Of all the DC and Marvel superheroes out there, no one endures more fan and media scrutiny than Batman. Granted, Batman is one of the genre’s seminal superhero characters, debuting way back to his pulpy 1939 origins — Batman’s first appearance was just a few years after Doctor Occult, Superman, Zatara, and the Crimson Avenger. Who? Other than Superman, there are obviously few characters from the early Marvel and DC canon that have endured, which speaks volumes to the resonance and importance of this character to audiences (and also the genre as a whole).
For the first time in a while we really don’t know where the Dark Knight is headed next, and that’s kind of exciting!
Batman has been portrayed dozens of times over the decades, in radio, film, television, video games, and animation; but let’s focus on the big-screen Batman and analyze where he stands post-Justice League. ComicBook reports that writer-director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) has just locked down his core story for the upcoming The Batman film, and is now working on the outline. The two big, obvious questions this raises are: what’s the story and who’s going to play Batman? Let’s discuss!
Batman’s first film outings were the early Hollywood serials of the 1940s, which were essentially variations on classic gangster films from the prior decade. The full-length serials are available on YouTube, and they’re kind of amazing for their time — you can see how this stuff informed the 60s Adam West version, too. The modern-day Batman begins with Michael Keaton’s version of the Dark Knight in Tim Burton’s epic Batman (1989). Since Keaton there have been five other actors playing the Bat on film, which brings us full circle to today, and Ben Affleck’s status going forward.
Affleck has already played Batman three times — Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, Justice League — but it’s unclear whether or not he’ll suit up again for Reeves, based on a bunch of public comments he’s made over the past year. There are rumors that Reeves has his eye on Jake Gyllenhaal, who is 8 years younger than Affleck, for lack of any other distinction (both are solid actors with clear physical skills). At some point soon the Affleck question will be addressed definitively, but given the struggles of both Justice League and the broader DC extended universe (DCEU), it makes more sense to move on and soft-reboot or just re-cast the part.
Reeve’s story — whatever it is — will strongly inform his casting choices. That seems obvious, right? Given that Reeves wrapped a pair of Planet of the Apes movies, it’s not abundantly clear where he’s planning to start. According to ComicBook, Reeves began crafting his Batman story immediately after he finished War for the Planet of the Apes. He remarked:
For me, what’s always important is to try and find a personal way in. In that way, I do feel like I relate to actors. It’s about understanding emotionally, the way something is. I see this parallel between Caesar [the lead character from his two Apes films] and Batman, really, which is this idea of these characters who are grappling with their own struggle and trying to do the right thing in an imperfect world and, so, I do really relate it to that kind of idea.”
What kind of Batman is Reeves talking about? It sounds like he’s describing a younger Batman, who is a little unsure about himself, rather than the more confident, pissed-off, and world-weary Batman from Justice League. Of course, Reeves comments could be interpreted a number of different ways, but this is our baseline read of his comments. Beyond that we must speculate — and speculate we shall!
Before we debate where Reeves might go, we should evaluate where he’s most recently been. Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy contrasts sharply with Zack Snyder’s two recent films (Batman v Superman and Justice League). Nolan’s Batman was 30-ish and green, pitted against classic supervillains (Scarecrow, Ra’s Al Ghul, Joker, Bane) — each were one-man-against-the-world, big-city crime stories. Snyder’s Batman was 40-ish and grim, focused on outsized global threats that required super-teamwork. So, if we don’t want to revisit Nolan or Snyder, what do we want and expect from Reeves?
The most common refrain heard from fans and critics is the desire for a smaller, personal detective story that either eschews Batman’s standard rogue’s gallery of cartoony foes or introduces some new threat. Deathstroke, a DC super-villain and mercenary, known for incredible firearms and martial arts skills, was an early rumor — until he popped-up at the end of the Justice League, suggesting that he’s off-the-board for The Batman.
Regardless of whether the antagonist is Deathstroke or some other villain, the real hope is that Reeves dives deep into the CSI angle. Batman is known in the comics as “the world’s greatest detective,” but the films have only shown flashes of these talents — a full-on criminal mystery that Batman must solve (primarily) via his wits would be a massive and powerful shift from just about every film iteration of the character to-date. We all know that Batman is a ninja with a giant checkbook, and the typical narratives in his past films tend to go global and go large. However, a Batman detective story would ideally focus small, local, and be deeply personal. It would be a helluva swerve for Reeves and DC, but it might also be the most satisfying way to re-establish the character in a post-Justice League world, too.