So we now live in a world wherein a Justice League movie exists. The problem? The film — directed by Zack Snyder and an uncredited Joss Whedon — didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. While a $96 million opening weekend would ordinarily be strong for a Hollywood tentpole, it pales in comparison to both the $166 million debut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and (forgive the Marvel comparison, but it’s inevitable) the $207 million earned by The Avengers in 2012. This leaves the DC Extended Universe at a crossroads, one that has already been complicated by what appears to be the impending departure of one of its leading men.
In a recent USA Today interview, Ben Affleck expresses what can only be described as doubts about his future as Batman, claiming that The Batman is a project he’s “contemplating.” At one point, Affleck was set to direct the in-development solo film for the DCEU’s version of the Caped Crusader, though he ultimately surrendered the director’s chair to Matt Reeves. Now he says he wants to “find a graceful a cool way to segue out of it.” Reports are pouring in that Reeves is meeting with actors about the role — most notably Jake Gyllenhaal — in the event that Affleck makes his exit. However, there are a number of ways that Warner Bros. and DC Films can handle the Dark Knight going forward, assuming they’re not interested in giving DC’s most bankable and beloved hero (well, until recently) a break from the big screen. Let’s discuss some options.
Simply recast for upcoming films
If the rumors regarding The Batman are true, the film won’t serve as a reboot of the character, falling into the same continuity shared by all the previous DCEU films to date. In that case, Warner Bros. could easily just push forward with a new actor in the role, whether that’s Gyllenhaal or another star. Hollywood is littered with actors who have gone up for and missed their chances at playing Batman onscreen, and the role is essentially the superhero James Bond, having been played by numerous actors over the years. What WB and DC need is a team player who is in it for the long haul, much like Marvel Studios traded Edward Norton — and his reported “difficulty” to work with — for the more laid-back Mark Ruffalo. It’s the easiest way to trudge ahead with the DCEU but it’s also the least imaginative.
Take the Year One/prequel option
Once upon a time (i.e. pre-Batman Begins), WB was developing a big-screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One with Darren Aronofsky (mother!) directing. Of course, that fell apart, and Christopher Nolan got the chance to create his own take on Batman’s origin story. But if Affleck drops out, perhaps a future DCEU film could jump backward in time and detail Batfleck’s first few months on the job, with a younger actor in the role. By the time we meet him in Batman v Superman, he’s become a cynical, perverted version of himself. Paying a visit to Batman’s crimefighting past could be worthwhile, and if the studio and filmmakers want to remain unfettered by the current timeline, the film could just act a standalone entry without any ties to Affleck’s portrayal. Hey, if they’re developing a disconnected Joker origin film, why not?
Give us Batman Beyond (with Keaton!)
Here’s another Batman project that was lined up pre-Nolan. Based on the popular animated series, the Batman Beyond film would have followed an elderly Bruce Wayne into a future where he mentors young Terry McGinnis as the new Batman. Such a story would have the luxury of not needing to reference any other DCEU films, and best of all, the time might finally be right for Michael Keaton to reprise the role of the Dark Knight. After all, 25 years have passed since Keaton donned the cowl in Batman Returns. His performance in the two Tim Burton films still carries the nostalgia that would help draw in audiences unfamiliar with the animated Batman Beyond. Moreover, at 66, Keaton is just the right age to pass the baton to another Batman. If it fails, then WB can go back to the drawing board. But if it works, boom: there’s another Batman franchise that can run concurrently with other DCEU films, fully embracing the multiverse of the comics.
A return to The Dark Knight universe
Before Affleck was cast as Batman, many fans put all their hope into the idea that Christian Bale might return to the franchise, effectively bringing Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy into the DCEU. That didn’t happen, but there’s little reason why those films couldn’t still be in play. Nolan himself probably wouldn’t want to come back, likely meaning that Bale will pass as well. But The Dark Knight Rises already set up Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake as the successor to the Batcave, hinting at more adventures to come. Get Jonathan Nolan — who co-wrote both The Dark Knight and Rises with his brother — involved, and WB could easily get the blessing of fans. Sure, such a film might ultimately have a similar feel as the Nightwing project currently in development, but a new Dark Knight offers the weight of a built-in audience and much higher chances of crossing the much-desired $1 billion worldwide box office threshold.
Commit to Flashpoint for a while
One thing that most fans and critics seem to agree on regarding Justice League is Ezra Miller’s version of The Flash, whose own film has already been revealed to be Flashpoint. For those unfamiliar with the comics (or the 2013 animated adaptation Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox), the story follows The Flash into an alternate timeline where Thomas Wayne (and not his son Bruce) is actually the Batman. The Walking Dead actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan has certainly expressed interest in reprising the role of Thomas Wayne from Batman v Superman, and he has the right presence and established fanbase to be the perfect fit for the anti-hero that is Flashpoint Batman (see: Watchmen). To offer a bit more surprise for DC Comics fans, the Flashpoint film could, if need be, conclude with The Flash returning to his original timeline to find that Thomas Wayne is still Batman, despite his efforts to restore everything the way it was. Fans of The CW’s The Flash know that every bit of time-travel meddling Barry does has consequences, and keeping Morgan around for a bit could help ease the inevitable transition to a new actor as Bruce Wayne.
What would you like to see Warner Bros. and DC Films do with Batman once Ben Affleck vacates the cowl? Sound off in the comments section below with your suggestions!