Saturday 21 July 2012

So What is the Future for Batman on Film?

The Dark Knight may be rising, but he isn’t ending, that’s for sure.

While Nolan has provided a definitive ending to his series of Batman films, the character is too popular and profitable for Warner Brothers to stop producing further films after Nolan has finished. The question of course is just how they plan to carry on after The Dark Knight Rises. A Justice League film seems like a safe bet for introducing a new Batman, but it is far from a done deal, and that film could easily fall apart like George Miller’s prior attempt at the League film did a number of years back. As such, you can bet studio executives will have a number of contingency plans in place for bringing back the Caped Crusader.

Hit the jump for five possible approaches to kick-start a new series of Batman films. Whether executives choose to go with a variation on one of these ideas or another one entirely is anyone’s guess, but these should provide some food for thought.

Dick Grayson: Batman
Are audiences ready for a not-so-Dark Knight and nastier Robin?
The Pitch: Dick Grayson, the first Robin, has been out of touch with Bruce Wayne and those who live at Wayne Manor for years. But when Batman seems to be going on a kill spree, Dick returns to Gotham only to find a shocking secret:  Bruce is missing, and quite possibly dead. With an imposter Batman running riot on the streets of Gotham, Dick, with the assistance of Alfred and, much to Dick’s surprise, Bruce’s young, violent son Damian, steps into the shoes of his mentor in order to save the reputation of the Batman.

The Appeal: Drawing upon recent comic storylines, a film focused on Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian Wayne as Robin offers up quite a bit of dramatic potential for a series of films. For starters, by focusing on Dick Grayson, not only does it allow a new film to stay clear of direct comparisons to the Christopher Nolan films, it also allows the filmmakers to focus on a concept that really hasn’t worked its way into comic cinema as of yet: legacy, a theme which would allow Bruce Wayne to remain central to the films without necessarily having an onscreen presence.

Also, by starting with Dick Grayson outside of the Batman family at the start of the film, it would provide a strong mystery for a series of films to explore: what happened to Bruce, and what was his life like leading up to his final days? Where does Damian come from, and how does his lineage impact who he is as a person? Such an approach would allow for some meaty material not only for the actor chosen to play Dick, but for the entire supporting cast, and there's even the opportunity for a Godfather Part II-style film segmented into present-day/Dick material and flashback/Bruce material. Tell me you wouldn't want to see that movie!

Last, but certainly not least, those who read the run of comics featuring Dick and Damian know just how fun the pair were as Batman and Robin, with a relationship which inverts the typical Batman and Robin dynamic. A more fun loving Batman in the form of Dick who plays off a darker, meaner Robin would likely allow the next series of Batman films to bring a bit more lighthearted fun into the mix without heading down the dreaded road of camp comedy.

The Potential Problems:  While I would be willing to bet audiences would accept a non-Bruce Wayne Batman, chances are Warner Brothers will not take that bet, at least if Bruce had pratically no onscreen role in the films. Also, if an ongoing mystery were to be set up in an initial film and spread over an entire series, filmmakers will have to be careful to map out a long term narrative in a way which allows each film to be satisfying without leaving audiences feeling like they are just being strung along, a criticism which has hit The Amazing Spider-Man despite its success.

Likelihood of Happening: Extremely unlikely to happen. If Warner Brothers is going to take a risk on a film in which Bruce Wayne is not Batman, they are likely going to go with an approach which has an already proven track record, something like…

Batman Beyond
Bring on Batman Beyond! And don't forget Ace the Bat Hound.
The Pitch: An adaptation of the hit animated series from the late 1990s, in which an elderly Bruce Wayne in the future has stepped aside from the role of Batman, but mentors a young teen named Terry McGinnis to take his place. A troubled youth looking for redemption and a chance to avenge his father, Terry tackles a series of more high-tech villains than his predecessor faced, though they are every bit as dangerous, all while trying to maintain a fairly normal life.

The Appeal: When Batman Beyond was first announced, it was a concept met with intense vocal criticism from fans. Thirteen years later, Beyond now stands as one of the most beloved interpretations of the Batman mythos, proving popular enough that DC has recently launched a successful ongoing comic to carry on where the show left off.

Much of the success of the series is due to the way in which Batman Beyond avoids the tropes typical to these kinds of concepts: instead of lightening up, Beyond arguably proved to be a much darker show than the previous Batman: The Animated Series; instead of relying upon the legacy of the previous series, Beyond quickly and effectively established its own world which felt like a natural extension of what fans had known.

Most important however is the relationship between Bruce and Terry, which lies are the heart of the show and is vital to any successful translation to the big screen. While there is a surrogate father/son aspect of their relationship, Bruce and Terry are far more begrudging partners than the more traditional – and functional – Batman and Robin relationship. Part of this is in no small part due to the fact that by the time of the series, Bruce is an old, bitter man who has become detached from the city he once swore to protect, and is struggling to accept his new role in the protection of Gotham.

Batman Beyond also lends itself to a whole new visual given its future setting, alook which would distinguish it from any of the prior Batman films and provide filmmakers a greater degree of leeway with including the fantastic in a Batman film after the more grounded work of Nolan.

The Potential Problems: Spider-Man. There is simply no way to get around the fact that a teenage Batman who tries to balance his regular life with his super-heroic duties is going to bring comparisons to the wall crawler, regardless of the timeframe such a film is set in. And with a moodier Peter Parker currently on the big screen, there is an even greater risk now of Terry coming off like a clone of Parker.
Also, as with the previous concept, there is still the question as to whether audiences would accept a Batman who isn’t Bruce Wayne, or a more sci-fi Batman in general. Fans may be down with it, but the general public might be a harder sell.

Likelihood of Happening: Oddly enough, pretty good. Well before Nolan’s Batman Begins was in development, Warner Brothers did have a Batman Beyond film in development, with the original creators attached in some capacity. Whether that prior attempt translates to the current studio executives also being interested in such a film is hard to determine, but it does at least indicate that they are aware of the fandom surrounding the property.

Dick Grayson and the Philosopher’s Stone
You just know this is what Warner Brothers top executives dream about each and every night.
The Pitch: How does Warner Brothers continue their Batman franchise and replace their Harry Potter cash cow to boot? By doing a Potter style series of Batman films focusing on the adolescence of Dick Grayson as he becomes the ward of Gotham’s most heroic psychopath, that’s how!

The Appeal: Despite the glowing success of the Nolan films, if there is one nagging issue which has dodged the Batman films, it is the issue of their accessibility to younger viewers. I think most Batman fans would acknowledge that they became fans as kids, and I am sure there is many a parent torn about the idea of letting their youngest children see a Batman film where the Dark Knight busts up Eric Roberts’ legs and where a man has half his face burned off onscreen. A film looking at the world of Batman from the perspective of a young Robin would provide an opportunity to make a more family friendly Batman film which would address such parental concerns.

From a totally cynical business perspective, as I alluded to earlier, such a series of films could provide Warner Brothers with a replacement for their now completed Harry Potter series, something the studio has been trying to work out for the last little while. One doesn’t need to look too closely to see the narrative similarities between Robin and Potter: both are the stories of boys who lose their parents and later find themselves embroiled in a world fantasy. It’s just that the fantasy Dick finds himself in is a world of capes and costumed criminals rather than magic. Also, like with the Potter series, each entry in this film saga could become progressively darker, and depending upon its length of its run, could follow Dick into his young adulthood as Nightwing.

The Potential Problems: There is a segment of the audience who just plain hates Robin, and will continue to no matter how good a film about the character might be. The task of making Robin cool is a daunting one, and is a significant factor which must be overcome if any film built on this concept is going to be a success.

Additionally, there is the major issue of resting an entire film franchise on the shoulders of a child actor. Most fans would agree that the Harry Potter series lucked out in finding several child actors who grew into being darn good actors, and there is no guarantee that such lighting would strike twice. Indeed, there is a better than average chance filmmakers could cast the next Edward Furlong or, God help us, Jake Lloyd rather than the next Daniel Radcliffe.

Likelihood of Happening: I frankly would be shocked if there isn’t some executive with a script already in hand ready to pitch it the minute Nolan is out the door.

Batman Incorporated
I can see the taglines now: "Thrill as Bruce Wayne opens himself up to lawsuits from the criminals he faces on the streets!"
The Pitch: “Hi, I’m Bruce Wayne. For the last ten years, I have secretly been funding the Batman’s war on crime. From this point on however, I am creating a company which will not only make Batman’s crime fighting tools available to local police officers, but will focus on  creating a private army of Batmen across the globe who don’t answer to local governments - wait, I wasn’t supposed to announce that part…”

The Appeal: Easily the craziest concept to come out of recent Batman comics, Batman Incorporated is an idea which flat-out announces that audiences had better not expect the status quo.

While most of writer Grant Morrison’s crazier inventions for the comic would likely never fly on film, the core idea of franchising the Batman identity across the world opens up all sorts of doors for a series of films, moving away from Gotham City as Batman sets about globetrotting on a James Bond-like scale. In the right hands, such a series of films could also work satirically, lampooning modern corporate politics and even Hollywood’s own obsession with franchises and merchandising.

The concept also has built into it the ability to carry on the series should the actor selected to play Bruce ever choose to step away from the films. Indeed, this could carry on in an almost anthology like way, with each film taking audiences to a different city and a different Batman to focus on.

The Potential Problems: The concept is so absolutely loony that it has a better than average chance of alienating general audiences who have come to love the more grounded take on the material. And make no mistake about it: Batman Incorporated would require audiences to abandon any notions of seeing a grounded Batman tale.

Likelihood of Happening: Non-existent.

Legends of the Dark Knight
Want to see some approaches to the Dark Knight which have never been see before on screen? Then this is the Batman film you have been waiting for.
The Pitch: Forget launching a series of films dealing with one interpretation of Batman, here comes a series of anthology films from various filmmakers as they each give us a new take on the Dark Knight in thirty minute chunks!

The  Appeal: Batman is one of the most malleable superheroes out there, so why not take advantage of it? Rather than stick to one new take, allow various filmmakers from around the world to take a stab at Batman in a more creative format. Want to see Batman take on the supernatural? Batman in a 1970s style exploitation film? Or even a Batman Beyond short? This is the way to make it happen.

The Potential Problems: I have to be honest, this is better off as a one shot idea rather than as a franchise launching approach. Also, what actor is going to want to take on the role of Batman only to have to share it with several others at the same time?

Likelihood of Happening: Less than non-existent.


  1. What about a period piece? Recently, while watching Gilmore Girls, I thought that Alexis Blidel would make a great Lois Lane, if they every did a 1940s-styled Superman film. So, why not extend that that idea to Batman? Period superhero films have worked in the past (Rocketeer, Dick Tracy, 2011's Captain America), and I think this idea has potential. Whether or not WB has the stones to set a major franchise in the past remains to be seen. I mean, I'm not asking for a series here, people, just a one-off. Could be cool and noir-like.

  2. I'd love a period Batman film, and in many ways superhero films work better in the past. I chose not to include it here mostly so I could focus on the more out there ways to reboot the Dark Knight.

  3. I may steal your idea, James, for my own version of this article...