacles. So when we talk about what Batman is and what this film can be, I think, yeah Michael B. Jordan or another black actor would be great, and how casting a Latin-American actor or an Asian-American actor could extend that feeling of inclusivity to communities that have been underserved by efforts to diversify superhero movies, and I think that, if there’s a right fit, that’s a big opportunity. And I know that sounds like one big virtue signal, but there’s a real change there for me because I used to bristle when comic book movies would stray from the comic book canon. But there are things that are important than that. Things that, honestly, ensure that these properties resonate with a broad audience and survive the long haul.
Jess: Agreed, and I would hope should they cast a minority in the film, that the creatives don’t just use a one-size-fits-all approach. As wonderful as it would be for audiences to see an Asian or Latino lead, I think (read: desperately hope) we’re moving past the token phase of diverse casting. I’d want the writers, the director, the team behind this thing to really lean in and let that underserved community not only see themselves in a superhero flick, but feel it’s an authentic representation. I think we can all agree, right now isn’t the best time to have yet another rich, white male playing the hero on screen. I know Bruce Wayne is more than just a brooding billionaire with mommy issues, but we focus so much on his vigilante persona, it’d be nice to peel back some layers of the man himself, to have him actually care about his company and his family’s legacy, to see him do good outside of the suit. Maybe that’s a bit too idealistic but I think there are plenty of ways to hit the refresh button on the character if we’re going to commit to having more solo films, it just depends on if WB is brave enough to do it.
Jason: And that’s really, I think, an important reflection on the moment. Again, Batman is a valuable commodity for WB. I think it’s easier to be excited by this if we get something out of it. And I think that something is, to a lot of people, a chance for a Batman film that finds a way to be familiar and different.