Hope: The World’s Greatest Detective
I will do my best to not re-litigate Christopher Nolan’s trilogy or try to pretend I never liked them to score cool points. They’re excellent. But I have been vocal from day one that I think they didn’t play up this side of Batman enough, as Bruce generally punched his way through most problems. He wasn’t dumb by any means, but a lot of the eureka moments occur in the margins, or are incredibly brief.We’ve seen a lot of different iterations of Batman over the decades, but an overwhelming number of them skew more towards action because that’s easier to do in a summer blockbuster. But detective movies are cool! The popularity for True Detective may have waned, but gritty noir thrillers are still very much in. Know what else is in? Serial Killers. Regardless of your feelings on this trend, there is an undeniable appetite for content about violent sociopaths. And it’s kind of wild that it’s taken this long to tell a live action story about Batman trying to track down a mysterious killer, but it’s certainly a fantastic time to finally do it. Obviously Joker murders a bunch of people, but he does it very publicly and as part of a grand theatrical experiment. A battle for Gotham’s soul and all that. Scale it back. Give me a series of crime scenes Batman has to examine in order to follow the trail of bodies back to the culprit. Surprise me. Hinge the whole thing on a third act reveal. Heck, change The Riddler’s identity if you want! Let’s get weird!
Fear: Just a Good Trailer
This one is evergreen, really. The production houses responsible for cutting together trailers have gotten VERY good at their jobs, to the point many a bad film has been made to look passable. Or a different tone is presented in the preview compared to the finished product.
So even if this is potentially my favourite trailer in literal years (I have seen it at least ten times), and given me a lot of faith in the direction the movie is going, it is important to remember it is just a trailer for now.
Reeves casually dropped the titbit that they had filmed less than 30% of the script before getting shut down due to COVID. It’s very possible the remaining 70% completely changes things and not for the better. But fingers crossed it continues and expands upon the promise.
Hope: Restrained Action
Following on from my hopes about the film giving the focus to moody detective work over action, I sure do hope the action that IS in the film is deployed with ruthless efficiency, with a less-is-more approach.
We have all heard people wax lyrical about the power of implication vs blowing your proverbial load up front, best exemplified in Jaws, where we go a surprisingly long time before we actually see a shark. I firmly subscribe to this philosophy, and think Batman in particular is far more exciting when you barely actually see him and when you do it’s from other people’s point of view. He fundamentally looks a bit silly when he’s fully visible, and while he CAN throw down in a cool extended encounter, the shadows are his friend, as best exhibited in the Animated Series where he sometimes takes on the appearance of a liquid silhouette.
Nolan did a great job of this with Bruce’s first in-costume appearance in Batman Begins as the criminals frantically scrambled around the docks only to get picked off one by one, making Batman appear more of a horror movie monster than a man in a rubber bat outfit. Take this further. Obscure him in darkness, show him dart past a window or doorframe without a clear view of what’s going on, and then have bystanders react to the aftermath once he’s vanished into thin air.That being said, there obviously have to be SOME action scenes, and if the scene with Batman beating the hell out of a random thug is any indication, the fights will be swift, brutal, and with minimal camera cutting and trickery. Into. It.
Fear: The Damn Pearls
We do not EVER need to see the deaths of Uncle Ben or The Waynes on screen again. Like ever ever ever. These are as firmly embedded into pop culture as anything could be. The mere sight of a string of pearls lying in an alleyway has become a notion of dread at this stage. Even master of subtlety Zack Snyder showed enough restraint to confine Bruce’s origin to one of his slow motion opening credits montages, and the latest iteration of Spider-Man skipped Uncle Ben altogether and trusted the audience to know the backstory. So I would hope Matt Reeves will follow suit. HOWEVER. The director made some slightly troubling remarks about how Bruce’s investigation into whatever is going on with corruption in Gotham will tie into his own past. That could be absolutely fine, with The Court of Owls storyline and the Telltale video games delving into the idea the Waynes weren’t quite the saints they are often portrayed to be. But it could also mean yet another premature exit from The Mask of Zorro and an ill-fated turn down Crime Alley. Please, Matt. Don’t.
Hope: Shorter Time Frame, Smaller ScaleNolan told a long, sprawling, decade-long tale about The Dark Knight. It was cool and allowed for some grand high level ideas to unfold until Gotham itself became a literal war zone. But we’ve seen that. Let’s go in the other direction and shoot for a trilogy that plays out over the course of a single year. Reeves has mentioned this is Year Two, which immediately evokes ideas of being experienced enough that we don’t have to watch him design the suit, but just rough enough around the edges to keep things spicy. He’s able to walk into the middle of a crime scene on Jim Gordon’s authority without being arrested on sight, but the police still glare at him and some people don’t even know who he is. This is a very good time to tell a Batman story, because we can skip over the trodden ground and get right into the action, but he’s not so hyper competent that he appears superhuman. There’s no Robin. The Batcave is a little more bare bones. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of a public Bruce Wayne persona. I hope this also means more intimate encounters with adversaries; that catching the Riddler feels like a hard-fought achievement rather than another day at the office.
While bigging up his cast, Reeves said that Andy Serkis will be playing a version of Alfred that nobody has seen before. My worry is that we HAVE in fact seen this version before, as Sean Pertwee spent five years playing a more rough and ready, cockney-accented iteration of Bruce’s faithful butler in Gotham. And I hated it. As much as I love Michael Gough and Efrem Zimbalist Jr., there is absolutely no reason Alfred has to be a gentle old man or a stiff upper lipped throwback. In fact I think it’s a pretty cool to give Alfred an action-packed past, something we saw with Michael Caine’s take. It’s just that Pertwee went so far in this direction that it got a little cringe for my tastes. Calling Bruce “mate” all the time, bare-knuckle boxing etc. I’m likely overblowing this one as it’s just a voiceover, and Serkis has proven himself to be a fantastic actor even when not ‘hiding behind’ CGI. It’s just that’s immediately where my mind went when I heard his two lines of dialogue.
Hope: An Evolving Cast
Speaking of the cast, I like the idea of Riddler, Catwoman and Penguin all appearing together. Riddler is obviously the ‘main’ villain, with Catwoman looking like more of a chaotic neutral and Penguin having a blossoming mob boss agenda. It would be nice to see him end the movie in a place to take over that lead antagonist role for an inevitable sequel, which could in turn introduce a new enemy that would take on the spotlight in a third film.I’d like to see them all, particularly Selina Kyle recur and change over time rather than trying to cram their entire arc into a single appearance. The hero and his foes engaging in a long-term arms race, each having to adapt to the other with time sounds great, with their costumes and arsenals becoming more elaborate as they go. From the looks of the trailer, Bruce doesn’t get out much and has yet to develop the billionaire doofus persona to cover his tracks. It would be cool to see him awkwardly trying to refine that. Plus Pattinson in a tux? Swoon. Selina must be allowed to be more than simply a villain or love interest, but instead both of these and much more. Honestly her evolving into a secondary protagonist would be swell.
Fear: The Joker
Probably my most controversial take is that I DON’T want to see Batman’s most famous villain. At all. Wink and nod if you must (e.g. the guy in the trailer who may or may not be wearing clown make-up), but how about we try not to go there for once? In fact, I’d love it if Reeves didn’t use any of the same villains as Nolan (Scarecrow, Ra’s al Ghul, Joker, Two-Face, Bane and Talia al Ghul) in order to truly separate this reboot from its predecessor. Catwoman is obviously in it, but I’m more okay with that because her situation is more complex. We’re off to a good start where that is concerned, with Riddler and Penguin, and I’d like to see it continue with options such as Mad Hatter, Hugo Strange, Ventriloquist, Dollmaker, Professor Pyg or even the Court of Owls. I would say Black Mask or Zsasz but Birds of Prey got there first. Hey, maybe somebody will finally make Hush work! Beyond just the desire to do something different, Joker has been EVERYWHERE over the last decade and it would be good to give him a breather, as much as it seems a prerequisite, with people already getting to work on fan casting. Harvey Dent also always feels like he could be in play, but… ehhhh.
Hope: Willem Dafoe plays Joker
Aaaand just to immediately contradict myself because I have very little faith they’ll be able to resist going there, I hope that they reunite Pattinson with his Lighthouse co-star. Again, my preference is they don’t do it, and I’m actually only half serious about this suggestion if they do cast somebody, but hey, the man is a natural when it comes to playing unhinged.
Fear: A Cinematic UniverseFollowing the collapse of the Snyder-verse and the popularity of Shazam!, Aquaman and Joker, DC made a number of statements about moving away from the shared universe stuff that has been in vogue for the last few years, preferring to treat each new film as its own thing, never beholden to a particular continuity. It made for a refreshing change after so many tried and failed to replicate Marvel’s formula. However, with The Snyder Cut now a very real thing, and Ben Affleck preparing to return to the Cape and Cowl for a record breaking fourth time in live-action (if you count his cameo in Suicide Squad), I’m personally getting an uncomfortable sense that the big interconnected franchises may be making a subtle return to DC. Media conglomerates aren’t known for choosing art over commerce, and this trailer has generated stupid amounts of hype, so I’m nervously anticipating somebody issuing a press release describing The Batman as a jumping off point for a new Batverse, with Nightwing, Robin, Red Hood, Bat Girl and Alfred movies coming in the next 8 years like clockwork. I’m not opposed to any of those things existing if somebody has a rock solid pitch, but let’s not force it, please?
PlugsEager for more Batman coverage? Fear not: Myself and Mike Thomas will be bringing you our favourite 10 performances in the Nolan Batman trilogy in the next few weeks.
I continue to recap episodes of Batman: The Animated Series every Saturday and Sunday. This last weekend was a big one as we finally reached ‘Heart of Ice‘, while this week will be a decidedly more feline faring as Catwoman enters the fray.
Plus check out my podcast with Mike, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.