With Ben Affleck seemingly (read: 99.9%) looking to hang up the cape and cowl, and War for the Planet of the Apes’ Matt Reeves taking over the reins of DC & Warner Bros. next solo Batman film, there is a ton of change coming for our favorite Gothamite. Although there isn’t much information out there yet, Reeves has dropped some crumbs here and there that give us an idea of the tone and his mindset going into writing and directing this film. Couple that with a recent quote from Reeves given to The Q&A Podcast with Jeff Goldsmith that he, “has the story worked out” and is in the process of “outlining” now seems like the perfect time to discuss what this movie could possibly be, and offer up some of my own hopes and dreams.
What We Know and Can Expect (So Far)
The best place to start is with what we do currently know. For starters, and I think this may be the most important bit for how the rest of this unfolds, our very own Mario-Francisco Robles (MFR from here on out) reported that this new solo Batman film will be canon with the current DCU and not a reboot or prequel. That means it will be the same Batman we’ve seen from Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. So, you can once again expect the older, experienced Batman who has been protecting Gotham for 20+ years.
Despite the poor critical and box office receptions of the aforementioned movies, I think this is the right move. This saves us from a film bogged down by introducing new status quos and backstories, and this incarnation is made much richer by the experiences he’s had in those two movies, regardless of what your attitude towards them may be. Perhaps the best part is this also means he has quite a rogues’ gallery built-up by this point in his career with some deep history no doubt. We’ve already seen Jason Todd’s Robin suit in the Batcave in Batman V Superman and Alfred referenced the Penguin in Justice League.
Another critical piece of information are the inspirations Reeves is using while preparing to make the film and the headspace he’s trying to get into. Reeves, while speaking to New Trailer Buzz said:
“In all of my films, what I try to do, in an almost Hitchcockian sense, is use the camera and use the storytelling so that you become the character, and you emphasize with that point of view. I think there’s a chance to do an almost noir-driven, detective version of Batman that is point-of-view driven in a very, very powerful way.”
This quote also plays nicely with some other information reported by MFR, that “Reeves is looking at David Fincher films like Se7en, Zodiac, and The Game. He’s really high on this idea of a gritty crime drama, with the World’s Greatest Detective on the case.” and his source quoted as saying, “Reeves is going to do some stuff influenced in crime film and deep Batman mythos.” For me, this is the news that has me most excited.
For the most part, the detective side of Batman has mostly been relegated to the background, Alfred doing most of the work or some throwaway lines just to acknowledge that he does something outside of beating criminals to a pulp. The only movie to truly bring it to the forefront was The Dark Knight, where they had him working with GCPD providing marked bills to the banks stocking mob money, collecting forensic ballistics, and doing some daylight snooping as Bruce Wayne. Let us not forget Batman originated in Detective Comics!
I personally admire this approach, especially as someone who considers Captain America: The Winter Soldier to be one of the top MCU films. As you may recall, the Russo brothers modeled that film after 1970s conspiracy spy thrillers and I think that worked wonderfully. Even last year’s Logan had the trappings of a western, more so than a superhero action flick. The idea of taking these comic book characters and injecting them into genres you may not expect, or that haven’t been done, helps differentiate them and legitimizes them in a way. Especially in a landscape where we are getting anywhere from five to ten comic-related films a year.
Lastly, on Batman’s characterization, Reeves had this to say to the Los Angeles Daily News, “[Bruce Wayne] is a tortured soul who is grappling with his past and trying to find a way to be in a world that has a lot that’s wrong with it and trying to find a way to reconcile all of that.” That ties in nicely with the detective noir-driven approach to the film, and as I will go into more below, I believe there is a really good way to incorporate that into the film and truly bring that internal, psychological struggle to the forefront.
What I’d Like to See
Now that we have a pretty well defined idea of the direction this film could be going in, how does that manifest itself in the story? What other elements represented throughout other Batman mediums or entirely other properties can be incorporated?
I would be remiss, as a huge gamer, if I didn’t bring up game developer Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham Series (Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City & Batman: Arkham Knight) when talking about tone and inspiration. I hope Reeves has or will be playing these while gearing up for the Caped Crusaders next foray onto the silver screen. I think they execute really well on what he’s looking to do. Batman V Superman was very clearly inspired by those games in Batman’s fighting style, especially in what I feel is the best scene in the whole movie and maybe my favorite Batman scene ever: the warehouse fight scene en route to saving Martha Kent. Fighting aside, the games really nail the tone and are able to tow the line between Christopher Nolan’s more gritty, realistic grounded trilogy and the heightened reality, fantasy of the current DCU films. Plus, they do a really good job of integrating detective work into the gameplay and story.
The first game’s tagline was “Be the Batman” and when you play that game, you sure get to. The Batman Arkham Series has a very noir-driven feel to it, mostly due to Batman’s internal monologue as he moves through the corridors of Arkham Asylum or the streets of Gotham, encountering villains, landmarks and clues. These scenarios really help create that hard-boiled detective feel ala The Maltese Falcon and- dare I say- even reminiscent of a Shakespearean aside (and doesn’t hurt that he’s voiced by the legendary Kevin Conroy. Batman: The Animated Series FTW!).
We do get a taste of these internal monologues in Batman V Superman, but in my opinion they didn’t handle them that great (among other things) and they were confined exclusively to dream sequences. However, the comics themselves do an incredible job of giving us insight into Batman’s psyche. Some of my favorite examples include Batman: The Long Halloween, The Dark Knight Returns & more recently in the Court of Owls storyline during the New 52 relaunch. In The Dark Knight Returns particularly, Bat’s first fight with the leader of the Mutants and his self-commentary regarding his age and his body not being what it used to were very impactful, and the current DCU Batman is heavily inspired by Frank Miller’s take.
These internal monologues don’t need to come off by breaking the proverbial “fourth wall” like Netflix’s House of Cards, for example. I love them when it comes to that show, but I think we can all agree we don’t want Batman making eye contact with us and speaking directly to the audience, nor a super-chatty Batman. Although a dark comedy, Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World uses the device to great effect, and I think even Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies were onto something with Sherlock’s narrated fight sequences. Surely we can mine something cool and unique out of that?
Following the success of Logan and Deadpool, if there ever was a time to make a case for an R-rated Batman film, that time is now. However, I highly doubt that will come to fruition. The reason I bring that up though is that there’s a horror element that permeates through Batman’s history in comics and is something we’ve really never seen before on the big screen. I chose the main image for this column for that very reason. The pages of the Batman comic are bloody, and his rogues’ gallery is capable of committing truly horrendous, violent crimes. Look no further than Greg Capullo and Scott Snyder’s Death of the Family arc featuring a Joker who had his face skin removed and then later stole it back from GCPD, murdering an entire floor of police in the process and then crudely reattaching it using staples, a headband and his own face. Oy.
Assuming we don’t pit ‘ol Batsy against the Joker yet again, and knowing that Reeves is digging deep into Batman’s history for this, there’s a real chance to bring in twisted, lesser known villains like Calendar Man, Victor Zsasz, or Hush who haven’t yet had a real chance on the big screen and would fit that noir-style. I have a feeling they are going to want to go with someone a little more recognizable to the mainstream though, and I think it’s actually a perfect time to bring back The Riddler.
We are far away enough now from Jim Carrey’s campy performance in Batman Forever. Going back to the Batman Arkham Series games for a moment, The Riddler was in prime form, often putting victims in Saw-like (as in the Saw movies) contraptions, forcing Batman to solve riddles and physical puzzles, that- if he failed- would result in a gruesome death for the victim. He’s an interesting villain in that he’s not always out to physically kill Batman, but rather to try and best him mentally. If he deduces Batman’s identity, he could also be a heap of trouble for Bruce Wayne, too.
The excellent Batman: Earth One Vol. II by Geoff Johns also gives us a reimagined, more modern take on the character that actually feels very John Doe (albeit a bit more charismatic) in Se7en and very much falls in line with Reeves’ direction for the film. With this idea, we can still have a minor villain like Calendar Man or Zsasz as a lackey of Riddler’s as well. So, a Jigsaw/John Doe hybrid Riddler, and a world-weary, hard-boiled Batman? Sign me up!
Now, if you’ve made it this far then I think you are in for a treat, because I saved my favorite idea for last.
Granted, it’s probably not wholly original as I have seen and heard speculation or suggestions for this before, but I was inspired mainly by Batman Arkham Asylum and a film that never got made, Green Arrow: Escape from Super Max, which Den of Geek goes into at length at the link. The short version: Green Arrow is framed for the murder of a high-ranking government official, is stripped of all of his gear, has his secret identity revealed, and is incarcerated in Super Max prison alongside a who’s who of DC villains, many of which he put in there to begin with and want to kill him. With every odd stacked against him, he must escape, even if that means forming alliances with some of the worst of the worst locked up with him.
I think we can simplify that, but make it just as compelling for our Dark Knight. I don’t think we need him to be framed, lose his gear or reveal his secret identity. We simply just lock him down in Arkham Asylum, put someone like Commission Gordon or Alfred’ s life on the line and there’s your movie. We could even put one of his villains lives on the line, like the Joker, and explore the twisted psychological dynamic of Batman going to save him. The mystery could be center on who’s pulling the strings (maybe it’s our Riddler!) and offers the chance to sprinkle in much of his rogues’ gallery, form uneasy alliances, and most importantly shoot the film in a physical location and avoid heavy CGI and green screen. Arkham Asylum is iconic in the comics, but has had very little exposure on film, which almost always looks like a generic hospital wing. I want to see the full-blown Asylum grounds in all of it’s Gothic glory.
What do you think about Matt Reeves’ current comments on his direction for the film? Do you agree or disagree with my takes or ideas? What do you want to see out of Batman’s next solo outing? Sound off in the comments below and I look forward to reading your thoughts and discussing with you all.
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