“You want to get nuts? Come on, let’s get nuts.” It’s one of Michael Keaton’s most famous lines in the original Batman movie of 1989. And as directed by Tim Burton, there’s a playful mischief about the reading of it too; at last, the actor is allowed to go big, and the zeal in his eye betrays a certain degree of madness beneath all that brooding.
In the new trailer for this summer’s The Flash, it’s now also been reworked as a major callback, with Keaton delivering the same dialogue with all the solemnity of scripture. And to some, it might be just that—as are the many other mementos of Keaton’s tenure as the Dark Knight in the trailer: a closet full of batsuits from both Batman and Batman Returns, as well as seemingly many adventures that are hitherto unknown. There is also his giant Bat-computer which once looked so cutting edge in ’89, plus that photograph of his parents who could be meant to evoke the Thomas and Martha Wayne we saw in Burton’s first ’89 film (the picture is in black and white), although the resemblance is strikingly faint.
And yet, despite all these homages to the Burton movies, I’m struck by what appears to be a clue to the larger story The Flash is telling: the Batcave itself. For here is Batman iconography that seems to have little to do with Tim Burton.
Of course going into The Flash, the most informed DC fans will know the movie is really about two Bruce Waynes: Keaton’s and Ben Affleck’s, the latter of whom has been the face of the Caped Crusader in the DC Extended Universe up until this point. Before recent behind-the-scenes shifts in corporate philosophy at Warner Bros., there was even a time when The Flash appeared to be a covert way to replace Affleck’s Bruce with Keaton’s in the DCEU going forward. Those plans seem to have changed now, with Keaton not expected to reprise the role of Bruce Wayne beyond The Flash. Affleck is also apparently done for good, and new DC Studios chiefs James Gunn and Peter Safran have signaled that their forthcoming The Brave and the Bold movie will essentially reboot Batman again with a new actor.
All that being said, the concept of timelines and various strains of the multiverse merging is still crucial to The Flash, and we suspect the film may be attempting to evoke more than just the Keaton Batman. Because if you really look at that Batcave… it has more in common with the one occupied by Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy than it does Burton’s.
Consider the below photos, and recall that in Nolan’s films the Batcave was hidden behind a waterfall at the floor level. And by the third movie, Bruce Wayne had even built a platform that raises and vanishes beneath the deep pool. He even parks the Bat-plane (or just “the Bat”) on that platform. Now consider the Batcave from Keaton’s Returns era. Admittedly, the Batcave’s appearance shifted a lot more creatively between Burton’s films, but in both it was situated on vast cliff faces and rock formations, raised high above a seemingly bottomless pit. The entrance in the ’89 film also was revealed to be a fake stone wall that responded to remote control like a high falutin’ garage.
This is obviously getting into the nerdy minutiae, however it seems that the Batcave in The Flash is meant to evoke the Nolan era as much as Keaton’s Batsuit may recall the Burton years. This is a deliberate choice. Perhaps it’s simply because the filmmakers or studio wish to echo the last time Batman movies could gross $1 billion worldwide. Still, we’d like to posit there could be a narrative reason for this too.
While Keaton definitely is playing his beloved version of the character from 30 years ago in The Flash, he is not occupying Burton’s vision of that character or his world. There are no expressionistic sets, nor any brutalism-meets-art deco aesthetics. Heck, most of the scenes we have of Keaton’s Batman is him leaving the cave during daylight hours(!), an absolute nonstarter for Burton. In fact, this Batman’s world doesn’t appear to be based on Keaton’s Gotham at all… but rather Zack Snyder’s Metropolis.
Indeed, on the other end of DC fandom, the Snyder fans appear to be at least obligatorily serviced by the return of Michael Shannon as General Zod, as well as a reprise of his apocalyptic “world engines,” those giant flying space devices that are used to terraform Earth by wrecking maximum havoc on our cities and oceans. These were the tools that Snyder used to reverberate the shadows of 9/11 in Man of Steel (2013). Apparently, this will be the big bad threat again in The Flash, suggesting that by changing the past, Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) has forced himself to relive the events of Snyder’s first DCEU movie.
… Except that while this looks like Snyder’s Metropolis, and it is definitely his Zod, that is definitely not the Superman we came to know a decade ago. Instead we have an all new version of Supergirl played by Sasha Calle who will be the Last Daughter of Krypton, ready to stand up against Zod.
By design The Flash appears to be less a movie about Miller’s speedster jumping across timelines, including the so-called “Burtonverse” and “Snyderverse,” as it is a weird blending of them. Perhaps Nolan’s too. In which case, it leads us to wonder what other cameos we might see in The Flash, and just what this hybrid world means.
I suppose we’ll know soon enough since The Flash opens on June 16, but in the meantime, you can check out the first online reactions to the movie here.