Which Way Forward For The “Batman” Movie Franchise? Take One


Bear with me, folks, ‘cuz this is gonna be a looonnnnng one. Not this post in and of itself, mind you — in fact I’m going to do my very best to keep things brief in this and subsequent installments (whoops! I just gave away what’s going on here, didn’t I?) and try, perhaps even desperately, to confine all postings in this series (and if I didn’t give it away before I sure did now!) to one particular aspect of what we’ll be discussing here each time so as not to throw too much out there at once before receiving input from you, dear readers, as to your own thoughts on what I’m talking about before plowing ahead to the next part. I know, I know — all bloggers say they genuinely want the input of their readership on what they’re posting, but in this case I really do mean it with all sincerity. I want this to be an interactive discussion about what we, as fans/movie geeks, want to see happen next with one of the most successful properties, arguably perhaps even the most successful property,  in cinematic history.

I’m speaking, of course, of the Batman. With Christopher Nolan’s beyond-blockbuster trilogy having just wrapped up, speculation is already rife as to what DC Entertainment and its parent company, Warner Brothers, will do next when it comes to the adventures on the Dark Knight Detective on the silver screen. For an initial hint about were I’d take things, please refer to the famous page above from the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale comic Batman : The Long Halloween. For reasons that will be made clear over this course of this series of postings, however long it may drag on, that scene — the famous “rooftop meeting” between Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent — is at the very heart of where I think the Bat-franchise would go next.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. First, let’s take stock of where we are now and the three, as I see them anyway, options DC/Warner has going forward. As of this moment, The Dark Knight Rises has taken in just a hair under $420 million dollars at the domestic box office, and just a hair under $1 billion worldwide. It’s a pretty solid bet that it will end up taking in $500 million domestically and will AvatarTitanicThe Avengers, and The Dark Knight in the over-a-bliion-dollars-in-worldwide-ticket-sales club. That means that of the five highest-grossing films in the world in history, two will be Batman flicks. Clearly, Warner isn’t going to let this property stagnate for too long.

But they need to play their cards exactly right going forward, because this is one golden goose they absolutely need to keep laying eggs. Which brings me back those three options they have going forward, each of which carries some risk, as well as potential rewards. Let’s look at each potential path  forward individually, shall we? Glad you agree.

Option #1 — The direct sequel. Nolan certainly left this possibility wide open with Robin/John Blake’s “inheritance” of the Batcave, and in many ways it’s the easiest and most painless way to go. Blake’s the new Batman (or Robin, or Nightwing, or whoever), some ambitious director would be more than willing to take on carrying things forward from where Nolan left them, and audiences are already primed and ready to accept Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the new man beneath the cowl.

But are they really? Let’s face it — Bruce Wayne is central to the Batman myth. You could argue that DC themselves are working on making him less central to it with the publication of such books as Batman, Incorporated and several storylines in recent years that have seen the likes of Dick Grayson, among others, assuming the Batman role for varying periods of time. Maybe they’re trying to test the waters with this whole someone-else-as-Batman idea on the printed page before going for it on the big screen? It’s possible, but sooner or later they always seem to come back to Bruce Wayne, and it’s easy to see why —

Frankly, it just never really works with anyone else as anything other than a temporary gimmick to boost sales for a few months. Sooner or later, the fans always want to see the “real” Batman back in action. A new guy might be interesting for a movie or two, but the speculation as to if and when Bruce Wayne — and, by extension, Christian Bale and maybe even Chris Nolan — would be back would be a Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of any “direct sequel” flick, no matter how good it was. And that just ain’t gonna happen. Bale’s done. Nolan’s done. These guys have made the studio a fortune. Let them get on with their lives in peace.

Option #2 — The “hard reboot.” This has been done, successfully, with the Bat-franchise before, obviously. Batman Begins is as “hard” a reboot of a character and his origins as you’re going to find. We’re used to seeing Batman reinvented every so often, and it’s never been a dealbreaker before. Every generation flat-out deserves its own iconic take on the character, right? Why go in any other way now? It would free up the next director, producers, and cast from having to do things the “Nolan way,” that’s for sure, and sometimes the best way forward is by taking a few steps back.

And yet — that might necessitate Batman sitting on the shelf longer than Warner wants him to be. The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t that bad a superhero movie by any stretch of the imagination, but even its most fervent partisans would, when pressed, admit that two Spidey origins within a decade is a bit much. And besides, it’s not like Batman Begins is going to appear especially dated within the next five or ten years, nor is it likely to be surpassed in terms of quality as a Batman origin story for the silver screen. Any “hard reboot” story is going to inevitably be compared to it, and any other cinematic origin story is going to come up short, more than likely. Unless, of course, it’s a work of such singular awesomeness that it just comes along and completely blind-sides all of us. But ya know what? Even then, I bet it’s still gonna piss plenty of people off. Plus, there’s the open question of just how necessary a “start-from-scratch”-type story even is. More or less everyone knows at least the basic details of the Batman myth — do we need to see them play out before us yet again to understand and appreciate a new cinematic interpretation of the character?

Which brings us, finally, to Option # 3 — the so-called “soft reboot” option. Admittedly, this hasn’t worked out so well for secondary comic-book-related properties like The Punisher and the Hulk, but they were both coming off first installments that were pretty iffy to begin with, to put things kindly. That”s not the case here by any stretch of the imagination. Even if Nolan’s Batman films weren’t your cup of tea, there’s no denying they’ve been tremendously successful at the box office and generally quite well-regarded by hard-core fans, critics, and more casual audiences alike. Maybe there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, even if we’re going to go back into Batman’s career chronologically, the cast is going to be entirely different, there will be a new director and screeenwriter(s), etc.

Not that this option isn’t without some risk, too. It would essentially assume at least a rudimentary knowledge of the character on the part of the audience (anyone not know anything about the guy? Bueller? Bueller?), and it would subject the new film,series to more direct comparison with the Nolan flicks than, perhaps, option #2 (although that’s debatable, and flat-out inevitable in any case, anyway), and — well, that’s probably about it.

So — from where I’m sitting right now, that looks like the best bet to me. Let’s have a new take on the Batman franchise with new actors, a new director, a new writer or writers, new everything — but let’s not feel compelled to tell his origin over from the start. Let’s concern ourselves with concentrating on the various elements that have made Batman so appealing and enduring as a cultural icon over the years, tell a story that incorporates and elaborates upon all of those, and maybe throws a few new wrinkles of its own into the mix, and not feel like the wheel needs to be reinvented here. The Nolan films are going to be the standard against which all future films are going to be judged, anyway, so rather than run as far away from them as possible, why not keep what worked about them, and maybe present them in a new way?

If all this sounds just a little bit too abstract for you at this point, I wouldn’t blame you, but stick with me here — at least until you get bored. I hope that as things progress, what I have specifically in mind will become more and more clear. And keep that image from The Long Halloween in mind as we go along, because it’s central to where I’m going — even though I don’t think the comic itself was anything other than a somewhat-above-average Batman story (and yes, I’m hoping that sentence will make a bit more sense to you in the coming days/weeks, as well).

So that’s it for part one of this thinking-it-out as-I-go-along project. I hope to pick things up again tomorrow with some some thoughts on Gotham City — how it’s been presented in the past, how and why it’s central to the Batman mythos, particularly in film, and a really weirdly appealing (in my own twisted mind, at any rate) idea I’ve got as to exactly which major American city would make a great movie Gotham for the future. Until then, please — tear my opinion to shreds! Or agree with it! Or somewhere in between! But let’s see where we agree or disagree and find out where you think I’m right and wrong and why!

13 responses to “Which Way Forward For The “Batman” Movie Franchise? Take One

  1. Quote:

    “…arguably perhaps even the most successful property, in cinematic history.”

    No: STAR WARS. Not even worthy of a debate.

    Quote:

    “That means that of the five highest-grossing films in the world in history, two will be Batman flicks.”

    Pardon my French, but this is complete bullshit–normally I wouldn’t be so harsh, but you KNOW this is blatantly false, hence my disgust. “Gone with the Wind” is still the all-time box office champion. Of course, more than 70 years since its release, it still plays at revival cinemas regularly all over the world. It’s still drawing the bucks. “The Sound of Music” also sits above every single “Batman” film ever made in terms of its box office credentials. I recently attended the 4K Australian premiere at the Astor Theatre–you would not BELIEVE how popular this film still is after more than 40 years. And it’s not just old-timers, either: in fact LOTS of little children (not just girls, but a fair few boys).

    People simply ADORE these films…”Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” and “These are a few of my favourite things” are part of Cinema Legend. I know it might be hard for mucho macho “Christopher Nolan is a God” types to swallow the fact that people love Scarlett O’Hara and Maria von Trapp more than Mister Nolan, but there you go.

    Anybody who claims that two of the five highest grossing flicks of all-time are “Batman” films is either woefully misinformed (which you’ve no excuse to be as a film reviewer and obvious mega-fan of the serial) or simply can’t count.

    I’m waiting for somebody to explain to me why seasonally-adjusted figures “don’t count”. That should be a good one.

    “But they need to play their cards exactly right going forward, because this is one golden goose they absolutely need to keep laying eggs.”

    Why? Is Warner drowning in a pool of red ink? Batman films shall always make money (at least for the next few decades), just some more than others.

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    • Dude, calm down and take a few deep breaths, you havea habit of getting really worked up over stuff and it’s not good for your heart. Nobody’s arguing that flicks like Star Wars, Gone With The Wind, etc. stand head and shoulders above any Batman flicks in terms of sheer tickets sold, impact on movie history, fame, prestige, etc. They also haven’t taken in as much at the box office. Not even close. Mostly due to the fact that ticket prices are so much higher now. Like it not, and of course you don’t, the only films to take in a billion in ticket sales are the ones I mentioned, with DKR inevitably joining the list in the coming days. Just like nobody was ever saying Nolan was as good as Hitchcock or as important or as anything when one compared their styles, nobody’s saying any Batman movie is as significant as Star Wars or The Wizard of Oz or anything — but the Batman flicks have taken in more at the box office. So calm the hell down, quit assuming I’m some hyped-up macho Nolan fan, and for goodness’ sake, don’t read things into a post that aren’t there. You know what’s bullshit(pardon my French)? Assuming I’m some massive Bat-fan, believe it or not. I have a lot of problems with all of the Batman flicks, as will become apparent as this goes along. Normally I’m not one to get too overly-excited about a resonse to post, but your habit of extrapolating conclusions thatnobody ever said is getting irksome. You may not like it, I may not like ie, etc.,, but flicks like Avatar, Batman, The Avengers, etc. have made over a billion dollars in worldwide box office receipts, and The Sound of Music hasn’t, even though The Sound of Music has probably sold more tickets than all of ’em combined for all I know. Just like somebody saying Nolan is trying to make mimic Hitchcock only with a bigger budget doesn’t mean Nolan is as significant or talented as Hitchcock. Yeesh, man, don’t work yourself into a frenzy over something that hasn’t been said.

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    • Oh, and I do agree with you that Star Wars is probably the most successful franchise in movie history, but I think it is, in fact “arguable” that between the Nolan flicks, the Burton flicks, the Schumacher flicks, etc. that a reasonable argument could be made from the Batman property, simply because it’s one that can be passed along from one production team to another over the years and even decades and can just keep chugging along. George Lucas is permanently tied to Star Wars and if he’s not involved in a Star Wars production on some level, then it just ain’t gonna happen. Batman is a farmed-out property not owned by its creators — hell, one of Batman’s creators, Bill Finger, got screwed out of credit for co-creating him by the other, Bob Kane — and Warner Brothers can just keep coming back to the well with this thing and printing up more cash. I think a reasonable argument really can be made for Batman being the most successful movie property of all time, but that Star Wars probably still has it beat. Keep in mind, there are those who would argue for Avatar, or even The Avengers, too. And if Nolan fans get you as worked up as they do, I wonder what you must think of Joss Whedon fans, who seem to think their guy literally walks on water and heals the sick?

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  2. I wouldn’t mind Option #1 just for the fact that the Blake character would be an interesting and brave path for Warner’s to take moving forward. Yeah, it might be the easiest option since Nolan did lay down the foundation but it also has the biggest chance to fail.

    Option #3 is an interesting one because it’s one I’ve been advocating since before the start of production for TDKR. Unlike others I wasn’t very enamored with the latest Spidey reboot. I thought that Sony could’ve just done the soft reboot by continuing the storyline Raimi and CO. had done with their trilogy with just different performers. It would’ve had some sort of continuity that fans of that franchise would’ve recognized, but at the same time the unknown factor of a new group of people moving the franchise forward. The new Spidey spent so much time doing the origin story again that it affected the rest of the film.

    As for Option #2, I have a feeling that this will be the one Warners’ will be going with for one reason and one only: setting up a shared DC universe to get Justice League started. Warners must be watching the success of Marvel Studios/Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One with some envy.

    No matter what one may think of the MCU films right up to The Avengers the way Kevin Feige has run the studio and how the different films tie into each other has been nothing but genius on the producer end. DC was never too big on a Justice League film but seeing how the public has reacted to The Avengers means they must now get their own superhero team up on the screen and there’s no bigger superteam bigger than the Justice League.

    A hard reboot of the Batman franchise would give DC the opportunity to mold the Batman story to fit into the Man of Steel timeline (unless DC does another reboot of that which would just be ridiculous) and set-up two parts of JL original team with just Wonder Woman, Flash and GL (with Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl becoming the team’s Black Widow and Hawkeye) to do.

    I think no matter which option DC goes with there will be the shadow of the Justice League film looming over it and with the DC universe already not set-up to be a shared universe form the beginning it’s bound to cause many problems for writers and directors hired to work on DC films moving forward. DC had time to do this even just a few years ago when Nolan began working on his final Bat, but didn’t take Marvel Studios and The Avengers seriously and now they’re in scramble mode.

    (I like the Long Halloween, but I agree with you it’s above-average at best. I actually think some of the Elseworlds storyline for Batman was some of the best Batman stories to come during the last 20 years after Miller’s Year One and Returns. Specific favorite being Batman: Holy Terror, Batman: Red Son and the Red Rain trilogy.)

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    • I haven’t read a number of the Bat-books you mention so can’t comment on them fairly, but what I’m proposing actually is something of a “soft reboot” of a different sort than you’re thinking. I’m not talking about continuing the series justw ith different perfoerms, I’m talking about a new series, with new performers and a new director, that just wouldn’t bother with a hard re-telling of the origin from the beginning. It will go back to the early portion of Batman’s career a bit, but start with him already in action, a la Burton’s first “Batman” film. But that hasn’t been explicitly made clear on my part yet because I just haven’t gotten to it, and I’m sort of “thinking out loud” as I go along here. I have a sketchy idea in mind, and in the next few days you’ll be seeing it fleshed out a little more. I think you might be right that a hard reboot starting from scratch is the most likely option, but I don;t think it’s necessary for a Justice League flick. Hopefully the reasons I say that will make more sense in the days ahead than they do right now!

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      • I think I know what you’re talking about in regards to the soft reboot. Sort of similar to the Hulk reboot. Get the origin out of the way in the credits with that one and just start the film with the premise already set-up with just telling the story in the now instead of going back to the past once again.

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        • That’s more or less it, except the “now” I have in mind is much earlier in the Batman’s career than where things left off at the end of the Nolan trilogy. It’s essentially a reboot minus the highly detailed origin, since I think the overall skeletal structure of Batman’s roots is fairly well-understood already. Think of it as something more akin to Burton;s first film — Batman’s already on the scene, but it’s early days for him.

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  3. TFG said:

    “They (“Gone with the Wind” and “The Sound of Music”) haven’t taken in as much at the box office. Not even close.”

    Nope: seasonally-adjusted, they’re still both way above any “Batman” movie. That’s a fact.

    TFG said:

    “…Mostly due to the fact that ticket prices are so much higher now.”

    That should read “SOLELY due to the fact that ticket prices are so much higher now”. Because if you accept just that ONE factor–seasonal adjustment, something that nobody can discount–“Gone with the Wind” is the all-time box office champion.

    Yeah, tickets are more expensive these days…but WAGES are also much higher now than they were in 1939. You could buy a house for US$3,000. A newspaper and a cold beverage might set you back a quarter. Things were way cheaper than today. But people earned way LESS than today. Nobody can refute the “seasonal adjustment argument”.

    If we were talking about attendance at a sporting event or the audience for a television show, and we were dealing with straight-up numbers of people–for example, what was the most highly attended pro wrestling card ever?–then the “seasonal adjustment rule” would be irrelevant.

    But we’re not comparing audience numbers, we’re comparing box office receipts, and seasonally adjusted, “Gone with the Wind” is champion.

    You may accuse others of getting worked into a lather over these things, but you’re the one making Bigfoot statements, breathlessly announcing that “two of the top five highest-grossing films of all-time are Batman movies!” And you DID invite people to “tear your opinions to shreds”. But saying that “two of the top five highest grossing films of all-time are Batman movies” is not an opinion, it’s make-believe.

    As for “Joss Who”? Here in Australia, you barely hear or read about him. Christopher Nolan, on the other hand, gets saturation coverage for churning out average stock-standard films such as “TDK” and “Inception”. I actually believe that “The Prestige” is far better than both.

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    • I don’t mind having folks tear into my statements and/or having a go at me, but like I said, you havea tendency to extrapolate conclusions based on stuff nobody ever said. Talk to the average man on the street, and they’re going to tell you that “Avatar” is the all-time box office champ, not “Gone With The Wind.” And while “seasonally-adjusted averages” may play the determining factor in your thinking, lots of folks just don’t think about that, they just think dollar signs. And if we’re going by dollar signs, then yeah, two of the five films to pass the billion-dollar mark in worldwide ticket sales are Batman flicks — or rather, one is, and one soon will be when TDKR joins that club. Nobody’s saying that they’re good movies because of that, etc, but it does make them the highest-grossing flicks ever. That’s not make-believe. It’s a fact. And it’s a fact that they’ll be surpassed in the future by films that take iin $2 billion when movies cost $25 to go out and see. I’m not saying I find “seasonally adjsted” figures to be irrelevant. They’re a better reflection of what’s sold more tickets. But it doesn’t mean “Gone With The Wind” made a billion dollars worldwide, because it didn’t. Then we’ve got the whole issue that ticket sales themselves only account for about half a movie’s overall business these days. If you’re ssik to death of the publicity around TDKR at this point, I recommend heading for the hills when it hits DVD and Blu-Ray, because it’s only going to get worse.

      I think I like the sound of the Australian press coverage of Joss Whedon, but I’ve got to assume you must not be on twitter, or you’d be even sicker of hearing about him than you are about Nolan. The breathless, near-religious awe his partisans on there have for him makes even Nolan’s most blindly loyal followers look like critical thinkers by comparison. “Cult” directors, stars, films, etc., are on thing, but Whedon’s “cult” is fast becoming an actual cult a la Scientology, the Moonies — or Apple. Breathe evven one modestly critical opinion about the guy, and you’ll be buried under wildly overwrought commentary for days. I made the “mistake” of mentioning on twitter a couple times how I found “Avengers” to be little more than an average superhero flick, and I was basically labelled the antichrist for my troubles!

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    • I guess I should also state for the record that the details of box office business are not a discussion I was looking to get bogged down in here, and that I frankly don’t much care if the latest Batflick is number 12 all-time, as according to box office.com. or number 842 when adjusted for inflation. The idea behind this series is about how to approach a relaunch, and the box office figures are not what the post was about anyway, it was just my opening salvo as to why a relaunch is inevitable. Which it is. And frankly I think there a million and one ways Nolan’s series can be improved upon, and I’m starting to get into that going forward. As a final word on the Nolan series, then, just so you know where I’m coming from, I thought they were for the most part pretty good as far as blockbuster fare — which isn’t my usual cup of tea — goes. I’ll take ’em over pure dreck like “Avengers.” But I actually liked Burton’s two Batman films more in some respects, and my interest in the whole Bat-thing has more to do with my longstanding enjoyment of the character in comics than in the films, anyway.

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  4. Pingback: The Future of Batman Films « two men enter . . .

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