1997 was a bad year for fans of Batman. The Caped Crusader, with a few side-kicks in-tow, finally met his match on the big screen. Mr Freeze, Poison Ivy and Bane (a less daunting enemy than the Bane we knew from the comics and later would meet in The Dark Knight Rises) were toppled fairly easily. What Batman couldn’t overcome in 1997 was a poor script, bad casting, and a movie that resembled an advert for toys more than a vehicle for the darkest of comic book characters. Joel Schumacher, the director, wanted another chance. A chance to return Gotham’s finest to a more gothic setting but the heads at Warner Bros. had seen enough of this child-friendly incarnation and laid him to rest. They flirted with Darren Aronofsky for a short time before a further hiatus occurred.
We all know where they eventually went – with Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight Trilogy. The character restored to status, box office sales surpassing previous Bat adventures, all looking well. Even with Nolan standing firm on his decision to leave his trilogy alone, keeping it separate from the proposed Justice League movie canon, the character of Batman once again had credit on the big screen. It afforded Warner Bros. the chance to slip a person into the cape and cowl and let them enter the “DC cinematic universe” without the need for fan-fare and drawn out back story. Once more the Dark Knight was iconic. Infallible, even.
Nolan’s trilogy wasn’t perfect, I’d be the first to admit this. But as a body of films they do tell a story – with a few gaping plot holes – from start to finish. The Batman character wasn’t the ideal one we know from the comics. His views and choices contradict what the standardised Batman would do. However, overall they were credible movies. The Dark Knight in particular showed us that comic book stories could be played out like real world crime films. Like Heat with capes and make-up.
A trilogy of successful films doesn’t make a franchise invulnerable. If you need an example of this then I give you the original Star Wars trilogy then ask you to watch The Phantom Menace again. In Batman terms I’d suggest making Ben Affleck the new Dark Knight is this new film series’ Jar Jar Binks.
Had I been told he was to direct the newly proposed Batman/Superman movie I’d have been pleased. Argo was one of the best movies in 2012, proving his talent behind the camera. What I question is his ability in front of it. He’s not a complete dud, I loved Jersey Girl, but does he have the ability to handle Bruce Wayne? A flawed, complex character, that is somehow rounded as well as ruined.
The answer is: he may be more than adequate for next version of the role. I fear that this next incarnation of Batman will avoid the gothic overtones, won’t be too scarred by the death of his parents, won’t be the aging crime fighter we saw in the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. He’ll be played safe, and any depth there is in the character won’t be portrayed correctly by Affleck.
I was a fan of Zack Snyder’s Watchmenso I had high hopes for Man of Steel. If I’m honest it didn’t quite hit the spot for me. Some of the mythology was played around with too much. I can’t accept a Clark Kent that in his formative years wasn’t aware of his Kryptonian heritage; that Lois Lane knows from the start of their relationship who he really is, depriving us of a great reveal storyline; that this Superman doesn’t mind destroying buildings – that presumably contain lots of people – just to give us some action scenes.
Snyder understood his source material with Watchmen and his tinkering there was only for the good of the picture. In this new cinematic universe it seems that Nolan and David S. Goyer used Snyder to reinvent the wheel. I’m all for positive updates to longstanding creations but they should retain core values. I’m also up for superhero films with a darker tone (Batman Returns is a desert island movie for me) but Man of Steel wasn’t so much dark as bleak. And the title character wasn’t developed or even formed.
It seems that Warner Bros. have looked at Marvel’s The Avengers and decided they want some of that cross-character-superhero-franchise action. And who can blame them? Their problem is that Marvel used their B-team to create that runaway success. With the exception of the Hulk – who on singular outings has struggled to carry his own film, no matter how angry he got – Iron Man, Thor and the rest weren’t over familiar in the general public’s mind. That’s hard to believe now, but before Robert Downey Jr. breathed life into the 2008 version of Iron Man, the characters from The Avengers couldn’t have been seen as a billion dollar movie.
Marvel had no choice but do go down the path they did. Their A-team, Spider-Man and all the X-Men, are tied up in movie contracts to Sony and Fox respectively. So they had to – over a series of several origin movies – develop the best of what was left. Working with what they had they successfully created good family action movies.
Warner Bros. do not have this problem. If they wish to create a Justice League movie any character in the DC comics stable can be utilised. Therein lies the problem. They wish to compete with The Avengers so it seems they want to use the formula with different ingredients. Superman and Batman can be billion dollar franchises as separate entities. If Warner Bros. mix them this way and attempt to appeal to a wider audience – like they did with Batman & Robin – what gives these characters such iconic status is watered down. They’ll be diluting the back story and character arcs in favour of cash. The two most famous orphans will be little more than window dressing for excessive CGI sequences.
Perhaps I am being cynical and the producers fully expect an exploration of the characters, something that tows the line between family action and The Dark Knight. If this is the case then it brings me back to my first concern: Ben Affleck can’t be the Batman or a good Bruce Wayne. It’d be like a Disney version of the Gotham’s finest and last time I checked they took care of Marvel’s Avengers. There must be some daredevils at Warner Bros. to take such a gamble, and last time I checked Affleck had ruined the comic book version of that on the big screen.
1997 showed us that the legacy of characters like Superman and Batman should be preserved above attempts to cash-in. That Batman, by his dark nature, is already reaching his largest audience when left to a more mature age group. If Batman is to remain true to this essence then Ben Affleck is the incorrect choice. I hope I’m wrong, that by the time Affleck swoops onto the screen as the Caped Crusader he fully encompasses the part, and the movie itself is a box-office hit and critically applauded.
Fingers crossed 2015 isn’t another 1997 experience for Batman. If it is he’ll be sending his friend Superman to an early franchise grave too.