Tom Jolliffe on whether an overabundance of the Dark Knight could lead to Batman fatigue…
How many Batman’s does it take to change a lightbulb? No I’m not the Riddler, before you ask. So in case you’re behind the times, there is a new Batman film in the works. Production was well underway before being shut down due to a pandemic you may also have heard of. For a couple of years we’ve been going through the process of rumour, dropouts, hirings, firings and all that usual Hollywood drama. More recently, to a very mixed response, Robert Pattinson (henceforth known as R-Batz) was chosen as the replacement (but not really replacement because it’s a different identity…or something) for Ben Affleck (known henceforth as Batfleck). Now I am totally in the corner of R-Batz as a Caped Crusader. In fact I wrote a piece around the time of confirmation claiming that he was actually too good to play what is becoming an increasingly two dimensional movie hero (there are few interesting Wayne caveats that Christopher Nolan left uncovered, but more on that later). At the height of a pretty great run of indie films, Pattinson is suddenly mainstream again. Rumours abound now (again, to much contention) that he could be in the running as Bond. For me, you can’t be Bond AND Batman. Being Bond too, I think requires a level of fame that leaves a platform to become iconic. If you’ve already been Batman, the associations and your image are just too ingrained to become JB.
So Pattinson, director Matt Reeves and an interestingly-cast Batman film showed their first hand with a recent trailer for The Batman. It wasn’t Earth shattering, and given the film has a hell of a lot more shooting time, before they even get to the matter of polishing it all up in post, that’s understandable. As a tease we were given a few hints at what R-Batz will deliver, whilst the villains were kept very brief. Tone, as expected, is dark. You can do a dark Spider-Man because it’s not really been done. A dark Avengers etc… Trouble is, Tim Burton did dark Batman some 31 years ago and Nolan remoulded and perfected it, grounding the whole thing and shooting his second Batman opus like he was shooting Heat. So there’s not really anything new in the trailer that marks it as a fresh take (because in all truth, it would be almost impossible). On a Bat Scale it looks somewhere between Nolan and Snyder’s films visually, and will undoubtedly at least be more coherent than the latter’s films. R-Batz remains a divisive element though, being described as Emo Batman among other things. The best part of the trailer for me was the fact, in places, it evoked The Crow. There’s a definite Gothic vibe, that’s certainly darker than say Burton’s quirky Gothic sensibilities.
The movie business is yet to fully count and appreciate the cost of the epidemic. We can’t know how it’ll affect not just revenues, but peoples tastes and attitudes to cinema as an out of home experience. People, more than ever, have been getting used to being at home to watch their films. Can the big boys still keep pounding out films that cost 200-300 million dollars (before you even account for the marketing and distribution costs)? Silly figures get bandied around about what some of these films need to make in order to break even (as high as a billion smackeroos). It may not be sustainable. Likewise, did Avengers: Endgame essentially hit the peak of comic book interest? We may be on the downward slope of the trend. The mega budget comic book film going forward will find it hard to gather the sheer hype required to hit the numbers required. Star Wars, the original mega franchise entity, has seen a decided decline in anticipation through the last three films released (while a resurgence in interest was predominantly toward the TV show, The Mandalorian). So do the second tier Marvel and DC characters have enough pull to account for their enormous budgets? It’s debatable. If the second string aren’t making enough, of course we’ll see a focus back to A-list properties. More Spidey, more Iron Man, X-Men and of course Batman.
Here’s the other problem though. What if you kill your Golden Goose? Joker worked because they took an antagonist and gave him center stage in his own film and made a psychological drama rather than a comic book film. Inevitable sequels are unlikely to have that same allure, as inevitably you start having to go in increasingly more comic book avenues, and losing your grounding. As we’ve seen with Anthony Hopkins repeating Hannibal Lecter, you can be sensational first time out, but going back loses the edge, the ingenuity and the surprise factor. I can see that happening with Phoenix and Arthur Fleck, particularly if the temptation to go back begins to become financially motivated. You can have too much of a good thing.
Movie news is almost monopolised by Batman at the moment and it’s not just The Batman. We’ve also got the fact that a film that would otherwise have had little interest, Flashpoint, is now getting more attention because of Batman. An appearance in Justice League, deemed more annoying than anything, and a reasonably popular TV show (where as a character he’s always felt most at home in live-action) haven’t suggested a solo movie for Barry Allen is a banker for success. So after the success of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, it seems there will be a leaf taken from that animated film, to involve multiple dimensions and afford us the sight of Barry Allen crossing paths with different incarnations of Wayne. Batfleck, having ceremonially burned his cowl and cape, will have to forge another set, as it seems he’ll be back. Michael Keaton, 28 years after last donning the clobber, will also return. In a nostalgic way, it’ll be fun to see, even if there’s an air of desperate uncertainty in their titular character to carry a big budget film. So once again, it boils down to ANOTHER film about Batman. Two former stalwarts to be exact. If Clooney, Kilmer and Bale get time off from their busy schedules, maybe they can drop by.
The Batfleck Bat saga doesn’t even end there of course. After years of a small internet corner baying for it, the world will finally get ‘The Snyder Cut’ of Justice League. It’ll end up on TV as a mini-series and one wonders just why you’d waste so much money filming enough material to fill a miniseries, only for the director to be pushed out, and end up shooting a load more with Joss Whedon (the end result being the utterly shambolic two hour travesty we seen a few years back). Quite what we’ll see within Snyder’s vision remains to be seen. I wouldn’t hope for coherence, though the poor visual effects, unlikely to improve much, will look more at home on TV than as a big screen event. Still…we’ve seen that film once already. How markedly different could it be? Die hard Bat fans still also have a regular stream of animated films that always seem to appear (a few of the recent ones have certainly been more enjoyable than the Snyder-era films). Personally, it’s becoming a little exhausting, but I say that fully in acknowledgement that I’m an old git, and was never a comic book aficionado. For me though, Nolan set a bar so high, that it almost seems moot to try and match it.
So, two Batman films and an epic saga miniseries are on the horizon for the Caped Crusader (not to mention a spinoff series set in the world of The Batman on HBO Max). Is it too much? Are you excited for some, none, or all of them? Inevitable sequels will follow, and how long before another incarnation of the Caped Crusader? Let us know your thoughts on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), War of The Worlds: The Attack and the star studded action films, Renegades (Lee Majors, Billy Murray) and Crackdown. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/