“What If?” discussions regarding Batman films are now a common indulgence – but one silver lining of Internet pontification is that we sometimes get to dust off little gems of knowledge that have only recently gone viral thanks to digital media.
The latest such discovery has to do with Michael Keaton, who ushered in the modern era of Batman films by playing Bruce Wayne/Batman in director Tim Burton’s seminal 1989 film, Batman, and its 1992 sequel, Batman Returns. According to Keaton, he had plans to do a Batman origin film – long before director Chris Nolan released Batman Begins in 2005.
“The guy who’s doing them now, Chris Nolan, he’s so talented, it’s crazy. [Christian Bale] is so talented. It’s so good. But I say that like I’ve seen them, and I actually haven’t. I didn’t even see much of the second one that I did.”
“You look at where he went, which is exactly what I wanted to do when I was having meetings about the third one. I said you want to see how this guy started. We’ve got a chance here to fix whatever we kind of maybe went off. This could be brilliant.”
At that point in the franchise Keaton refers to, Burton had already moved on; director Joel Schumacher was coming onboard and would go on to release the lesser-loved Bat-films, Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997). The latter of those films was considered SO BAD it forced Warner Bros. to shelve the franchise for more than half a decade, until Nolan came calling with Batman Begins. Schumacher is still receiving angry letters (and occasional death threats) to this day.
Keaton didn’t hang around to go down with the ship after Batman Returns; he left the role behind and Schumacher was paired with Val Kilmer and then George Clooney as the Caped Crusader in his two Bat-films.
On the one hand, hindsight is 20/20; it’s easy to say NOW that Keaton was on the right track – especially if you speciously look at Batman Begins as the measure of how Keaton’s plans for ‘Batman 3’ would’ve turned out. But that sort of thinking is just wrong.
There are plenty of people who would point to Batman Returns as evidence of where the studio and filmmakers – as Keaton put it – ‘kind of maybe went off’; those same people might be inclined to argue that another film with Keaton (Burton or Schumacher) attached might’ve still gone down the wrong path – origin story or not.
As stated at the start, though, discussing the “What Ifs” of these situations is half the fun, so let’s take a poll:
The Dark Knight Trilogy is now available on DVD/Blu-ray – as are Batman and Batman Returns.