Batman fans have had a rollercoaster of a month. It is hard to believe that just 30 days ago, many were confident that the always suspect rumors of a Batman Beyond film being the next caped and cowled adventure would come to fruition. And in the lead-in to Comic-Con, reports sprang up of Warner Bros. licensing the Batman name again for 2015. Were they going to truly reboot the superhero so soon after his heartfelt closing bow in The Dark Knight Rises? The answer, of course, turned out to be yes, no, but also maybe. When Zack Snyder had character actor Harry Lennix clear his throat and read an iconic page from The Dark Knight Returns, fans went into a fit about who could play Batman in the a forthcoming 2015 “World’s Finest” (likely not the title) film. We even ran a list of possible names to fill those leathery boots. But many of these early reactions took something for granted: It would be a fully rebooted Batman to stand as a peer to Henry Cavill’s Superman, not a veteran superior. It is here that we may have been missing more clearly what Warner Brothers is aiming to do in 2015. In multiple reports last week, including from such varied sources as Batman-On-Film to the major trade The Hollywood Reporter, it became clear that WB is seeking a Batman who will be in his late 30s or even possibly his early 40s. THR even announced the early surfacing names of Josh Brolin (46), Richard Armitage (41) and Max Martini (43). Besides the initial satisfaction of deafening silence from self-assured fanboys, who had insisted amongst themselves that the next Batman must be around 30 or younger to match Cavill, this news presents a whole host of important things to consider about the next Batman/Superman film. And I mean more than who is going to wear the cowl. NOT A NEW BEGINNING The most obvious, but important aspect to address is that this represents an about face away from how Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise in 2005. During the week of Man of Steel’s release, David Goyer said in an interview that his and Zack Snyder’s first Superman movie marked the first superhero in their film universe. There is no Batman, no Wonder Woman and no Aquaman. Or if there are, then they have yet to put on the costume to fight the good fight.
The idea is that Superman is the first one. There might be people helping people, but not in costumes, and that Superman comes forward and announces himself to the world. In him announcing himself, he’s the one that changes things.This coupled with certain Easter eggs, such as a Wayne Enterprise satellite, led many fans to believe that the new Batman franchise would go the full reboot. If Cavill’s Last Son of Krypton is this DC Cinematic Universe’s paterfamilias hero, then at best Bruce Wayne could just be stepping off the boat back to Gotham. Could that mean another Batman Begins? Hopefully not, and it would appear that the studio had the same thoughts, as they turned the Super-sequel into an extension of franchise world building. The truth is that as late when Goyer talked to Den of Geek that the plan was to focus on expanding Superman’s role in the world. In that interview, the discussion veered more toward one bald billionaire, as opposed to the batty kind. And last month, Superman Homepage quoted Snyder as saying, “However, regardless of how I feel about Superman, ultimately I have to go along with the direction that Warner Bros. thinks is best.” Taken together, the information tends to point to the obvious: WB wanted Batman in the Man of Steel sequel for a primarily financial reason. While Man of Steel is an inarguable box office success, taking in an impressive $600 million in the worldwide tallies alone at the moment, it has not lived up to the billion dollar dreams whispered about in pre-release predictions. Considering that the previous Superman film, 2006’s Superman Returns, couldn’t even crack $400 million in the global market, this 2013 run is nothing to smash IHOP over. But do you know what else is coming out in summer 2015? Pirates of the Caribbean 5, The Avengers 2 and a little sequel called Star Wars: Episode VII. Besides all being owned by Disney, these three films have one other thing in common: their previous entries all earned over $800 million worldwide, and a clean billion in the case of Avengers and Pirates. Superman’s $600 million, alone, looks a might bit intimidating as they enter that competitive global field. Luckily, the last two movies that just so happened to feature Batman both cleared $1 billion as well. Thus, instead of spending a whole second adventure with the Man of Tomorrow building his status quo today, we are receiving WB’s finest counter to Disney’s three-headed box office hydra. Suddenly, a green around the gills Batman, less than 10 years after Nolan did the full Batman reboot, no longer looks so appealing. Especially considering the backlash Sony suffered in 2012 when they rebooted 2002’s Spider-Man origin with The Amazing Spider-Man, an “untold” origin story that…roughly told the same story. To differentiate itself from the previous Batman reboot that will be nary a decade old in 2015, the new Batman will have to be older. But even the most diehard Bat-fans who had dreams of Karl Urban can remain somewhat hopeful about the flipside. An aged Batman means the reboot, by necessity, will have to ignore the more grounded take of Nolan’s approach where the human body can eventually age and give out like that of any athlete. Bruce Wayne was roughly 40 by the end of The Dark Knight Rises, give or take six months, and was ready to retreat away to Italy for charming coffees by the Arno with Selina Kyle forever after. This team-up Batman is one who is ready to grapple with a god. Why not a plant lady or a man made of clay? But rest assured, with this god he will clash. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS As detailed in Mike Cecchini’s fantastic piece about direct correlations with The Dark Knight Returns and the upcoming film, the project will likely take more from Frank Miller’s groundbreaking graphic novel than just a cool auditory prompt for Lennix’s voice. As it stands, the graphic novel has been on the minds of many people prior to this announcement. Consider that in the late 1990s, after the legendary failure of Batman & Robin forced WB to scrap a fifth franchise entry already entitled Batman: Triumphant, the studio would begin a long and hazardous road of false starts and failed ideas until Christopher Nolan unleashed his back-to-basics approach eight years later. In that time, WB went through many treatments, not least of all a shortly considered Batman Beyond live-action film to be written by Paul Dini and a Batman vs. Superman movie directed by then-hot Wolfgang Petersen with stars Josh Hartnett and Colin Farrell. My how subject matters have changed in these comic book movie discussions. But one of the earliest, and more desperate, attempts to reboot the series came from Joel Schumaucher himself, who suggested that he adapt The Dark Knight Returns into a film. Rumor has it that he even wanted Clint Eastwood for the role. While Warners decided it was best to go in a new direction of directorial talent, there is no denying that the studio’s antagonistic view of the Batman/Superman relationship in the following years, as emphasized by the aborted 2004 project of “Batman VERSUS Superman,” could only be informed by Frank Miller. Zack Snyder certainly is. In 2009, while doing promotion for Watchmen, future Superman director Zack Snyder famously said that he would be interested in adapting The Dark Knight Returns. And as every geek now knows, the director has since met with Miller to discuss his own upcoming team-up movie, one that Goyer says could possibly be called “Batman VERSUS Superman.” We have come full circle, because it seems that the only source of information on the Batman/Superman relationship that is being read behind the scenes is the one in which Batman beats Superman to a bloody pulp. Yes, Snyder says this is its own film with a unique and original storyline, yet all of the recent DC films from Christopher Nolan, or his former collaborators, have their literary roots. Batman Begins drew liberally from Year One, The Dark Knight was clearly informed by The Long Halloween and The Killing Joke, while The Dark Knight Rises drew direct parallels to Knightfall and No Man’s Land. And Snyder, for all his machismo-laced, chest hair popping, Kryptonian neck-breaking flourishes, obviously at least glanced at the Superman story Birthright. And when this kind of guy is meeting Frank Miller to discuss the team-up film, you know that they are not going over how awesome the Paul Dini/Bruce Timm World’s Finest animated film was from the 1990s. An older Batman does not just mean merely a more seasoned approach in introduction to get the ball rolling, which is actually how both Batman: The Animated Series and the video game Arkham Asylum approached their adaptations; it is quite evident that we are going to get a Batman designed to kick Superman’s ass and be his SUPER-ior. When the movie is released in 2015, studly Superman actor Henry Cavill will be 32. At the moment, his youthful but commanding face has given him an advantage in demanding respect over certain other recent actors who’ve play the role. However, the newly emerging fan favorite for Batman, Josh Brolin, shall be 48 around the same time. In other words, one is going to look like Robert Redford’s inexperienced and wild Sundance Kid in the shadow of the other’s Paul Newman/Butch Cassidy. Audiences will have no doubt who is calling the shots, and in a superhero movie toying with the word “versus” for its title, this means the older, crusty Batman is going to have to assert himself over this uppity whippersnapper in a red cape. Heck he could even say, “I want you to remember my hand at your throat.” Casting an older Batman almost guarantees an influence on their relationship stemming from The Dark Knight Returns; a relationship built on some form of hostile confrontation. Even when the undoubted friendship is built by the end, following the likely defeat of a certain baldhead, it will more probably be one resembling mentor and a pupil or father and son, as opposed to brothers in arms. Currently, it appears that WB wants a Dark Knight who can lord over the less box office successful Man of Steel, and one who can allow a certain level of creative adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns. Not a direct transfer with Superman taking orders from Ronald Reagan, but possibly one that allows Snyder to realize his dream of a Batman returning from the shadows to butt heads with a Superman who currently has a cozy relationship with the U.S. Air Force. Perhaps an Air Force who is still reeling, for some reason, at the existence of Batman. It wouldn’t be the first time fans could witness a closet adaptation of Miller’s 1985 comic masterpiece. After all, Nolan took cues from it in his final 2012 crusading opus. And WB liked that $2.5 billion take on the character. They liked it a lot. *THE* DARK KNIGHT RETURNS? There is no doubt that when the credits went up, along with Joseph Gordon-Levitt upon a rising platform, at the end of The Dark Knight Rises that the Nolan interpretation of the character was over. Not least of all because Nolan said so and as goes Nolan, so goes his cast. It is for that reason that the March rumors, propagated by Latino Review, stating Nolan would produce a Justice League film while playing the role of a Joss Whedon like shepherd of the DC Universe in which Bale would return to the Bat-mantle, always seemed farfetched. Indeed even now, new rumors from the same site suggest that Christian Bale has been offered $50 million to reprise the role of Bruce Wayne for the Man of Steel sequel. Though in the last day, it appears that this latest Latino Review rumor is from a quote taken out of context from an unpublished eBook that was merely playing at speculation. Obviously, WB has said goodbye to their prodigal Dark Knight. Right? Whether the internet-forum booming unsubstantiated news from an eBook by Victor Russell is correct or wild speculation, it points to the same inevitability: WB cannot let the general audience-beloved Nolan/Bale take go, even if they are going through the motions of it. Five years ago, Marvel Studios released its second film. It was a clean reboot of the famed Bruce Banner alter-ego, The Incredible Hulk. Yet, despite clearly announcing that they would be rebooting and differentiating themselves from the maligned 2003 Ang Lee film, Hulk, with an entirely new cast to boot, the semi-remake conveniently picked up exactly where the 2003 box office flop left off; Bruce Banner is on the run from the U.S. military in the jungles and favelas of South America. At the end of 2003’s Hulk, Bruce Banner has said a tearful goodbye to Betty Ross, as he flees the country to South American jungles, all to escape the grasp of Betty’s distant and obsessive father, U.S. Army General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. In 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner is living in the squalor of Rio de Janeiro when Ross finds him, setting Bruce on the road for the first time in years, which takes him back into the arms of Betty Ross. While all three principals are played by different actors in the two films, and there is no mention to an evil Hulk dad in the 2008 movie that also features a confusingly muddled new origin tacked on to the opening credits, there is little separating the films’ continuity. In fact, if you wandered into a screening of The Incredible Hulk five minutes late, it could play entirely as a sequel to the previous film with a new cast and tone. Huh. So, if Marvel Studios is that unwilling to give a full reboot five years after the first one bombed at the box office, to the point where they literally pick up where the previous film left off in their “reboot,” then what are the odds that Warner Brothers is going to entirely scrap at least the loose setting of the billion-dollar Dark Knight franchise? Indeed, it makes far more sense to even pursue such a soft reboot with this franchise, as just the faintest brand recognition will mean many more seats filled at the theaters. To be clear, I am not suggesting that Man of Steel 2 will directly pick up after The Dark Knight Rises with a new actor playing that distinct Bruce Wayne. I am suggesting that they will IMPLY it. To the point where the uninitiated who don’t follow internet rumors or connect inter-film continuity through dozens of repeat screenings may just assume it is a follow-up. Especially if the only thing differentiating the continuities is a three-minute opening sequence. There is no denying that the first half of The Dark Knight Rises is incredibly influenced by The Dark Knight Returns. In the graphic novel, Bruce Wayne has retired for ten years after the death of his beloved second Robin, Jason Todd, and become a self-destructive alcoholic with a death wish in racecar driving. It is only after he sees his city decay into complete anarchy and old friend Harvey Dent/Two-Face return to his criminal ways that Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to save the day. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne has been written, a little less cynically, to have retired for eight years after the death of his beloved confidant Rachel Dawes, and has thrown himself into reclusive Howard Hughes behavior when he isn’t feeding his hero complex by developing (and failing) a fusion project meant to solve our energy crisis and climate change problems. When old friend James Gordon is injured by a mysterious terrorist named Bane, he dons the costume once more. In both stories, Batman retires at the end, after faking his death, while leaving a successor(s) to carry on the mission. However, one crucial part of that graphic novel that Nolan skipped for obvious reasons is that the U.S. government is furious about the return of the strangely creepy Dark Knight and that they send the Man of Steel in to teach him a lesson. Imagine now, a Man of Steel 2 where Superman’s introduction to the world, which led to a fistfight that leveled Metropolis, catches the eyes of a retired caped crusader who thought his work was done, a Dark Knight living in Europe after a long history of Gotham City crimefighting. The movie never even has to mention Catwoman or John Blake/Robin. It simply has to suggest that a retired Batman discovers that aliens walk amongst us and returns from Europe to investigate this Kal-El in Metropolis. Even if Josh Brolin or any other middle aged actor portrays him, the mental dots for the less ardent comic book movie enthusiasts will be made within seconds.