We’re Going to have a new Batman franchise before we know it, and as the third major cinematic take on the character there’s a number of things Ben Affleck’s take on the character is going to have to do in order to set its self-apart and further establish its own identity within the growing DCEU. While we separated our casting wish-list into a separate feature, it plays a major part in depicting how we’re hoping to see this new Batman franchise shape up.
Make use of the Bat-Family
None of the Batman movies have done a great job in exploring a fundamental aspect of Batman’s character: the fact that he’s enabled an entire host of costumed crusaders to aide him in his fight for Gotham. While all the films have upheld the fact that Batman never works alone, Batman & Robin (and Batman Forever to a lesser degree) soiled the chance for superhero sidekicks to be taken seriously, something that has affected every major superhero film for both Marvel and DC. It’s understandable why the Dark Knight Trilogy was so interested in depicting Batman as a solo-superhero, but now that everyone is intimately familiar with the character and have seen nearly every aspect of his character handled well, it’s time to explore his crime fighting family and Bruce’s relationship among them. Don’t let anyone tell you that Robin isn’t a great character or a necessary inclusion to the Batman mythos (in the end, even Nolan understood that despite his dislike of the character.) But even beyond Robin, there’s a whole host of other characters to consider, characters that could be used to keep Batman connected to the streets and life in Gotham. As suggested in the Fantasy Draft Casting for Robin, there’s a huge potential for diversity within Batman’s sidekicks, and an ability to explore what life is like for the disenfranchised youth—the future, of Gotham City. Every single one of Batman’s allies, Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Huntress, Bluebird, Spoiler, Batwoman, The Question, has potential for solo and team movies. Of course we don’t want Batman to be overshadowed in his own films, but we think that if these characters are introduced incrementally, with some just playing minor roles, that they’ll all be able to make an impact while allowing Batman to remain the main attraction.
Tackle the Issues and Continue to Ask Questions
One of the major turnoffs that led to many of the negative Batman v Superman reactions centered around the fact that the film, and its predecessor Man of Steel, were deconstructions of the characters and took our familiar icons to uncomfortable and cinematically unfamiliar places. Producer Deborah Snyder has said that she learned from the reaction towards that film that people don’t want deconstructions of these characters. Geoff Johns recently echoed this sentiment by stating that the DCEU films going forward would be celebrations of what’s best about the characters. That all sounds great, but part of what allowed Zack Snyder’s DCEU films to stand out, and Nolan’s Dark Knight films before them, is that they questioned the place and purpose of these heroes in today’s world. If we’re getting another Batman franchise, it needs to say something new and not just be another superhero action movie. We want to see aspects of the Batman mythos torn apart and re-examined. We want these films to ask how utilizing sidekicks is any different from warlords using child soldiers, to ask why Batman will kill unnamed criminals but not his greatest adversaries, and to explore the public opinion of a vigilante not held accountable to any legislation while at the same time cops and neighborhood watchmen are killing unarmed black men. These movies may exist in a world of fantasy but they’re at their most affective when they’re used to discuss us and our fragile social conditions.
Utilize those 20 Years of History and Take the Characters to New Places
One of the most interesting decisions in the DCEU was the one to introduce an older Batman who has twenty years of experience under his belt. BvS took full advantage of this factor by giving us a Batman who had lost hope, and was determined to make some major impact on the world after failing to do so against a revolving door of criminals. We’d like to see this sense of history spread across Gotham. Comics have a difficult time allowing their characters to change, and often go back to what’s most iconic about these characters, making progression difficult. We suggest that Affleck’s Batman film doesn’t place familiar characters in immediately recognizable situations. Instead of encountering Selina Kyle in the midst of a robbery, we find her as a crime boss in a lavish penthouse having gotten nearly everything she’s ever wanted. Man-Bat has spawned an entire colony of monstrous offspring who lurk in the highest towers of Gotham. The Riddler has become a detective for the underworld, and an information broker who keeps more than he shares. Zsasz is a cult leader, with an army of hash marked members in the highest and lowest sectors of Gotham. Bane now rules the island of Santa Prisca as a dictator who imports drugs and weapons into Gotham. And even though we’ve already encountered the Joker in Suicide Squad, we should get a sense that both his looks and personality have evolved over the course of Batman’s career, and are perhaps due for another evolution. More controversially, we suggest that some familiar characters, Lucius Fox or Leslie Thompkins, have met their end within these 20 years and appear only in memory. Ben Affleck has the opportunity to create a Gotham unlike any we’ve seen and keep audiences waiting for the next surprise.
Lean into the Source Material, Don’t Directly Adapt It, and Step Away From Miller
For years fans have been clamoring for a Batman film more like the comics and less grounded in reality with stories like Hush, Under the Red Hood, R.I.P. The Court of the Owls, and even the video game Arkham Asylum being popular choices. All of these suggestions are fantastic stories, but they’re also familiar and could become potentially thematically repetitive once they start stacking up. We think that Affleck’s Batman films should only borrow elements from these stories while creating new ones from the pieces. Of course, the Batman films have always done this but many have all leaned on shared source materials, most notably the work of Frank Miller. Miller’s Batman has been used as the basis for Batman in Nolan’s trilogy and the one in Batman v Superman, and now we think it’s time to step away from that Batman. By using a Dark Knight Returns-inspired Batman as a starting point instead of an ending one, there’s now the freedom to explore other depictions of the characters, from Neal Adams, Grant Morrison, Jeph Loeb, and Scott Snyder. While all of these writers have also payed homage of Miller in their own way, they’ve been able to step out of his shadow and create their own Batman, one less grounded and less consumed by darkness. Frank Miller has had his day, so let’s see design elements and dialogue references pull from the wider history of Batman.
Life, Death, and Legacy
The Batman comics of best decade have been as strong as ever, largely because they’ve been driven by a central conceit: every writer get to tell their story of the life and death of Batman. In modern comics, this idea was started by Grant Morrison, continued by Scott Snyder, and now rests in the hands of Tom King. Each of these writers have pulled from Batman’s 75-year plus history to deliver their Batman magnum opus that defines who the character is to them. This is Batman by way of The Once and Future King, and the new films would do well to utilize this idea. Nolan’s films achieved this, even if the story was planned one at a time. We’re suggesting something a bit more novel to the films. Yes, we’re saying that these Batman films should have a plan from the start, one that includes the death of Bruce Wayne. Batman, and DC Comics in general, have always been driven by legacy and the death of Bruce Wayne doesn’t mean the end of Batman. Going back to the necessity of the Bat-family, these characters all have the potential to replace Batman, not as an endpoint to the franchise but as the beginning of a new direction. Instead of worrying about casting replacements and contracts for these films, the DCEU could and should be one built on picking up mantles. The best decision that could be made for this new Batman franchise is for it to not only be the story of Bruce Wayne, but also those he leaves behind.
General audiences have been taught that Batman films are primarily grounded, nighttime affairs, with the bad memories of Schumacher being brought up when anything to the contrary is suggested. But Batman comics are weird, really weird. Not only do we want to see a Gotham City where more outlandish villains like Clayface, Poison Ivy, and Mr. Freeze can exist, we also want to see a Batman whose adventures consist of time travel, alternate realities, demons, aliens, back-up identities, and hallucinogenic vision quests, splashed with color. These elements can still exist in films where Batman and his supporting characters are taken seriously. There’s too much good within Batman’s history to only rely on stories told through the lens of crime and action films. Batman is one of comics most malleable characters, in that he can be put into any strange situation and still work. So let’s see him put there, and let’s see our concept of the superhero film evolve outside of what’s easily categorized.
Featured Image: Warner Bros. Pictures