Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Future of Batman on Film: Dru's Take

Dave has already suggested five great approaches that WB might take in continuing the Batman film franchise post-Nolan/Bale, and I have a few more that I want to throw out there as well! We all know in our hearts that they aren't going to do anything brave or bold with the franchise, and will elect to play it as safe as possible (probably tying the reboot into a Justice League movie, following Marvel's lead). But we can dream, right? So without further ado, go ahead and hit the jump for five more suggestions and ideas for the further filmed adventures featuring our favourite cowled caped crusader (and be warned that the final proposal contains MAJOR SPOILERS for The Dark Knight Rises)...

Arkham Asylum
A battle royale featuring an entire rogue's gallery of adversaries? Yes please.
The Pitch: The Joker has taken control of Arkham Asylum, letting loose all of Batman's greatest foes with an endgame of taking over Gotham City with a powerful army of the insane. Batman has to fight his way through the hospital, subduing and re-imprisoning his entire rogue's gallery on his way to stop the Joker.

The Appeal: The video game (which, admittedly, I've never played) strikes a middle ground between the (arguably) more "grounded" Nolan films and the fantastical elements of the comics. I've even heard from some diehard Bat-fans that this is the definitive screen incarnation of the character. After an entire trilogy that turned a blind eye to canonical Batman villains like the Penguin, Killer Croc, Man-Bat, etc., it would be great to have a Dark Knight Detective whose villains are often more than human, and having a real "comic book" tone would more easily accomodate a future Justice League movie. Plus I imagine there's ample opportunity to have Batman doing actual detective work, and the atmosphere could be spooky as hell. The closed nature of the setting (Batman is trapped in Arkham) would also help keep the reboot on the lower end of the budgetary scale; this is more The Raid than Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Potential Problems: Films based on comics tend to either be based very closely on the comics or not based on anything but a loose idea of the characters and their world. So an adaptation of a Batman video game might be a tough sell to studio execs. That and the fact that video game adaptations in general tend to be cinematic garbage. And for the love of dogs, if they do adapt this, please get rid of those hideous bolts on Batman's costume! He's not a freakin' Frankenstein monster!! Seriously, those things are uhhhhhhg-lee.

Likelihood of Happening: Probably not great, just because it isn't a very traditional idea to adapt a video game version of a superhero rather than the original comic book version. Adaptations, though, tend to get a green light more easily than original ideas in Hollywood, so one never knows. The video game (and its sequel) are wildly popular, though, so there's a built-in fanbase of gamers that would line up to see this movie in addition to all of us rabid Batman fans that aren't into video games. This might be the most likely option on my list.

Gotham Central
Are you ready for C.S.I. Gotham?
The Pitch: A gritty police procedural set in a city with a crazy vigilante stalking the streets, with normal cops pitted against superpowered costumed villains? Sure beats Law and Order

The Appeal: Nolan talked a big game about a "realistic" take on the Gotham universe, and that seems to be universally recognized as the key to his trilogy's success. Problem is, his films aren't really all that realistic. (Not that a term like "realism" is stable enough to mean much of anything, anyway.) The key to this approach to the Batman franchise would be balancing the down-to-earth, workaday protagonists of the Gotham Police Department and the larger-than-life, outsized antagonists that they're facing. We would see the impact that the fantastic has on the average. Imagine The Wire with the Joker in Avon Barksdale's place.

The Potential Problems: Batman would probably not be a particularly big onscreen presence in a Gotham Central film, so it's hard to imagine a studio getting behind this idea. Police procedurals veer towards formula, and television has been saturated with them for at least a decade; the superhero-in-the-background twist might not be enough to interest anybody. Still, so long as the characters are compelling, I say we don't need a man in a mask to hold our interest! However, the Gotham Central comics, while critically acclaimed, were notoriously unpopular in the marketplace. Would the concept fare any better in the cinemas?

Likelihood of Happening: Well, apparently The WB wanted to do a Gotham Central television series before the failure of Birds of Prey put the kibosh on it. Admittedly, the project does seem tailor made for the small screen, and if it does ever see live-action adaptation, that's more than likely where it'll be.

The "Three Robins" Trilogy
"My Three Wards"
The Pitch: A trilogy of films charting the successes and failures of Batman's rotating wardship, with one film dedicated to Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake, respectively. Robin's growth is the focus of each film, with Batman playing more of a supporting role.

The Appeal: This series is designed to specifically address an important aspect of the Batman mythos that was deliberately ignored by Nolan and co. Arguably, Robin is the most important character in the Batman universe, and his relationship with Bruce tells us everything we need to know about him. The first film would show Grayson's arc from orphaned boy to sidekick to superhero Nightwing, as Batman tracks the Red Hood, who later becomes the Joker. Make no mistake, this would be a dark series. The 
middle film, ending with an Empire Strikes Back-esque downbeat cliffhanger (the death of Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker), would be a bold and terrifying statement in superhero cinema. When Todd returns as the new Red Hood in the final film, Drake as the third Robin and Nightwing must team with Batman to stop him.

The Potential Problems: This would get real dark in a real hurry, and for a series of films with child protagonists, that might not sit too well with the suits. As Dave mentioned in his article, basing a series on child actors presents a serious risk in itself (what if they stink?). And while Batman would be a consistent presence in the entire series, the central characters change from film to film as new Robins are introduced. (The actor playing adult Grayson would stick around for the sequels, however.)

Likelihood of Happening: I wouldn't be surprised to see Robin as a key part of whatever screen incarnation Batman assumes next, but I would be very surprised if it was as Robin-centric as this. Don't count your robins before they hatch.

Bat Noir
See how much of a difference it makes when you strip the colour from the opening credits of the Adam West Batman film?

The Pitch: A hardboiled noir murder mystery, complete with biting dialogue, claustrophobic sets, and expressive shadows. What better fit for the Batman?

The Appeal: Bob Kane's inspiration for Batman was a combination of things, but one of them was surely the 1931 film The Reckoner (also known as The Public Defender). I'm actually seeing the film soon, so I'll be writing up a full report for the blog after that, but I'm willing to venture a guess that The Reckoner was part of the wave of crime films that was inspired by German Expressionism and that went on to inspire the films noir of the 1940s. (The Joker is notably inspired by The Man who Laughs, an American film directed by German Expressionist Paul Leni.) There was an April Fool's joke some years ago that Orson Welles once planned a Batman film, with himself in the starring role and James Cagney as the Riddler, among other dead-on classical Hollywood dream casting. I just want to see that film, or something close to it!

The Potential Problems: Hollywood doesn't let just anybody make a movie in black-and-white these days, and to risk the most profitable (maybe?) character that WB owns on a retro aesthetic choice? Also, my experience with showing films noir to students (i.e. the youth of today) is that they laugh at the hardboiled dialogue - it doesn't read as "cool" anymore. So there's a high risk of camp here too.

Likelihood of Happening: Not unless Orson Welles comes back to life. (Even if he did, he never had a great track record with film studios!)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Dons the Cowl
Was I the only one unable to shake my memories of Blackest Night when I saw these posters?
The Pitch: OK, I'll admit it -- I haven't even seen The Dark Knight Rises yet. But I've read all the spoilers so I think I can safely pitch a direct sequel... right? I think we all know what Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John/Robin Blake (why not Dick or Richard, Nolan?) is planning on when he discovers the Batcave at the end of the film: continue the legend that Bruce began, to assume the mantle of the incorruptible symbol of the bat. If Warner Bros wants to continue to milk the Nolan cash cow, get him on board as a producer (if only in name only) and continue the series directly with JGL in the lead. There's surely a way to incorporate some elements of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's recent Batman and Robin run (see Dave's post for his pitch for that series).

The Appeal: The appeal for the studio is obvious: this approach involves the least amount of work, as it's not a ground-level reboot. All of Nolan's world-building can be brought to bear on The Dark Knight Lives (I assume that's what they'd call it). Get a filmmaker that can handle action better than Nolan and hire a screenwriter more concerned with plot than pacing, and there's a fine chance that this film could live up to or even surpass the Nolan trilogy.

The Potential Problems: Nolan diehards -- there's a lot of 'em out there! They'd cry foul just on principle. I say let 'em weep. Even casual fans, however, might reject a non-Bruce/Bale body inside the Batsuit, which is understandable. Who knows if JGL has what it takes to fill that Batsuit, or if he would even want to without Nolan at the helm? The biggest problem, in my view, is that continuing the Nolan franchise pretty much precludes the possibility of getting more fantastical with Gotham, at least without radically breaking with the established tone of the series.

Likelihood of Happening: Moderate. As much as I wouldn't be surprised to see WB take the least risky route with Batman, they're probably gearing up their franchises to converge in a Justice League movie, and are they likely to introduce a non-Bruce Batman into that series? No. If there's anything in Man of Steel to suggest a future WB superhero convergence, consider this option less likely. Otherwise, it's right up there with Arkham Asylum for safest bet.

1 comment:

  1. Having seen The Dark Knight Rises, I for one cannot wait for The Bat to get rebooted as soon as possible, if and only if to wash the awful taste out of my mouth. Failing that, just make The Dark Knight Rises: Remix and give the trilogy a proper sendoff.