This article contains spoilers for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad.
These days, it seems that the movie business has become a twitchier environment to work in than investment banking – take the upcoming Rogue One for example: chain reactions of ludicrously expensive reshoots are now commonplace in a blockbuster’s life-cycle, often sparked by fan uproar, muted reaction to a newly released trailer or in the case of the recently-released Suicide Squad, the success or failure of an earlier DCEU film.
Perhaps the twitchiest of all studio bigwigs right now must be the suits over at Warner Brothers. Following Suicide Squad’s lukewarm reception by the critics, there has to be some concerns as to the longevity of both the franchise and the wider DC cinematic universe. Although this writer would argue that Suicide Squad has been the victim of some overly harsh criticism, it is fair to say that we’re three films into the DCEU… but as yet, “solid, but with glaring issues” is about the highest praise one could bestow on any one of their offerings (although if you haven’t yet seen it, the Ultimate Edition home formats release of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice does notable things to correct the damage from that wayward effort).
It’s clear though that DC needs an unqualified success to burst forth from its stable, not least to finally underscore the masses of potential that these properties possess. Marvel managed a zinger right out of the gate with 2008’s Iron Man and this was crucial: set the bar high and you have something that other filmmakers can aspire to; the problem Warner Brothers have right now is nobody really seems to know what a great DCEU movie looks like.
Next year sees the release of Wonder Woman and Justice League, two projects that will benefit from enormous fan goodwill and yet in the wake of Batman v Superman, it seems that there are no longer any guarantees of success for the studio. Justice League in particular is key: with several of the subsequent franchises spinning out of that movie, should it be greeted with another wave of frustration then the whole house of cards could truly come crashing down.
What Warners need then is a bona fide critical smash to go with the box office dollars – something akin to 2008’s The Dark Knight that they can hang their universe on and point to as a marker for future projects to meet. Along with the warm welcome extended to the introduction of Wonder Woman, Ben Affleck’s Batman has been the biggest success story to emerge from the new raft of DC projects thus far. Add to that his pedigree as an Oscar-winning screenwriter and filmmaker and suddenly, it’s not hard to see the studio looking towards his untitled project, licking their collective lips and hoping it can arrest the wayward progress of their current offerings with a definitive take on the DCEU.
So in light of recent offerings, what can we expect from an Affleck solo Batman outing?
It’s important not to forget that this is a man that has been through the crucible as an actor and learned important lessons from failure: beginning with 2006’s Hollywoodland, Affleck made a commitment to make movies, simply because he believed in them – and it has paid off handsomely. A mid-career mauling following his earlier successes seems to have taught Affleck the value of responsibility as a creator – the Sadfleck meme that did the rounds a while ago may have been the funniest way to spend 69 seconds of your time on YouTube, but Affleck’s perceived anguish in the clip is probably all too real: here’s a man that having run one critical gauntlet throughout his career, is seemingly dead set that he will never have to do that again.
With Affleck’s latest directorial effort Live By Night more or less wrapped up, Warner executives will be pushing to get his Batman project out for that unnamed 2018 slot in their release schedule, but given that both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad seem to have acquired unsolvable issues at the scripting stage of the process, expect Affleck to move his film into actual production only when he feels that the story is truly ready.
Warners also have another untitled DCEU movie slated for 2019 and while it wouldn’t be ideal, it’s likely that they’re holding off announcing that in case Affleck’s Batman project takes longer than they’d like and they need that release window.
The script itself is being penned by Affleck and Geoff Johns, the legendary comic book scribe who is now co-overseer of the DCEU. Johns has been quick to praise Affleck’s input, especially noting his ability to not only capture the voice of the character on paper, but to deliver it, too. As thrilling as getting to write the script with Batman himself while he growls bits back to you may sound the pair have nonetheless managed to remain tight-lipped so far regarding the story. Affleck has confirmed that the story won’t be based on any one comic book story but that said, recent occurrences in the DCU have begun to open up potential storytelling avenues.
The recent Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman added an interesting nugget to Batman’s final conversation with the imprisoned Lex at the film’s denouement: Bats has arranged for Luthor to be incarcerated at Arkham, presumably so he can keep a beady eye on him. Whether this is simply a setup for the upcoming Justice League remains to be seen (we do know that part of that movie will feature Gotham) but it also offers the interesting prospect of an alternative take on either the psychologically-harrowing Arkham Asylum graphic novel or its more colorful video game cousin.
Given the fact that Eisenberg’s take on Luthor was somewhat divisive, and that most fans want to see more of Leto’s Joker following his sparing deployment in Suicide Squad, it’s perhaps unlikely that we’ll see Bruce and Lex go head to head. But nonetheless, the prospect of a stripped back Batman tale set in a single location like Arkham would potentially be of great interest to Affleck, whose previous films like Gone Baby Gone and The Town have wrung wonderful drama from smaller scale situations. A more intimate tale would also go a long way towards solving the riddle of the third act, surely the bane of most superhero movies of late; both audiences and critics are quickly tiring of citywide destruction and never-ending fistfights so something more cerebral could be the deft sleight of hand that superhero film finales have as yet been missing.
And what of Suicide Squad? Not only did the film show us Batman hunting down the group’s key members, leading indirectly to the team’s formation but in a mid-credit sting we also got to see Bruce Wayne cross swords with Amanda Waller, a more than formidable foe of the Dark Knight down the years.
Although it’s more likely that the two will continue to clash regarding the activities of the Justice League, it’s also possible (given her veiled threat to Wayne) that she may take a greater interest in the activities of the Batman since his threat to shut down Task Force X. More likely to pop up in Batman’s solo offering is Harley Quinn; the anarchic villain was the breakout character from Suicide Squad and thanks to Harley’s rap sheet, the movie also revealed to us that she was directly involved with the murder of Robin.
Add to this the almost-certain involvement of Jared Leto’s Joker in the next film and you suddenly have the premise for Death In The Family and Under The Red Hood, the two tales that deal with the murder of Jason Todd (the second Robin), at the hands of the Joker and his seeming return when he haunts Batman, his former friend and mentor in the guise of the mysterious Red Hood. Warners have already confirmed that the deceased Robin was indeed Jason Todd giving this potential storyline extra weight.
Again though, it’s unlikely that we’ll see such an on-the-nose adaptation, instead Affleck’s film will probably look to loosely adapt elements of these stories in the same way that Snyder borrowed elements of The Dark Knight Returns for Batman v Superman. Speaking of Snyder, it’ll be interesting to see just how much of the Justice League director’s aesthetic style is retained by Affleck. Whilst clearly a gifted filmmaker, Affleck’s visual style is much more down to earth than Synder’s, but when you strip away all of those flashy shallow-frame focus shots that have become the Watchmen director’s trademark, his flair-filled style has a kinetic beauty to it that really shines in action sequences.
While nobody is expects (or wants) Affleck to ape Snyder’s style, it’s important to remember that such sequences were vital in elevating this latest incarnation of the Dark Knight to the level of popularity he is currently enjoying. Many Twitter polls will tell you that Affleck is the best Batman yet, ask fans why and most will point to that warehouse fight sequence towards the movie’s end. Whether the film is another action extravaganza or a more stripped-back mystery in the style of the Detective Comics incarnation of the character, Affleck will surely adapt his shooting style. Should it be a more action-oriented movie, the filmmaker has spoken of just how invaluable working on Dawn Of Justice was in terms of teaching him about large-scale, effects-driven films. On the other hand, his directorial style thus far suggests he would also be a great success should he choose the latter and make something more akin to a scaled-back thriller in the noir-laden style of The Long Halloween.
Despite fans’ initial resistance to many of the creative choices made in the DCEU so far, a genuine aura of respect is beginning to solidify around their shaping of Batman. Much has been made of the company’s inept handling of Superman but in fairness, the character has been difficult to develop in all media (including even comics) throughout the 21st century. From having the character renounce his American citizenship through to reinventing him as a jeans-clad, rebel youth in the New 52, even DC Comics have seemed at a loss when it comes to making Krypton’s Last Son relevant of late. Batman however, has gone from strength to strength across all media and that’s primarily because of the strength of the character’s core mythos; one issue he can be aboard the JLA Watchtower high above Earth, dealing with some all-powerful cosmic entity, the next he’ll be in the alleys of Gotham tracking down the latest designer drug to hit the streets and oddly enough, it works.
Happily, it seems that the DCEU understands this and has plans to mine the diverse elements of the Batman. We’ve already experienced the grim avenger in Dawn Of Justice whilst the first trailer for Justice League exposed us to a much lighter take on Bruce Wayne, that devil-may-care wit so recognizable from Christian Bale’s take on the billionaire playboy once again sparkling in the character’s eyes. The flashback sequences in Suicide Squad featured a much more human version of the Dark Knight than in Batman v Superman as he showed Will Smith’s Deadshot more than a degree of respect and saved Harley’s life, despite her involvement in his protege’s murder; a far cry from the mini-gun murder-spree he committed from the relative safety of the Batmobile in Dawn Of Justice.
This diversity within the character, held together as he is by the strength of his unchanging central narrative is the real beauty of Batman, and it seems that the creators behind the scenes understand it. Even the decision to age Affleck for the role seems to be one that affords the writers creative options: should they wish to go back and tell the death of Robin, they won’t need expensive and time-consuming de-ageing VFX to do it – just dye the grey outta Affleck’s hair and give him a shave.
So there you go, Batman it seems, is in good hands, perhaps even in his strongest position cinematically since 2008’s The Dark Knight and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. The deftness of design when it comes to the cinematic reinvention of the Caped Crusader continues apace and Affleck is surely the right choice to take it further, whichever direction he may choose. This Batman it seems, can be one of several worlds – he possesses the potential to tie together many disparate elements of the character’s storied mythology… and that is something that even Nolan’s celebrated creation, for all of its many, many strengths, was unable to do.