By Mario-Francisco Robles (@I_AM_MFR)
Last week’s San Diego Comic-Con was an all-you-can-eat buffet of awesomeness for DC fans. With updates and promotional items released for Aquaman, Shazam!, Wonder Woman 1984, Green Lantern Corps, the DC Universe streaming service, Titans, the Arrowverse, and more, there was truly a ton of cool stuff to sift through if you love DC Comics. But there was one particular character that got no love, and this is notable because- well- he’s no slouch. He’s the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader, the Batman!
And yes, I know Superman was also notably absent from the proceedings, but I covered why that had to be the case last week. So today we’re going to focus on good ol’ Bats.
See, last fall there was plenty to say and share about The Batman. In mid-November, coinciding with the release of Justice League, there were a number of stories that came to light. Most of them centered on Ben Affleck’s future in the role, and what kinds of contingency plans were in place if he and WB/DC finally resolved their game of Bat & Mouse and it ended with Affleck bailing on the film he once so graciously welcomed Matt Reeves into the director’s chair for. The chatter around Affleck’s pending departure shook a bunch of trees, and some of those trees dropped fruit.
The biggest, juiciest tidbit to come out of that period was that Reeves had already begun meeting with actors about taking over for Affleck. And from those meetings arose a frontrunner for the role: Jake Gyllenhaal.
Once that information- which had been getting discussed in journalistic circles for weeks- came to light, I followed it up with a report on what Reeves was thinking about for the film at that time. I emphasize the “at that time” bit because this was all before the release of Justice League. There were a lot of different DC plans that existed pre-JL that got tossed off the table once that film arrived and landed with a resounding thud.
And so, while there had been plenty of intriguing Batman chatter in November and December, things dried up in January when Walter Hamada took over as head of DC Entertainment. That’s because Hamada arrived and re-thought everything, as he came in and started doing everything in his power to avoid a situation like Justice League from ever happening again.
One of the first items on his agenda was to dramatically scale down any plans for a shared cinematic DC Universe. While this was something the studio had already been planning to do, and revealed in September of 2017 via a feature in Vulture, Hamada really took that baton and ran with it.
While he’s not outright “blowing up” the shared universe concept for DC, as evidenced by the Shazam! trailer featuring key callbacks to previous films like Batman v Superman and Justice League, his priority is to make each film work 100% on its own and not rely at all on an “It’s all connected!” mantra. That much can be seen in the Aquaman trailer, and SDCC-goers saw some evidence that Wonder Woman 1984 is also exploring some space that could seriously retcon some of the existing continuity.
Sad Side Note:
I’m told one of the ideas Hamada threw on the back-burner was the previous leadership’s plans for the Legion of Doom. If you’ll recall, I wrote up a report last December about how the folks calling the shots at that time were keen to build up the LOD concept in order to set up another eventual crossover event. That report was later bolstered by clear evidence that Joss Whedon went back and had Jesse Eisenberg shave his head just to add the “Shouldn’t we have a league of our own?” line to the Lex/Deathstroke scene Zack Snyder had previously shot (See Proof HERE). And he did so in late September, mere weeks before the release of Justice League.
Hamada, on the other hand, arrived in January and decided to shelve that idea for now. He doesn’t seem to see the point in continuing to build towards the team of super-villains, since his immediate priority is to establish all of the next wave of DC films as standalone stories, then worry later on about a crossover. Therefore, adding fuel to the LOD fire makes no sense anymore since we may not get another BvS/JL shared universe event for several years.
I recently got excited about the LOD prospect again, since Yahya Abdul-Mateen II confirmed that his Black Manta is locked in to make future appearances after Aquaman, and the original plan had him joining the Legion of Doom in a post-credit tag on that film. But alas, I asked if the LOD idea had been revived, and that’s when I found out that it’s been shelved for the time being.
Back when I helped bolster the reports of Gyllenhaal being Reeves’ top pick to replace Batman, there was another question in the back of my mind: Who else did Reeves meet with?
I really wanted to know what kind of actors Reeves had in mind for the role, regardless of whether or not they ended up getting the role. And I’d heard there were two others. I find that kind of stuff very interesting and insightful, as it can offer clues to the type of story a director wants to tell.
Those other contenders have remained a mystery for eight months.
In that time, Gyllenhaal has gone on to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, signing on to appear in Spider-Man: Far From Home. When that casting came to light, it brought along with it questions. Did this mean he was no longer Reeves’ pick to replace Affleck? Why did he choose playing a Spidey villain over playing freakin’ Batman?! And- once again- who were the other people Reeves met with, because maybe this means one of them is the new frontrunner?
I’m now happy to report that I’ve got some answers to share with you, and I need to thank one of our loyal readers/listeners for helping me ask the right questions. I can’t name them, so as not to reveal the source for some of this sensitive information, but I know they’re reading this and so- from me to you: Thanks.
They came to me with the seed for a story, and it inspired me to go see if there was anything to it, and boy am I glad I did.
First of all, one of the other men that Matt Reeves met with about the role of Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, is Jack Huston.
Huston has appeared in films like Kill Your Darlings, Boardwalk Empire, Ben-Hur, and American Hustle. He’s an actor that powerful people in Tinseltown seem to have a very high opinion of, as his name has come up before as a contender for other starring roles. He was even once set to lead The Crow as its titular star before dropping out and making way for Aquaman‘s Jason Momoa to replace him (before the project fell apart completely).
He and Gyllenhaal share a couple of common characteristics, which indicate what kind of guy Reeves was thinking about for Batman last year. They’re both in a similar age range, with Gyllenhaal being 37 and Huston being 35, and they’re both almost identical in height. Gyllenhaal is 5’11, and Huston is 6’.
This indicates Reeves would be perfectly fine casting an actor with an average build, which harks back to when Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton as the iconic crime fighter. And it’s also clear that he’s looking for a serious actor, as both Gyllenhaal and Huston are known for their acting chops and aren’t merely pretty faces or prototypical action hero types.
In investigating this Huston lead, I discovered much more about The Batman, and where things stand today. Because Huston no longer seems to be in the running, just like Gyllenhaal is out of the picture, and it’s because Reeves’ thoughts on the setting for his film have changed quite a bit since last fall.
That Was Then,This Is Now
Matt Reeves famously played hardball with Warner Bros. last year when it came to signing on to direct The Batman. He came very close to signing on, then walked away from negotiations for a couple of weeks. The way they brought him back to the project was by promising him full creative control (as I revealed in an exclusive for The Splash Report when I was a freelancer), and that freedom to let his imagination run wild has meant that Reeves has the option to change and tinker his plans at will until he’s ready to lock in his script.
While investigating things for this report, I found out the real reason that Gyllenhaal moved on to Spider-Man: Far From Home is that the Batman in Reeves’ script got younger. Much younger.
Last fall, the Bruce Wayne that Reeves was developing for his script was just a few years younger than the Dark Knight we met in Batman v Superman. That’s why he was meeting with actors in their mid-30s.
Last week, I heard that got adjusted to something like 15 years younger than Batfleck.
Now? I’ve heard we’re actually looking at a Bruce who’s 15 to 20 years younger, and is meant to be 25 to 30 years old in the story Reeves wants to tell.
That’s why Gyllenhaal and- I assume- Huston shouldn’t be on anyone’s short lists anymore.
As for the aforementioned story Reeves would like to tell, I hear there’s a specific story that folks who’ve heard his plans are comparing it to. In short, if Batman v Superman bore a passing resemblance to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, then The Batman will bear a resemblance to Miller’s Batman: Year One.
This won’t be the first time that Year One has had its DNA incorporated into a film, as Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins borrowed a few key elements from that story. From the sounds of it, Reeves is also looking at that book for The Batman.
The official synopsis for Batman: Year One reads:
“In his first year on the job, Batman feels his way around a Gotham City far darker than the one he left. His solemn vow to extinguish the town’s criminal element is only half the battle; along with Lieutenant James Gordon, the Dark Knight must also fight a police force more corrupt than the scum in the streets.”
At this point, there’s no knowing which elements he’ll borrow from the book as he builds his noir, detective story. What is seemingly known is that some key Bat mythos characters are going to factor into the story. For example, as I clarified last week, Oswald Cobblepott, aka The Penguin, is expected to show up in the film as one of the villainous forces Batman encounters along the way. And, similar to Year One, Harvey Dent factors into the story as well.
And that brings us back to Mr. Huston…
Because while he’s seemingly too old to play Batman now that Reeves is going younger, I hear he could still be a contender for Dent, aka the eventual Two-Face. I recall last year, trying very hard to squeeze out of my source who the other contenders were for Bruce, back when Gyllenhaal’s name came out. I just wanted to know what kind of actors Reeves was envisioning for the role, and my source wouldn’t budge. At the time, they said, “I can’t tell you, because they may end up in a different role.”
Now fast-forward to present day, and I hear that may very well be the case for Huston. And yet, regardless of whether or not Huston gets the role, doing this digging is what brought the fact that Dent is in the script to light, so it’s a win-win for those wanting to know more details about the film.
Speaking of winning…
BATMAN’s Place On The Production Timeline
Fans lamenting the lack of a Bat update at last week’s SDCC have said they would’ve been happy just knowing when it’ll film. Now, while I can’t come out and give an exact window (I’m sure my friends at Omega Underground will get the scoop on that), I can tell you that it seems to be next on the docket after The Flash.
As things stand, Joker is filming this fall, Birds of Prey is filming in January, and The Hollywood Reporter says The Flash will film in “early 2019” which sounds like spring to me. This means The Batman would be next in the summer, filming in the same window that Wonder Woman 1984 is currently using. [Editor’s Note: This is assuming they stick to the “one film at a time” production timeline they’ve been using these last few years. Warner Bros. is a big enough studio that they’d have the resources to shoot multiple DC films at once, but they haven’t done that in years]
(And if they still want to get a Superman movie out in 2020, then that means they’d have to get that going by fall of 2019. Just sayin’!)
I say this because I’ve spoken to folks who work on the more technical side of things over at WB. I won’t specify which department, so as not to endanger any jobs, but I’m told they’re expecting to get their next major Batman update next month, in August. Once that update comes in, they’ll start getting the wheels in motion for the next phase of the film’s pre-production. Reading between the lines, I think that “update” is the final draft of the script. But that’s just me connecting dots. Regardless, internally, August is a big month for The Batman taking its next step.
This all lines up with what Batman-On-Film reported last month, which was quickly confirmed by Omega Underground. Essentially, BOF revealed that WB/DC had begun hiring folks to work on The Batman, and OU specified that they’ve started amassing their design team. With this kind of prep work already being done, 2019 makes a ton of sense, as they wouldn’t be hiring folks and getting down into the design of things if it weren’t filming until 2020.
In terms of location, there are whispers of the production being housed in Los Angeles because of some very appealing tax breaks. That’s already the case for Birds of Prey.
I still have a great deal of lingering questions, which I’ll continue to look into:
- Who will play Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth? Last year, it was a lock that J.K. Simmons and Jeremy Irons would return, as they were going to pull a Val Kilmer and just have a new actor playing Batman while keeping the rest of the canon intact. Now that they’re going back 15-20 years, they can recast. But if they don’t recast, and just de-age them somehow, then that’ll finally answer the “Prequel or Reboot?” question.
- Will they keep the same Bat Symbol and/or costume? Similar to the previous question, this would help us understand how they’re handling the continuity for this film.
- Who is the actual villain? With Dent seemingly still pre-Two Face and Penguin only being “a” villain, not “the” villain, the actual main antagonist remains a mystery. Like I said last week, I hear the Court of Owls rumor is bogus.
And the biggie:
- Who will play Batman? With the story being set as far into the past as it is, treading ground similar to Year One, that rules out Ben Affleck. But it also rules out Gyllenhaal and Huston. So who does Reeves want for his 25-30 year old Batman?
I’ll continue to investigate, but at this point- as a fan- I don’t even want the exclusive. I just want to know! So if any other reporters want to work with me on this, or can get the scoop themselves on that or any of those other questions…go for it. We’re all dying to know.
Thanks for reading,