It’s been a hell of a week for the so-called DC Extended Universe (a name that is still, to my knowledge, unofficial). While the internet is still reeling about Chris Pine’s confirmed role in the now-titled Wonder Woman 1984, the most impactful news has been that Geoff Johns is stepping down as president and chief creative officer of DC Entertainment. The decision was apparently designed to allow Johns to focus on the film side of things, including writing and producing the long-talked-about Green Lantern Corps. But it’s also indicative of DC Films’ ongoing effort to find a clear path to success.
Rumors and reports about what direction the franchise will take next — especially after the underwhelming box office response to Justice League — have run rampant. Thankfully, it is starting to sound like DC Films, under the leadership of the recently appointed Walter Hamada, is making some critical decisions behind the scenes, according to a recent piece by THR. The Flash film will reportedly be inspired by Back to the Future now (meaning Flashpoint fans might have to wait for that adaptation), and a pair of Joker-centric films, as previously reported, are definitely in the works. Whether this slate — along with the in-production Shazam! and aforementioned Wonder Woman sequel — inspires confidence in fans or not, at least the studio is making some steps forward.
Perhaps the most curious and surprising revelation in the THR story is that the current script for Matt Reeves’ The Batman focuses on a younger version of the Dark Knight, likely precluding the 45-year-old Ben Affleck from donning the cowl in Batman’s first live-action solo film since The Dark Knight Rises. After months (years?) of back and forth regarding whether Affleck would stay in the role, it’s encouraging that we’re beginning to get some sense of where The Batman is headed, including who the main villain might be. Yet, of all the ways Reeves and DC could take the Batman franchise in particular, this doesn’t feel like their best option.
Bear in mind, details at this point remain sketchy. We still don’t know if this “young Batman” angle is meant to serve as a story separate from the main DCEU — like the Todd Phillips-directed, Joaquin Phoenix-starring Joker film — or a Gotham-style prequel following an earlier incarnation of the Bruce Wayne that Affleck has been playing. Still, considering the actor’s reported reticence to return to the role, the former seems far more likely, giving DC and Warner Bros. the opportunity to reboot the character’s future role in the greater DCEU without the need for Flashpoint-level time-travel shenanigans.
The problem here is two-fold. On the one hand, the gruff, Arkham-esque hero Affleck played in both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League is one of the few aspects of the DCEU that most fans can agree the franchise and director Zack Snyder actually pulled off. Snyder’s approach to the material has proven divisive, to be sure, but scrapping “Batfleck” entirely seems rash and, honestly, foolhardy. DC Films would be better off to keep the character intact and simply recast the role. After all, it’s not like fans won’t accept a new actor in an iconic superhero role.
If Affleck is no longer interested in playing Batman, plenty of other actors of a similar age and build could slip right into the role (Jon Hamm, anyone?), allowing future DCEU entries to continue in its course-correcting without having to muddy the narrative waters. Although Snyder’s films (oh, and Suicide Squad, lest we forget) may not have provided a strong enough foundation for the DCEU, many of the individual characters and performances (Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Ezra Miller’s The Flash, etc.) they introduced are certainly worth salvaging. That includes the current version of Batman, whether or not Affleck keeps the part. Imagine what a filmmaker like Reeves could bring to it.
The other reason — and perhaps the more important one — that The Batman shouldn’t bother honing in on the early part of the Dark Knight’s crimefighting career is that, well, it’s an angle we’ve already seen recently depicted onscreen. With its heavy influence by Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins took a similar approach to the character. Although The Batman may not be a straight-up origin story as Begins is, it feels unnecessary to revisit an earlier Batman when the DCEU has to date successfully focused on the opposite. Even The Dark Knight chronicled the first conflict between Batman and the Joker, technically qualifying as a young Batman story itself.
Accordingly, the DCEU would be opening itself up to comparisons between its new take on Batman and Nolan’s beloved trilogy. Considering its struggle to nail down a trajectory, this is probably the worst thing the DCEU can do at this point, as it’s only been six years since Christian Bale bid farewell to Gotham City. Part of what audiences responded to with Affleck’s version was how starkly different it was not only from Nolan/Bale’s Batman but any other that had appeared on the big screen up to that point. Any exploration of a young Batman, especially now coming on the heels of Justice League, will only be setting itself up for unrealistically high expectations, a scenario that the DCEU would be wise to avoid for now. Does anyone seriously have faith in the current DC Films team to deliver a film up to par with The Dark Knight? Anyone?
While the idea of simultaneously exploring multiple versions of really any of these iconic characters isn’t necessarily a bad one, such an approach smacks of audience goodwill that the DCEU simply hasn’t earned yet. The films released so far have varied so wildly in quality and consistency that the company should place its focus on developing a concrete plan long before taking on the ambitious task of a full-on multiverse. Batman has specifically taken on so many forms since his 1939 introduction in the comics, and it’d be fun to see more of the gruff, older Batman many fans have embraced. Something tells me audiences aren’t ready to move on just yet.
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