The Batman needs a new captain. With Ben Affleck stepping down from the director’s chair and Matt Reeves leaving negotiations, the door is open for a replacement. Though Ridley Scott allegedly waits in the wings on the Warner Bros. shortlist, it’s in the best interest of the DCEU to turn their attention to a creator with the best record of all. Amid the pantheon of Hollywood’s most successful directors, there is no auteur more suited to The Batman than David Fincher.
His body of work speaks for itself, his tone is immaculate, and his ability to tell engrossing and complex stories is unrivaled. In addition to his legendary craft, Fincher has the advantage of having already worked with Ben Affleck on Gone Girl and with Jared Leto on Fight Club. Thanks to his familiarity with the actors and his inimitable tone, there’s no question that David Fincher could make a devastatingly good Batman movie; the only difficulty would be convincing the man who famously said, “I don’t make Big Macs” to take on the hottest superhero property of all time. Marvel once tempted Fincher with a Spider-Man movie, and while Marc Webb ultimately ended up with the job, Fincher has offered some insight into the kind of movie he wanted to make, saying: “I wanted to start with Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin, and I wanted to kill Gwen Stacy… It wasn’t the teenager story. It was much more of the guy who’s settled into being a freak.”
Mr. Fincher, meet Batman and the DC Extended Universe. If you thought Spider-Man qualified as a “freak,” then you’ll have a heyday playing around in Gotham, the greatest outdoor mental asylum in all of comics.
To be sure, David Fincher isn’t unaware of Batman. He thinks the character is “intensely sophisticated,” perhaps so much that he hesitates to take on the cape and cowl because the audience appetite is so voracious. Commenting on the associated pressures of making a Batman movie, Fincher said that, “It seems to be oddly pointless to go into something where the only acceptable outcome is raging success.” Though Fincher appears discouraged by the studio system’s rigid ways, he needn’t be; Zack Snyder kicked the door down with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and, for better or worse, declared the DCEU a brave new world. It’s a place where David Fincher would be right at home.
A Master of Adaptation
Fincher’s most seminal works are adaptations. Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Social Network stand as testaments for Fincher’s ability to take non-fiction books, short stories and even best-selling novels and turn them into vibrant films. His most recent adaptation of Gone Girl is evidence that pop culture isn’t a turnoff to Fincher’s artistic eye. So long as he sees an opportunity to imprint his deeply individual style into a narrative, he’ll be game to give it a shot. Fincher himself mused, “Everything seems really simple on paper until you take a camera out of the box.” He’s inspired by challenges, and given the many setbacks that have faced The Batman and the DCEU as a whole, he may find a test worthy of his talent.
As for any latent fears of simplicity, there is no comic book character more complex than the Dark Knight. He has existed for nearly 80 years and has shown a nearly limitless adaptability. Scores of authors have tried their hand at writing the ultimate Batman story, and though they work with finite ingredients, they continue to find infinite new incarnations of the character. For David Fincher to comprehend the magic of a marriage between his directorial vision and a potent Batman script, he would simply have to look at the library of stories under the Dark Knight’s name. Imagine the possibilities if Fincher got his hands on a twisted Scott Snyder story like Batman: Endgame, where Alfred gets his arm chopped off, the Joker skins his own face and Batman actually dies. It’s heavy stuff, but it’s also perfect for David Fincher. As the director himself one said, “I think people are perverts.” The Joker certainly fits the bill, and so, arguably, does Batman.
Se7en: A Joker Movie Without Batman
Fincher’s filmography is replete with stories about crime and punishment. Fight Club tackles the pitfalls of anarchy; Zodiac follows a legendary serial killer; The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo shows all manner of perversity wrapped in a mystery; Gone Girl is about spouses with split identities and duplicitous hearts. Though elements of Batman and the Joker can be pieced together from all of these stories, it’s Se7en that best encapsulates Fincher’s suitability for The Batman. It’s noirish, it’s rain-drenched and, on occasion, it’s downright repulsive.
Not only is this the most noxious movie in Fincher’s canon, but it’s an example of what Gotham and its watchful protector might look like if the training wheels were taken off. As the story goes, John Doe (Kevin Spacey) is a criminal mastermind who stages elaborate murders that follow the seven deadly sins. From sloth to gluttony, John Doe lays the breadcrumbs to bring detectives Somerset and Mills (Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt) deeper into his chthonic world. His seventh and final act plays out like live theatre, plaguing the protagonists in both physical and psychological ways.
John Doe’s magnum opus is warped in a way that would make the Joker jealous. He’s a maniacal, sociopathic freak who punishes his victims to prove a point. While it’s true that the Clown Prince of Crime has a nihilistic streak (particularly in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), he tailors his best plots specifically to hinder the Batman. In Se7en, John Doe plans his coup de grace to ruin Detective Mills and snap his spirit in two. Like Joker to Batman, John Doe feels a creepy kinship with Detective Mills and expresses his obsession through violence and harm. It’s like Jason Todd in A Death in the Family all over again.
Taken in sum, Se7en is truly like a Joker one-shot without a fully capable protagonist. Like Batman, Somerset and Mills are detectives, but time and time again they fail to do their jobs. The “Joker” of Se7en deserves a better archenemy – one that keeps up with his schemes and holds him accountable. Then again, maybe that’s the opposite of Fincher’s vision. Perhaps he would want Batman to lose in the same way that Somerset and Mills come up short. Should Warner Bros. and Ben Affleck call David Fincher, they would be wise to use Se7en as a template for some of the directions his Batman movie could go.
Tone-Perfect for the DCEU
The DCEU has undertaken the daunting task of bringing Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman to the screen. It hasn’t been smooth sailing in any regard, and as Justice League, Wonder Woman and Aquaman approach, it’s unclear what kind of tone Warner Bros. will be shooting for. There’s certainly evidence that the films will be more light-hearted than Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, but that remains to be seen. Outside Man of Steel and BvS, the texture and tone of the DCEU is still largely undetermined.
Ultimately, the fate of The Batman will be largely determined by the individual who earns (and keeps) the director’s chair, and Fincher’s cinematic style and tone could be just what it needs. Though the look and feel of Fincher’s movies is entirely his own, they are also contradictory in the best of ways: foreboding yet sardonic, deliberate yet quick, invasive yet distant. His omniscient camera alone has as much personality as the characters in his films, and he empowers it with such creative and unexpected moves that it makes watching his movies an almost active experience. Fincher is also a master of maintaining tension through his films. A consummate visual storyteller, he seldom relies on action sequences to excite his audience, knowing that it’s his precision that elevates the stakes and keeps our attention rapt.
Imagine what Fincher would bring to the world of Batman and Bruce Wayne. After the breakneck speed of Batman v Superman, he would have the opportunity to slow things down and truly get inside the head of the Dark Knight. Partnered alongside Ben Affleck (a partnership that could warm up Affleck’s rumored cold feet), Fincher’s command of narrative and tone might be exactly what’s needed to make the most interesting Batman film yet.