Christian Bale famously claimed that he’d never be part of a Batman movie that had Robin in it. Given the gritty drama that was at the core of the Nolan trilogy of movies, that decision was probably fair enough, though The Dark Knight Rises did see Joseph Gordon-Levitt play an almost unrecognizable homage version of the character. This leaves Chris O’Donnell as the most recent actor to play the Boy Wonder on the big screen in 1995’s Batman Forever and 1997’s Batman and Robin. Although a defense could be raised for O’Donnell’s performance as the rebellious youngster Dick Grayson, the level at which those films failed to impress fans and critics has tarnished the character’s reputation. This is especially true for his translation into the world of live-action.
Many argue that Batman’s famous sidekick is so entrenched in the franchise’s campy past that he simply doesn’t fit into the dynamic of modern, less cartoonish superhero movies. Fans of the Batman comics, however, are familiar with the character’s many mature moments over the years. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe can make Thor believable to modern audiences, a young man in tights should be a piece of cake.
Currently, Batman’s big screen presence comes as part of Warner Bros.’ D.C. Expanded Universe which sees Ben Affleck playing an older, somewhat jaded Bruce Wayne and although Robin has yet to appear in the flesh, two versions of the superhero have been accounted for in the series. In Batman v Superman, Bruce’s Batcave contained a Robin suit covered in the Joker’s graffiti and housed in a glass case, hinting at the grim fate met by Jason Todd, the second Robin in the comic series. This was later confirmed in Suicide Squad in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.
As for the original Robin, Dick Grayson, Warner Bros. recently announced the production of a Nightwing movie and so this leaves two potential Robins that could yet make an appearance in the DCEU: Tim Drake and Damian Wayne. Stephanie Brown also had a brief stint in the role but is better known and more loved for her time as Batgirl.
One of the primary criticisms leveled at Batman v Superman was the overly dark and serious tone, something Man of Steel was also accused of. Warner Bros. has promised a less intense direction for their DCEU movies going forward and the introduction of Robin would be a perfect way of working towards that end. Furthermore, having a sidekick would further differentiate Ben Affleck’s interpretation of the Caped Crusader from that of his predecessor Christian Bale who most fans feel nailed the brooding, lonely hero schtick. With that said, bringing Robin to life convincingly in the DCEU franchise remains a challenging prospect for Zack Snyder and co. Luckily, the perfect comic inspiration already exists in the form of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s Batman and Son.
Before the events of Batman and Son can be truly explored, there’s the small matter of The Batman, Affleck’s first solo outing as the Dark Knight. As things stand, there has been no mention of Robin featuring in the upcoming project, (although actress Anna Kendrick has jokingly lobbied for the role). Given that The Batman has only recently landed its director, there’s plenty of time for the Boy Wonder to work his way into the picture. If this should be the case, Tim Drake – or perhaps Carrie Kelley from The Dark Knight Returns – would be the obvious candidate as Bruce Wayne’s sidekick. Since The Batman marks Affleck’s first solo outing in the DCEU, the film’s focus should be squarely on Bruce Wayne which may rule out the inclusion of a full-scale Robin origin story. The character still could appear, however, in a supporting role.
Perhaps the best option would be for Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake to already be a fully functional Batman and Robin partnership at the start of the movie. This would make perfect sense as it was heavily suggested in Batman v Superman that Jason Todd’s death caused Bruce Wayne to become wary of working with others. By the end of the film of course, Superman and Wonder Woman have helped him see the light and Bruce goes on to form the Justice League – conquering his fear of superhero partnerships in the process. Since the Justice League movie is expected to take place prior to The Batman, it stands to reason that in the downtime between films, Bruce Wayne could’ve gone out and found a new candidate for the role of Robin. Additionally, if director Matt Reeves did want to explain Drake’s backstory to viewers, there’s always the flashback technique employed in Suicide Squad.
Another viable option would be for Tim Drake’s character to perform a similar role to that of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in The Dark Knight Rises – albeit one more obviously recognizable as Robin – and act as a supporting figure in Batman’s battle against Deathstroke, with Bruce Wayne officially taking him on as a sidekick at the end of the movie. Either way, in order for the Batman and Son material to work further down the line, The Batman would need to end with Batman and Robin as a bona fide dynamic duo.
The Next Movie
If The Batman is as successful as Warner Bros. are no doubt hoping it will be, then there will inevitably be another DCEU adventure for the Caped Crusader put into production and this is where the story of Robin could seriously come into its own. For those not familiar with it, Batman and Son sees Bruce Wayne confronted with the result of a drug-induced one night stand with Talia al Ghul: his pre-teen child Damian. Having been raised in the ways of the al Ghul family and the League of Assassins, Damian is a violent maniac desperate for his father’s approval and immediately sets about trying to claim the Robin title from Tim Drake.
There are several reasons that this story is ideal source material for whatever comes after The Batman, not least of which is the shaking up of the typical genre formula. At their essence, the vast majority of superhero movies – Batman especially – work on a format of a villain appearing, the hero defeating him, and everyone living moodily ever after. By turning the focus onto Bruce Wayne’s own child and his adopted family and depicting the power struggle between two potential Robins – one who upholds Bruce’s values and one who very much doesn’t – the DCEU would be able to subvert fans’ expectations of what a Batman movie is able to portray and provide a fresh take on the genre.
It also helps that neither Tim or Damian conform to the stereotypical view of Robin that many casual Batman fans have. Dick Grayson’s teenage struggle to be respected as a hero in his own right and break away from his mentor’s shadow isn’t likely to inspire much interest from moviegoers, particularly those familiar with Batman Forever. With Drake as a respectful and established partner to Batman on one hand and Damian Wayne as an unpredictable student of the League of Assassins on the other, two entirely new sides to the Robin character can come to the fore.
Sure, Damian is more of a brat than all of the previous Robins combined but he compensates for this by creating opportunities for some more R-Rated moments. With the success of mature superhero movies such as Deadpool and Logan, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that violence and bad language don’t hinder a superhero movie’s box office success as much as movie studios always thought. Damian’s violent tendencies and habit of insulting those around him – poor Alfred especially – gives the DCEU some scope to go down this path to some extent, for example when Damian beheads The Spook during his first night at Wayne Manor.
Adapting this story would also provide an opportunity for another live-action stab at Talia al Ghul – a character many fans felt was botched somewhat in the Nolan trilogy. And although many changes and additions would likely be necessary to transfer the story from page to screen, it’s the ideal starting point, at least where Robin in concerned.
One of the most pivotal figures in Damian Wayne’s life is the original Robin, Dick Grayson, and it is he who eventually bestows the mantle upon Bruce Wayne’s son. Whilst it wouldn’t be advisable for these events to take place in the forthcoming Nightwing movie, both Damian Wayne and Tim Drake could make for strong supporting characters and would help link the film to the wider DCEU. Moreover, the tension between Grayson and Drake combined with Nightwing’s mentoring of Damian would be two fascinating sub-plots for the Nightwing movie.
Of course, this all largely depends on where Nightwing fits into Warner Bros. release schedule. There would be little point including either Damian or Tim in Nightwing if they haven’t already appeared in a prior DCEU movie. There are only so many Robins you can introduce in one film. But assuming the scheduling works out, featuring multiple iterations of Robin in the Nightwing movie would allow for the exploration of the character’s rich history and director Chris McKay has already proved his affinity with the more comedic side of the character in The LEGO Batman Movie.
By introducing Tim Drake in The Batman, Damian Wayne in the sequel and then Dick Grayson in Nightwing, a whole host of Batman history becomes available and by having those three very different past and present Robins active in the series, the fact that Robin is just a changeable title, rather than any one person, is reinforced.
“Holy Bad Reviews, Batman!”
Though the DCEU has its staunch supporters, it has also attracted significantly more criticism than its Marvel counterpart and recently cleaned up at the infamous Razzie awards. Even the series’ biggest fans would surely have to admit that there is room for improvement. A Robin character done right could help revitalize the Batman section of the franchise at least and would give Warner Bros. a new palette of stories to work with. There have been many incarnations of characters like Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth in recent years but Robin is still crying out for a definitive live action portrayal. The Boy Wonder certainly has his detractors and he’s arguably a very tricky figure to successfully portray in a modern superhero movie but if the Joker can successfully execute Robin, there’s no reason the DCEU can’t do the same.