Statistically, Batman is everything. He's one of the most popular characters in the history of fiction, has more devotees than most major religions, and has been the subject of an endless amount of misguided tattoos. His movies are assured blockbusters, his TV series only get better with time, and his best comics tend to change the entire medium. And our fascination with him is ruining DC on film.
After the immense success of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, Warner Bros. had a tough choice to make. They could give the character a rest for a little while and wait for the proper inspiration, or they could not do that at all. They went with Option B and shoved Batman into the main character slot of what was technically a Superman movie, kick-starting the DC Expanded Universe. And by "kick-starting," I mean cinematically punting moviegoers in their heads with a film that could be described as "loud" at best and "Get away from my family" at worst.
The first Superman movie in this new incarnation had been a little more neck-snappy than the ones we're used to, but Batman v. Superman doubled down on the violence and heavy themes and puke-on-the-sidewalk color palette. Thanks to Batman, DC movies had gone from being their own entities to being the cinematic equivalent of that friend who takes on the aspects of their partners to a stunning degree. "Oh, lightheartedness? I was into that for a while, yeah. But now that I'm with Batman, I've found my true calling. And that calling just happens to be Batman."
This is a major problem. The DCEU is a shared universe, which kind of implies that they'd focus on the "shared" and the "universe" parts of it, and not just use it as a platform to try out varying shades of Batman while the other characters stand around marveling at how goddamn great Batman is. Marvel has had huge successes with the shared universe concept, as their characters and stories match each other. When Iron Man shows up, we know what we're getting into. We know that Robert Downey Jr.'s character is a consistent one, and isn't the victim of a director bursting through the wall to shout "NO, IRON MAN WOULDN'T DO THAT."
But when it comes to Batman, the order of importance seems to be:
1. "This is how MY Batman would be."
2. Everything else.
Since 1989, we haven't had a director take on a Batman movie without establishing some kind of weird ownership over the character. Whether it was Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher or Nolan, every filmmaker who gets the task of filling our screens with bat stuff puts their own spin on it which makes it absolutely separate from any other DC film. Even Zack Snyder, who was a main creative force in the DCEU, couldn't be bothered to wonder how he could tonally mesh Batman with other characters. Instead he just shoved Batman in there and hoped that the rest of the movies would work themselves out.
And now, we're getting not only another Batman standalone film that is wholly unrelated to the events of the DCEU, but also a Joker origin movie that is similarly separate. Why? Because it seems that trying to fit these versions of Batman and various Batman-related characters into the established DCEU would be too much of an ordeal, so f**k it. "Go do your own special revolutionary Batman thing over there, while we do our own special revolutionary Batman thing over here, and in the end we can, well, just make more special revolutionary Batman things. Forever." Audiences just love it when they become interested in a character, only to find out that nope, while this character is still the same character, it's not THAT character. So they can just deal. And don't give me that "No, it's definitely part of the DCEU, it's just got no connections to it" explanation. That's like saying, "Oh yeah, I'm coming to your birthday party. Wouldn't miss it. However, I AM just gonna be on my phone the whole time."
It always sucks to hear about directors being pushed off of movies because their visions aren't gelling with the course that the corporate overlords desire. It sucked when Edgar Wright was taken off of Ant-Man, and it sucked when Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were taken off of Han Solo. But you need that some times. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that Warner Bros. needs to fire the directors of the new Batman and Joker movies. I'm saying that there are SO. MANY. VERSIONS. of those characters that the company is way past due to step in and say, "It's time to figure out what the hell these characters actually are so that fans at least have a general idea of what they're paying for at the theater." It's one of the rare times where I think annoying corporate oversight needs to be in place just to rope in the chaos. To protect the character from a dozen directors, each with their own vision, which is what created the mess we're seeing now. Campy Batman, colorful batman, leather-clad action hero Batman, nipple suit Batman, gritty Batman, even grittier Batman, fun Batman, brooding Batman, gun-toting Batman, ninja Batman -- WHAT THE HELL IS HE?!
People are going to understand what's going on when a new actor plays a new version of a character. When Val Kilmer trudged onto the screen in Batman Forever, I didn't shriek in abject horror because, my god, what did they do to your face, Michael Keaton? And the DCEU doesn't have the best track record. Its approval rating is somewhere between "lost dog" and "seeing a stranger's genitals on the subway." But being so slavishly devoted to your own personal Batman concept that you must remove it from any connection to the DCEU seems to indicate that you're taking it a bit too seriously.
As a Batman fan, I understand what it's like to fall into that trap. When The Dark Knight came out, I thumped my Bible and yelled at passing college students "It's a super hero movie THAT ALSO MANAGES TO BE A CRIME DRAMA. REPENT. REPENT." But I also hesitate to think that someone's individual take on the Dark Knight is so stunning that it has to bulldoze through what they've already established to make it into its own thing. And usually, that individual take is "No, this Batman is really gritty. Like, really gritty." Until you revise Batman to be flamboyant middle-class American who farts Batarangs out of his mutant ass, you're not really surprising anybody.
Daniel's favorite Batman is Michael Keaton. Shower him with praise on his Twitter for having such a bold, brave opinion.
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