By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
Despite the contentious, often hostile debate over the state of the DC Extended Film Universe, one idea that audiences seem to be general in agreement on is that Ben Affleck’s Batman has been a saving grace thus far. After the vitriolic response to his initial casting, the Bostonian Oscar-winning actor/director turned out to be a charming, slick, intense and pretty intimidating vision of both Bruce Wayne and Batman (he rivals Adam West as my personal favorite, but that’s a story for another time). He was so good that Warner Brothers was quick to capitalize on his new franchise role, having him appear in Suicide Squad and announcing that he would both co-write and direct the next solo Batman film, simply titled “The Batman.”
Until it was announced that Ben would be stepping down from the director’s chair, with whispers and rumors that he was also potentially looking to get out of the role all together (however, those remain just rumors until proven otherwise). In his place comes Matt Reeves, of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Cloverfield,” and “Let Me In.”
Now, it makes perfect sense for Ben to decide to distance himself from the film somewhat. It was thought that taking on the role of the Dark Knight would cement his career comeback as an actor and director, while symbolically overcoming the shadows that Daredevil and Gigli have continually cast on his career. Much like Andrew Garfield in the miserable “Amazing Spider-man” franchise, watching the abysmal reviews pouring in must be terrifying to ones career prospects. And given his ambitious “Live by Night,” written, directed and starring him, underwhelmed, Affleck is presumably bunkering down and working out a plan to regain momentum.
But the bigger question for me is, given the chaos this film has already faced just to get through the preproduction phase, should we even bother with another Batman film?
In spite of the last several years and all of my complaints about modern DC, I still love Batman. He’s still an engaging, artistically interesting character who has plenty of room for exploration. But media isn’t created in a vacuum. Every comic, every game, every television show and film made with the Bat Brand on it co-exists with over 75 years of comics, games, television shows and films. Three or more generations have grown up having the Caped Crusader as one of the iconic pop images of their world.
The point is, people get Batman. You don’t need to explain his powers, or origin, or general demeanor. At this point, showing those things genuinely hurts what ever film he’s in. Think about the silliest or worst parts of “Batman v Superman.” Seeing Bruce’s parents’ deaths again, the random hallucination in the cemetery, and of course “MARTHA!” The best scene? Batman taking down an entire room of henchmen, scurrying along the walls like a monster and the glimpses of chaos created from breaking into LexCorp. Heck, one of the best scenes in “Suicide Squad” is the one where he arrests Deadshot. All of which could be presented context free and work independent of the bigger narrative.
The point is that Warner Bros realizes that Affleck is their swing player, the one saving grace in this continued disaster. And he’s great because he can be injected into narratives and instantly give them life. The audience won’t be “what’s that?” or “who is that?” They will be saying “Awesome! Batman’s here.” When it comes to building a massive multi-film franchise, the one advantage you have is that Batman can appear in anyone’s solo films and instantly draw in viewers. People will be excited to see how he cameos in other character’s films. People will be begging for more Batman.
Making a solo Batman film misuses the hand you’ve been given. At best, you have another Batman film. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s really good. But at worst, you create diminishing returns, leaving Affleck’s take on the character overexposed and unwanted. Then the DCEU is in real trouble: a scenario where not even Batman can help.
The chaos around getting “The Batman” off the ground might be a blessing in disguise; a big reminder to Warner Brothers that you shouldn’t make films because you feel like you should or can, but because you want to or need to. There is no compelling reason to make another Batman film when this current Batman is at his best in brief appearances. Unless the script for this new film is something extraordinary—which I doubt, given that Affleck dropped the chance to direct—then you are only set to lose pouring millions into another Batman solo film.
People complain about “Superhero Fatigue” often, and while I think those complaints are over blown, seeing a 13th feature length film about Batman might be the thing to make me believe. Thus far, the DCEU’s biggest weakness has been poor administration from Warner Brothers. If they want to challenge that perception, giving their Caped Crusader a rest might be the best chance they have.