Well, that didn’t take long. After Ben Affleck’s months-long comments regarding the uncertainty of directing, as well as writing and starring in his standalone Batman movie, fans and the fearful have their OFFICIAL CONFIRMATION: Affleck will star, but director Matt Reeves is the brand new director of The Batman.
The script for the film may still be the one begun by Affleck and DC boss Geoff Johns, according to more recent reports, but the creative vision of the next Batman movie set in the DC Extended Universe will be crafted mainly by Matt Reeves. While he may lack the name recognition of other (pipe dream) directors mentioned in fan conversations, the message shouldn’t be missed: Matt Reeves stepping into this director chair means great things for the finished film. And judging by his comments in the past, his massive success with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is just scratching the surface.
Be prepared to breathe a sigh of relief (at least partially) when we’ve finished our case for The Batman: Why Matt Reeves is the Perfect Director.
He’s Stepped Into This Role Before
Given the recent wave of studios entrusting billion-dollar brands to relatively inexperienced, up-and-coming directors, the average film enthusiast may perceive this as a similar case – ‘Sure, he’s made movies about CG Apes, but this is Batman.’ Had Reeves’ most recent film been the secretive, first-person Cloverfield with his childhood friend J.J. Abrams, that description might apply. Heck, even if he’d landed The Batman after the tense, suspenseful horror Let Me In, the case could still be made. But if one film showed just what Matt Reeves was capable of, it was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – but not for the reason you might think.
The movie managed to capitalize on the success of Rise and then some, but it was how Reeves wound up at the helm that’s the real heart of his victory. When Rise director Rupert Wyatt chose not to return for the sequel, Fox found themselves with a fast-tracked release date, and nobody to make it. The story of how Reeves replaced the absent Wyatt was told and re-told throughout press for the eventual Dawn, beginning with his initial disinterest in the script and story already in place. Asked what story he would tell, Reeves outlined the story seen in the movie – and Fox gave him the green light.
The only problem was that Reeves would be jumping into a hot seat, with pre-production beginning immediately. He took on the challenge with writer Mark Bomback, and came within two months of that scheduled release date. Oh, and delivered a blockbuster fueled by unparalleled motion-capture performances, a heart-wrenching tale of two warring families, and massive action sequences that would bring in over $700 million when all was said and done.
If you ask us, the quality of the films Reeves has put out is what made him a potential choice for several high profile projects following the upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes. But with the CEO of Warner Bros. giving The Batman a planned start date just over a year away, Reeves’ ability to deliver a quality blockbuster with the clock ticking likely made him the top choice for DC Films. And what should be a (small) sigh of relief to all involved.
He Believes in Story Over Spectacle
Part of the reason that DC fans were so excited at the mere idea of a Batman movie directed by Ben Affleck was his established interest in methodical, character-oriented drama. Films like Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo all took a ‘less is more’ approach to their storytelling, allowing the characters to shine, and ultimately convey the message at the heart of the story. Shifting into the world of the Dark Knight, Affleck’s interest in taking that approach to yet another detective story, paired with Geoff Johns’ sensibility, seemed irresistible. Thankfully, Reeves is a gifted storyteller in his own rite.
That may be true of most, if not all directors, but given his filmography, there is significance to the fact that Cloverfield and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes both resisted the urge to revel in the scale and spectacle of their genre. For Cloverfield, it was the intentional choice to follow a handful of people through a monster movie, restricting the exposition or explanations only to what they could decipher themselves. With Dawn, it was the first story instinct Reeves had that holds particular promise.
As a fan of the property, Reeves was handed the existing plan for the Apes sequel, focusing on a number of characters, picking up when the action is heading to its climax. As tempting as that may be for a blockbuster film built on the storming third act of Rise, Reeves knew that Caesar (Andy Serkis) was what people cared about the most – and therefore, the story’s greatest victory. Caesar became the star, and Reeves drafted a story focusing on the creation of an ape society, told from their perspective, and one in which war with humanity was a tragic failure at something better.
That’s the kind of instinct that should alleviate some fan concerns, if not raise their hopes. But Reeves has also emphasized the significance of an emotional heart in stories worth telling, particularly when it comes to potential summer blockbusters… primarily those starring DC superheroes. Back before Zack Snyder landed the job of rebooting Superman in Man of Steel, Reeves saw his name appear on the list of rumored frontrunners. While Reeves denied any offers had been made, he would later explain (via CBM) that his interest in a superhero movie could be sparked, if it fit his criteria:
There were a few different superhero franchises that I was approached about which just weren’t the right fit for me in terms of the emotional weight of it. But obviously, when I was growing up with Superman and Batman, the metaphors of those stories had a lot of resonance with me and I always found them to be very exciting. There’s not one I’m waiting for them to message me about. I always evaluate projects on a case by case basis, and if there’s one I really connected with emotionally… we’ll see.
Simply put, the decision to focus the story of Apes on family, friendship, community, and tragedy is a massive, if not the primary reasons Dawn proved to be such a surprisingly sophisticated film. And if Reeves has deemed some superhero films to be lacking potential for such “emotional weight,” then his decision to sign on to The Batman now could be taken as a good sign. It would make sense that the early story from Affleck and Johns would fit the bill, but we’ll have to wait and see how much the script will change under its new director.
Plus, if you’re going to be making a film directly compared to Zack Snyder’s Justice League, having a track record of placing emphasis on anything but the visuals or over-the-top action definitely can’t hurt.
He Sees The Potential For More in Summer Blockbusters
Warner Bros. has taken some hits lately over the impression that studio meddling was sabotaging their previous claims of being “filmmaker-driven” in the construction of their shared universe. However, many of those rumors were either spawned or bolstered by reports that David Ayer had seen Suicide Squad re-cut without his involvement – an idea that his recent, candid comments on the film’s successes and failures calls into question. Regardless, if the idea is still to invite unique voices and perspectives into the DCEU – Wonder Woman‘s Patty Jenkins and Aquaman‘s James Wan chief among them – then the addition of Matt Reeves is another feather in DC’s cap.
Reeves has gone on record concerning his hopes for innovation and creativity in the blockbuster space, as he explained to Den of Geek when his own Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was earning accolades as a summer blockbuster that actually told a strong, accomplished story:
For me, the most exciting summer movies over the last 10 years have… taken the genre as a metaphor for something real. There’s an element of fantasy, whether it’s a superhero with what Christopher Nolan’s done with the Batman series, or whatever – the idea of taking those ideas and then being ambitious with them, so it’s not about giving you the surface effect of the spectacle, but also giving you the story, that is a throwback to me. Back to the stories I loved as a kid growing up, like Spielberg’s movies. The movies that fulfilled the summer excitement quotient, but were also emotional stories about character.
The Dark Knight, as presented by Zack Snyder and Ben Affleck in Batman V Superman seems particularly well fashioned for the kind of metaphor and exploration of human themes and concepts Reeves is discussing. We might have reservations if the story was to have taken place prior to the film’s conclusion, since the darkness or cruelty of a Batman on his spiral out of control would be hard to make into anything but tragic and uncomfortable. But with Dawn of Justice ending as Bruce Wayne sees the light, and a better path forward, the opportunity is there for Reeves to tell whatever story he chooses.
Hopefully not as tragic as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but beggars can’t be choosers.
He Knows What’s at Stake With Batman
It’s hard to remember now that the DC movie universe is expanding into interconnected storylines to rival Marvel’s, but Christopher Nolan turned out to be a pioneer in ways we’re only starting to witness. Batman Begins may have taken a grounded approach to a comic book superhero dressed up as a nocturnal mammal, but it was The Dark Knight that crossed into truly accomplished drama, exploring the kinds of stories that DC fans always knew Batman movies could tell.
It paved the way for a similarly serious approach to Superman, and the rest of the DCEU appears to be taking a similar course in the immediate future. But the pressure is on for the next solo Batman movie – now tasked with not only living up to Nolan’s standards, but being close to flawless if it hopes to shift the online conversation surrounding DC’s style. With that in mind, it’s a relief that Reeves already seems completely aware of the shoes he’s stepping into (via Den of Geek):
I will say this: I do think that Chris Nolan’s films, and the films like them, are the ones that made [Dawn] possible. Rise made this possible. With Rise, nobody even expected it to be a hit, and then it was… That was what was exciting for me about The Dark Knight. It wasn’t just successful, it was crazy successful. It took all these elements that were on the surface really commercial, but there were ideas behind them. I thought that the Joker and the exploration of anarchy, the nihilistic terror of that film, was so singular and palpable. I was like, “Oh this is a summer blockbuster, but it’s of a sort that I’ve never seen before.”
To some directors, the idea that their successes or failures with a treasured superhero property could help or hinder creators following years behind them might be too much to bear. But having accomplished what he has with Andy Serkis in Dawn, and expected to progress the technology and performances even further in War, we would say Reeves has what it takes to push the envelope in at least a new direction. We’re not claiming that sending Batman up against an army of intelligent CG animals would be just as beneficial, but… it worked for LEGO.
Fans may still have their apprehensions, since the rumors that Ben Affleck is leaving the role completely – or who knows, maybe burning each and every Batsuit in the Warner Bros. parking lot so nobody can ever replace him – are sure to persist. But Matt Reeves already has one blockbuster success story under his belt, a knack for finding the compelling, human core of even a sci-fi or fantasy film, and is aware that he’s now entrusted with the very superhero that opened the door to his, and others’ success. That’s a lot of pressure, but few may be able to withstand it better.
What do you think of Matt Reeves emerging as the successor to Ben Affleck? Is he the kind of collaborator you were hoping to see land the job, or did you have another director in mind? Let us know in the comments.