All is not well in the DC Extended Universe. Blame it on undercooked scripts and overwrought themes, or simply a lack of “fun,” but Warner Bros’ last three films (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad) have not been the crowd-pleasing hits that their heroes deserved. Historically, Batman has been the WB’s superhero bread and butter, and with solo film The Batman, on the horizon, fans are hoping for a return to form. The growing concern has been that this iteration will find itself shackled to the divisive character choices of BvS, but recent statements from director Matt Reeves suggests we may see an all new take on the character. This begs the question: is Batman’s place in the DCEU about to receive a reboot?
Gradually worsening critical aggregates aside, there is a clear disagreement among hardcore comic fans about whether or not their favorite heroes are well represented by their latest live-action appearances. Batman has gone from pure comedic camp (1966’s Batman: The Movie) to gothic camp (Tim Burton’s Batman) to melancholy with a sense of hope (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy), to endlessly grim with a dash of murderous fascism (Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman). The LEGO Movie‘s “darkness… no parents” iteration of the Caped Crusader may have predated BvS, but it clearly had an idea of the direction he was headed.
There’s a definite chance that director Patty Jenkins will bring an all new life and tone to the DCEU with Wonder Woman. It also sounds like Zack Snyder’s Justice League is receiving a well-deserved adrenaline shot of hope and humor. If this can be done without damaging what does work about the hard-edged style of Snyder’s previous films, it can only spell a better tomorrow for a more harmonious DC fanbase. Then again, with so many having zero faith in Zack Snyder’s understanding of DC’s characters or tone, this may still not be enough.
This problem seemingly hasn’t been lost on Ben Affleck, who has inspired a whole meme genre surrounding his quiet disappointment in playing Batman. Affleck, now an Academy Award winning director, had indicated that the role would redeem his disappointing turn as Daredevil earlier in his career. While BvS was inarguably the higher earner (even after adjusting for inflation), the maligned Daredevil still did better critically. Sure, the standards for the genre were lower in 2003, but that’s because there were far fewer examples of how to do superhero films right. Today’s directors have more money to work in a more prestigious genre with fewer excuses for getting it wrong.
Possibly in an effort to appease him, Warner Bros. made Affleck a producer on Justice League. In addition to this giving him a more prominent outlet to contribute creative feedback, he also committed to the role of directing The Batman. Sadly, it was not to be. Affleck stepped down from directing due to the enormity of the task, but rumor had it he wanted to leave the Batman role altogether. There could be any number of reasons for this to be the case, but Affleck’s apparent disappointment in the quality of his DCEU’s Batman roles would be the most obvious among them.
Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, War for the Planet of the Apes) is now onboard to replace Affleck as director of The Batman, but the story of his hiring may tell a larger story. After his initial offer of the job, Reeves turned down directing The Batman. THR indicated at the time that “talks could resume when heads cool,” which suggests there were likely disagreements that went beyond whether Reeves was interested in superheroes or his monetary compensation. It’s hard to imagine many other reasons for a non-name brand director to angrily turn down a Batman film, though perhaps one must only look as far as the Screen Rant forums. There are few, if any, topics more likely to incite heated debate than the state of the DCEU.
So why did Reeves have a change of heart? The most recent rumor suggests that Reeves demanded complete creative control on The Batman, and the studio finally caved to his demands. Director James Wan (Furious 7) has a similar arrangement for Aquaman. Perhaps even more relevant – so did Christopher Nolan for the Dark Knight trilogy.
So what is Reeves planning to do with this creative freedom? The first is the statement he released upon accepting the gig gives us a pretty good indication:
“I have loved the Batman story since I was a child. He is such an iconic and compelling character, and one that resonates with me deeply. I am incredibly honored and excited to be working with Warner Bros. to bring an epic and emotional new take on the Caped Crusader to the big screen.”
“Emotional new take”? Carefully worded promotional statements are seldom this leading. This sounds, suspiciously, like his Batman is taking a complete left turn from his current iteration, which could definitely be an explanation for the friction in the hiring process. The WB almost certainly wanted to double down on their current cinematic universe. Production-wise, they’re already five films in. Reeves, on the other hand, may have wanted to start fresh, sharing many Bat-fans sentiments that this was a flawed starting point.
If Reeves does have complete creative control over The Batman, this could mean he is now unbound by the character’s previous continuity and characterization in the DCEU. Fans could see a radically different version of Batman than Zack Snyder delivered. Maybe Reeves disliked Jared Leto as The Joker and wants to recast. Maybe he wants to completely redesign the Batsuit. Maybe he wants to bring in Robin, Batgirl, or any other number of characters to frame Batman as less of an unhinged loner. This could even allow The Batman to better tie into the recently announced Nightwing film.
This kind of dramatic overhaul would be different from the way Marvel Studios has functioned thus far, but wouldn’t be at all unique to movie franchises or comic books. Movie franchises like James Bond, The Evil Dead, and Mad Max has often radically changed in tone and style, often without even changing the lead actor or director. Comic book arcs from DC, Marvel, and more have often dramatically shifted away from ongoing narratives and styles. This is often accompanied by a creative team switch-up, and often happen within what is technically the same continuity.
A soft reboot of the DCEU and specifically a re-framing of its Batman may end up being beneficial to the brand as a whole. If fans who were turned off by the character’s tendencies in BvS can simply ignore that chapter and start fresh, it may go a long way towards bringing fandom back to a mutual appreciation for his films.
Perhaps creating a Batman who could technically be a continuation of the Batman v Superman version, but also technically be completely unaffiliated would be best in the long run. Just like the comics, fans can pick which parts of the hectic continuity they feel best services their vision of the character, and focus on that.
With so many great examples of how a soft reboot can help a property, it’s clear that the DCEU doesn’t need to be scrapped to work. It simply needs to start kicking out new chapters that more fans can get behind, while maybe paying less attention to chapters that weren’t received quite as well. Even fans who feel that the DCEU needs work largely agree that it also has its positive qualities. One example of this is Ben Affleck’s performance as Batman. While the subject has no shortage of early criticisms, it was one of the few things that most audience members agreed worked. It would be a shame if he were to leave the franchise without at least getting the chance to give fans at least one, definitive take on the character.
What do you hope to see from The Batman? Should the DCEU be scrapped entirely, or is a fresh new stepping on point all that currently disappointed fans need? Let us know your thoughts in the usual place!