Which Way Forward For The “Batman” Movie Franchise ? Take Five : Should It Stay Or Should It Go? Part One


It’s funny how life works, isn’t it? Three weeks ago I said I’d be back here in a week to continue this series on how I think the Batman film franchise should be relaunched, and that week off became two, became three — anyway, I apologize, but I’m back. I could bore you with the usual litany of excuses as to why my absence was longer than expected, all of which are, in this case, true — busy at work, lots of shit going on outside of work, etc., but I’ll spare you all that (whoops!, guess I sort of subjected you to them in an off-handed manner already), and simply say for those of you who actually look forward to these little rants of mine, I sincerely apologize for the delay.

That being said, not all my time between posts has been wasted. For example, I had the good fortune to purchase, and subsequently read, an excellent little book by one Dr. Julian Darius, published under the auspices of his own imprint, Sequart Literacy & Research Organization, called Improving The Foundations : Batman Begins From Comics To Screen that’s set me to thinking about all this shit in a far more serious and cohesive manner than I had before.

Darius’ little tome essentially tracks back all the various threads that went into Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and while the whole book makes for some pretty fascinating reading, I have to admit that the stuff I found most interesting was in the section that covered the various version of Batman that didn’t make it to the big (and small) screens in the period between Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin debacle and Nolan’s first flick. I won’t rehash any of it here because I honestly want folks who are interested to read Darius’ book, as well as to support Sequart because they’re a fine bunch of folks, but I will say this much — reading through all that has given me a much better understanding of what won’t work when the time comes to relaunch Batman on celluloid and, more importantly perhaps, why it won’t work.

All of which brings me, rather neatly, full-circle in terms of where I’d been intending to take this series of posts anyway. I promised this next segment would deal with the elements I’d keep from the Nolan series, but before I delve into the nitty-gritty of the details, which I’ll do tomorrow, let me just state for the record the one overarching philosophical approach practiced by Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer that I would most definitely stick with : a “scattershot,” pick-n’-choose approach to adapting/borrowing material from the comics and reformulating all these disparate elements into a version that works best for cinema.

While a more literalist approach to translating the Dark Knight’s origins to the silver screen would have been to say “let’s just do a pretty faithful adaptation of Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman : Year One” — an approach the studio even tried by bringing in Miller himself to write a treatment based on his comic — the Nolan/Goyer tandem was happy to borrow some of the best, or at least best-suited-for-cinematic-adaptation, elements not only from Year One, but from the old 1970s Batman stories by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, from the previously-discussed-in-these-parts Batman : The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, and even from Miller’s legendary, though-in-no-way-an-origin-story Batman : The Dark Knight Returns. And as the Nolan bat-series wore on, they continued this approach of borrowing liberally from disparate periods of the Caped Crusader’s history and adapting the stuff they were grabbing to better suit their overall vision (Bane certainly didn’t start out as a vigilante for the 99% crowd, for instance — he was just a typical 1990s ripped-on-’roids villain in a wrestling mask).

So even more than any particular plot details, I think the most valuable lesson whoever Warners hires to helm the next chapter in the Caped Crusader’s cinematic exploits can take from Nolan is this overall “take what you want and put it all together in whatever way suits you best” approach. Details matter, to be sure, and we’ll delve into those a bit more tomorrow, but for the time being, since I promised to be almost painstakingly focused/ incremental here, I just wanted to set the stage beforehand by saying that approach is one that I think by and large served the last Bat-trilogy well, at least in terms of overall concept if not always in its execution, and that I can think of no coherent reason to chuck it overboard and go for a more “this must be just like the comics” approach that’s only going to make die-hard, long-time readers of Batman’s adventures on the printed page happy while alienating pretty much anyone and everyone else. And on that note, I’ll save the rest for tomorrow’s (I promise!) installment.

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3 responses to “Which Way Forward For The “Batman” Movie Franchise ? Take Five : Should It Stay Or Should It Go? Part One

  1. It’s funny, since as you said it hasn’t really been looked at before, but I think picking and choosing pieces from any comic character’s exploits is the best approach. Comics, from what I remember, even when grafted together in graphic novel form, make for poor script fodder. Just not enough story behind them.

    Plus, I imagine it gives you some added protection against the comic purists who’d complain about any deviations. Throw in a bunch of deviations, and they just throw their hands up in dispair, and possibly enjoy the movie.

    • Good point! If you go for the “straight adaptation” approach and deviate in any form, all you’re going to do is piss people off who want a literal approach. Plus, if you think about it, there’s 50-plus years’ worth of Batman material out there to steal/borrow bits and pieces from — why limit yourself to just one book?

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