Film News

WB Doesn’t Need Batman Movies Anymore

For far too long, Batman has been WB’s break-glass-in-case-of-emergency IP, the gravitational force at the center of all things DC. As a result, WB struggled for literal decades to imagine a movie universe without him. It briefly tried with Man of Steel, and then quickly panicked in the face of solid, but not spectacular ticket sales. Now, thanks to Wonder Woman, Aquaman and a slew of promising projects, WB finally doesn’t need Batman anymore. That’s why right now is a great time to try something new with the character.

Let’s back up.

Kids Know Everything About Batman. That’s What Makes It So Tempting to Keep Making Batman Movies.

My 6-year-old niece knows the rare mineral which hurts Superman is called kryptonite. She knows Bruce Wayne is secretly Batman, but she thinks the name of the city Batman lives in is, in her overly excited words, “Oh, I know this! It’s the The Batcave! The Batcave!”

Oh, so close. The real answer, obviously: Gotham City. But, really, considering she learned most of those answers through The Lego Batman Movie – which playfully equates Batman in the Batcave to a brooding teenager hiding out from the world in a basement – I can totally see why she’d get that one wrong.

I learned all of this last night while playing Trivial Pursuit: Family Edition with, well, the family. It serves as a reminder of how even little kids these days know the general details about all of the big superheroes, which is understandably why a Hollywood executive would want to lean on the most recognizable brands. Why deviate from the Batman and Spider-Man’s of the world when so much of the marketing has already been done for you?

But Ben Affleck Wants Out

That’s sticking in my mind this morning as I process the news that WB has apparently finally confirmed the worst-kept secret in Hollywood: Ben Affleck is out as Batman!

That’s right. You won’t have Batfleck to kick around any longer. 2017’s Justice League is now officially his sad swan song. Now, writer-director Matt Reeves, he of the recent Planet of the Apes movies, is moving forward with The Batman, dated for 2021 – 6/25/21 to be exact – and said to focus on a younger version of the character who is far more in the detective mode than we’ve seen before in any of the prior movies.

Twitter Mourns/Mocks Batfleck

Twitter, as per usual, had some thoughts, ranging from the “Hey, I really liked Batfleck” to “Let’s start a petition to get Michael B. Jordan cast!” to, finally and quite inevitably “I’m so sick of Batman.” Sam Adams, senior editor at Slate, is a big proponent of that last one:

To be fair, WB is building in a nearly four-year gap in-between live-action Batman appearances, that is assuming the Caped Crusader doesn’t pop up in anything between now and 2021.

When Was the Last Time There Wasn’t Someone Playing Batman?

Still, point taken: for going on 15 years now, we’ve been stuck in a world in which someone is always playing Batman. Sure, there was technically also a four-year gap in-between Christian Bale’s last on-screen appearance and Ben Affleck’s first, but Affleck was first announced as the new Batman just over a year after the release of The Dark Knight Rises. That means we actually lived with the idea of Batfleck almost longer than we did the reality of it.

On top of that, we also have Will Arnett’s hilarious Lego Batman, who in addition to getting his own movie is also a major character again in The Lego Movie 2. David Mazouz’s Muppet Babies version on Gotham is finishing up his final season. WB’s animation division keeps cranking out those direct-to-video Batman movies, making him a ninja in one movie and putting him on the case of Jack the Ripper in Victorian England in yet another. Now there’s talk of WB developing a Batman Beyond animated movie to be released in theaters, likely in the vein of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s starting to seem like just about everyone from the Batman universe other than Batman himself will eventually up in the Arrowverse. Plus, isn’t there always another Batman: Arkham Whatever video game around the corner?

That’s a lot of Batman content. The fans have been well fed. Surely we can afford to take a break from the guy in the live-action movies.

Because this is Batman, however, we assume the character will soldier on in movies in perpetuity like James Bond. If The Lego Batman Movie can make a joke out of how many different people have played the character, why not add another name to the list. His refusal to ever go away is simply an accepted fact now.

It’s the Merchandise Sales, Stupid

In the past, we could blame economics and history. Batman was and continues to be DC’s best-selling, most-known, and most-marketable property. Plus, if Superman showed Hollywood comic book movies were possible Batman showed Hollywood how to turn such movies into events. Getting to be the first at anything forever makes it a challenge to convince comic book illiterate studio executives that comic book movies can star anyone other than Superman or Batman.

This is why it’s so often been said that Marvel Studios’ happiest accident was being forced to build its cinematic universe using the B-squad since the heavy hitters – Spider-Man, X-Men – were already promised to other studios. Being deprived of such recognizable brands forced Kevin Feige and the group to hunker down as storytellers.

In a way, WB  is currently dealing with that problem, but it’s a problem of their own making. By so badly misreading the market and doubling down on grimdark when light and fun was called for, Batman v Superman and the better, but schizophrenic Justice League turned the Caped Crusader and Big Blue Boy Scout into toxic entities. Now, both Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck have begged off future projects, a new leadership group has been put in place to oversee all of this, and the studio is rebuilding its DC Universe – which is officially called Worlds of DC, emphasizing a more stand-alone approach with multiple different worlds instead of a shared cinematic universe like the MCU – around anything other than Batman and Superman.

The New Faces of DC Movies

Going forward, here are the new live-action pillars:

AQUAMAN

The highest-grossing DC comic book movie of all time, more so than even Nolan’s Batman movies. Unless you adjust for inflation, but why would you want to? The headlines aren’t as eye-popping after you do that. You don’t have to squint at the numbers, however, to be impressed by James Wan’s improbable feat of taking DC’s most ridiculed property and converting it into a global sensation. Plus, an octopus plays drums. Who else will join the band in the inevitable sequel?

WONDER WOMAN

Wonder Woman, unlike Aquaman, did actually sell more tickets than just about every other DC comic book ever, trailing Dark Knight, Batman, Superman, and Dark Knight Rises. Expectations for next year’s Wonder Woman 1984 are through the roof, and Patty Jenkins is already thinking about what to do in a third movie.

SHAZAM!

Big meets Superman in Shazam!’s ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy, adding up to easily the most kid-friendly live-action DC movie in years. Early box office projections promise at least a modest hit which fits the film just fine considering its reportedly modest budget clocking in at just a third of what it cost to make Justice League. According to a recent Total Film cover story on the table going forward for Shazam!: A sequel and/or spin-off centered on Dwayne Johnson as comic book villain Black Adam.

THE JOKER

Unlike the others, I don’t include the Joaquin Phoenix Joker here as a pillar because I think it will be a mini-franchise to itself, especially since the question still remains: how do you make a Joker movie without Batman? No, if The Joker turns into a pillar it’ll be because of what it opens up. If this hits in a sufficient way, WB will likely feel emboldened to pursue additional harder-edged side projects which can entice premiere talent. After all, if a group as improbable as Scorsese, Todd Phillips, and Phoenix can team together and produce a solid, R-Rated DC comic book movie and make a hit out of it, who knows what might happen next.

HARLEY QUINN & THE SUICIDE SQUAD

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, like Affleck’s Batman and Cavill’s Superman, is stuck in the unenviable position of having starred in a movie (Suicide Squad) which sold plenty of tickets (good enough for a $746m worldwide haul) but wasn’t particularly well-liked.

WB’s solution? Empower Robbie to both star in and produce her own Birds of Prey movie with a female writer and director, transporting Harley closer to the beloved Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner comic book version of the character in the process. Harley, after all, regularly ranks near or at the top of not just DC’s best-selling female-led titles but all titles, period. There is a clear desire to see her put in a movie worthy of that fandom. They’re off to a good start with this, which also introduces the other members of the titular Birds of Prey:

Birds of Prey is due February 7, 2020.

Suicide Squad, meanwhile, is soldiering on, possibly without Harley. In-coming writer-director James Gunn is reportedly hitting the reset button and planning his own Suicide Squad movie which will be less a sequel and more a fresh start with a new crew. It’s due August 6, 2021.

They Don’t Need Batman Anymore

That’s just over a month after the planned release of The Batman. Maybe by then, the world will be dying to see the third different live-action relaunch of the character since 2005. Or maybe it’ll be just one of many DC comic book movies, no more important than any of the others.

I say that while biting my own tongue because, in truth, I struggle to picture a world in which a new Batman movie will truly be seen as just another comic book movie. As he’s so often fond of saying:

That means something culturally and is why hit movie or not Batman is always the top-selling comic book brand in annual merchandise sales. Because of that, WB and DC are always going to want to get a live-action Batman franchise going. Given recent box office victories and future prospects, they don’t need the next Batman to hit in a big way, though. That’s a significant change, arguably for the better.

Freed from the pressure to save an entire cinematic universe, Matt Reeves’ The Batman is now relieved of crushing expectations. Just make the best Batman movie possible. Take some big swings. If you miss, meh. WB and DC can roll with it.

What do you think? Should Batman be retired for far longer than just 4 years? After all, when a character has been around long enough to lampooned so viciously in The Lego Batman Movie maybe that means an extended break is called for? Or is there still a better, different kind of Batman movie to be made that you’re dying to see? Let me know in the comments.

Source: Deadline

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18 comments

  1. I think that even after Aquaman, they STILL don’t see the obvious solution for their problems.

    Basically, they should focus on creating places, not character – not that there is something wrong with creating interesting characters which live in said places, but if there is ANYTHING DC has over Marvel, than their fictional cities. Expand on Atlantis and populate it. Build Gotham and populate it (honestly, I would just act as if the whole Superman and Batman stuff never happened and start with a Batman and Robin movie about Millionaire Bruce Wayne taking in an orphan and how said orphan is seeing this crazy city he ended up in). Build Metropolis and populate it. Decide on some creative designs for the other cities, something which makes them visually interesting and populate them. And once you have done this, you can have character from one city visit other cities.

    They should also retry Green Lantern.

    But most likely they will continue to act like confused chickens.

    1. I think they are at least kind of trying what you’ve described.

      Birds of Prey, for example, will be set in Gotham City. The forthcoming Batgirl movie, which I didn’t include because it’s still not clear when or if that will happen, was also said at one point to be set in Gotham. So they are at least building out that universe on screen. Whether or not there will be any uniformity in how the city looks between projects, though, remains unclear. Since they are stressing a filmmaker-driven model my guess is they won’t be telling anyone that x has to look like such and such because that’s what it looked like in another movie.

      Which, then, is the opposite of your point.

  2. Omg please no more movies about batman or the batman. They have reinvented him so much theu are now calling him the detective. The thing about the batman movies are the franchise is always shortlived. There are a range of villians but they always play it safe with the joker first and we already have two joker movies possibly more in the works. The other downside is we have to probably endure a batmin origin scene again. Do we need that perhaps they will take a leaf out of spiderman homecoming and skip uncle ben and getting bit by a spider. But its dc so hey lets see thomas and martha get gunned down again. What would be good is to see clint eastwood play an aged bruce wayne in a dark knight returns story. Or a knightwing story perspective on batman. I mean am i the only one skipling the Titan episodes that dont focus on dick grayson and batman. Thats got to be better than seeing mathew mcaughney or scott speedman done the cape and follow the formula because any chamge in tone equals a clooneyesque batman and robin or a superman v batman movie. Not necessarily more years to release a batmam movie but a shift to other parts of batman lore.

    1. “Not necessarily more years to release a Batman movie but a shift to other parts of Batman lore.”

      I think that resonates a lot. I devoted most of my time in the piece to arguing why WB doesn’t actually need any new Batman movies to be successful, but I forgot to spell out some of the crazier things they could do with Batman now that they have that freedom. I guess maybe because the way Matt Reeves has talked about his take on the character so far sounds similar enough to prior iterations that I’m not expecting something truly crazy. As you point out, though, maybe that’s where they should go with it, use some of those recent DC animated movies as proof-of-concept cases and see how they might reimagine how to do Batman on screen other than “younger and more of a detective this time.”

  3. I’m a huge fan of Batman (like have the entire New 52 run and Rebirth runs so far) and I really did like Batfleck, I thought he looked the best of all them to date, but even I’m getting tired of new Batman movies. I think Matt Reeves will be able to deliver a great trilogy but it might be time to hang up the Bat himself for a while and maybe just focus on his extended family like Nightwing and have nods to his presence in other properties.

    Or even better, have King Shark as a member of Gunn’s Suicide Squad, and when Waller is detailing where they’re going have him vocally say “Anywhere but Gotham. I don’t want to get beat up by a guy in a batsuit again”, it would work to establish him as a presence in the new slate of films without directly casting him.

    Taking him back to his comic core roots as being the “World’s Greatest Detective” is great but unless Reeves & Co. are going to use rogues that we’ve never seen on screen before, like Dr. Hurt or Hush, then it’s just going to be a rehash of the same enemies and battles we’ve seen a couple times already. Also, Joker should be left out entirely. They’ve got too many Jokers as it is and adding another would just diminish the impact of the character. While Joker is the arch enemy of Batman, there have been plenty of other villains to break him and beat him on multiple occasions, use some of them God’s sake!

    1. Lets neber mention suicide squad. However if they must persist then josh brolin is a good choicr. Josh lost out to afleck previously and really could have done something with the role. Do we really want to watch batman play sherlock holmes and work clues? I personally think the title is just a rouse to rebkot the same formula but we will see. I suppose if it is a true detective story it could mean a riddler villain and possibly penguin as those two have yet to be portaryed properly since the adam west days.

      1. I think Brolin would be a good choice but so would Karl Urban. They both have the physique and can pull off the gravelly voice so they don’t need to use a modulator.
        I personally would like to see more detective work done by him. He is known as the World’s Greatest Detective so why not have him solve some mysteries?
        Even Riddler and Penguin have been used enough. Give us someone like Clayface, or Dollmaker, people that can cause a real problem without having to use the same rehashed villains again and again.

      2. Heres a pipe dream. Make batman a secondary character and do a nightwing movie. Heck at this point i will settle for Pennyworth. One man’s struggle to manage the image and lifestyle of a millionaire playboy while secretly harbouring a creature of the night fegularly coming home wounded and damaged.

      3. I agree. A Nightwing movie would be great! There was one on the slate a couple years ago before Batman v. Superman tanked… I heard a rumour that Alfred was getting a show, but that should be taken with a grain of salt.

      4. Hadnt considered Urban but yet he would be good. I guess i always hoped for another Dredd movie. Not sure about arguement of great detective. Yeah i read detective comics but still pretty sure he was called the caped crusader more and if you agree would you feel hollywood would play a theme on that. I know there is a range of villains untapped in the batman universe and that is why i woukd love there to be a batman tv series (dont you dare mention gotham). But for a movie the more commonly known ones will get bums on seats and i still dont think they have done a good riddler since frank gorshin (i said dont mention Gotham). But then by that reasoning one can assume batman itself wont be dmuch different.

      5. I think Karl Urban, Josh Brolin or Jon Hamm would be best suited for the role, but Reeves wants a younger actor which puts all of them out of the running.
        I grew up watchin Bruce Timm’s Batman the Animated Series and the accompanying DC cartoon universe. He was very detective centered in most of that stuff which is why i remember him as more of a detective. Not to mention the 4 episode arc of Ra’s trying to get him to take the mantle of the Demon’s Head and how he only calls Batman “Detective”.
        I gave up on Gotham after the season one finale. Haven’t watched it since. The only issue with a Batman TV show would be getting it done with a small enough budget. Could it work? yes. Look at Titans. But it would need to be done by HBO, Amazon, or Starz; someone who can toss a lot of money at it to make proper episodes.
        The Riddler I remember the most was Jim Carrey, and as a kid I thought he was good. Looking back, not so much. It’s going to be one of those instances where no matter who takes their turn as Riddler, I’m going to compare it with ‘Nostalgia Glasses’ to Carrey. I get that using well known villains brings people to the seats, but if they change the formula and use lesser known villains they might stumble on a gold mine.

      6. .. Or netflix even. Think you should try gotham from season 4. Much more what it was expected to be by fans. Kess padding and more like the comics. Vilkians everywhere and established. You dont need to see earlier seasons. I didnt rate titans although that last espisode woth batman really felt like how batman should be.

    1. That’s a good measuring stick, I’d say: Whatever they do, at least make something which will be worth re-watching someday. Batman v Superman and Justice League, whatever their strengths (Affleck a surprisingly good Batman) or weaknesses (the Martha Boys), each failed to pass that basic test for me.

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