It feels surreal to be writing about a new Michael Keaton Batman movie almost 30 years after his last appearance in Batman Returns, but Hollywood has finally embraced the multiverse, baby! That means that every DC and Marvel superhero who ever appeared on the big screen is now fair game again in their respective cinematic universes. In DCEU’s case specifically, the multiverse will be introduced in the upcoming Flash movie, which will see Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) travel to different parallel Earths, including the one from the Burton movies, and fight crime with Keaton’s Batman, Sasha Calle’s brand-new Supergirl, and even Ben Affleck’s own Dark Knight.
If you’ve been reading comics your entire life, you probably know how two Batmen from different movie universes can exist on the same screen. But if you’re just learning about the multiverse for the first time now thanks to The Flash or Loki, you might be as confused about what the hell is going as Keaton was while reading Christina Hodson’s script for the upcoming DC movie.
“I had to read it more than three times to go, ‘Wait, how does this work?’ ” Keaton said in an interview with THR. “They had to explain that to me several times. By the way, I’m not being arrogant, I hope, about this. I don’t say it like, ‘I’m too groovy.’ I’m stupid. There’s a lot of things I don’t know about. And so, I don’t know, I just kind of figured it out, but this was different.”
Despite Keaton’s concerns that he might sound “arrogant” about embracing traditional comic book story conventions, he doesn’t come off that way at all. While comic book buzzwords like “multiverse” and “retcon” might be part of our Hollywood vernacular today, this wasn’t the case when director Tim Burton and Keaton made their first superhero blockbuster back in 1989. Even life-long comic book nerds sometimes struggle to grasp some of the more high-concept storytelling that often drives massive crossover events at the Big Two.
When Keaton reprised his Marvel character, Vulture, for the upcoming Morbius movie, the filmmakers tried to explain how the MCU worked to the actor, too. “I’m thinking, ‘You may as well be explaining quantum physics right now to me. All I know is I just know my guy. And I know the basics.’”
The timey wimey elements of the DCEU didn’t distract Keaton from the job at hand — bringing back his iconic Caped Crusader for nostalgic fans of ’90s superhero movies — and it sounds like he even came away with a newfound respect for a character he initially declined to reprise for a third time when the late Joel Schumacher took the reins of the franchise for 1995’s Batman Forever.
“What’s really interesting is how much more I got [Batman] when I went back and did him. I get this on a whole other level now. I totally respect it,” Keaton told THR. “I never looked at it like, ‘Oh, this is just a silly thing.’ It was not a silly thing when I did Batman. But it has become a giant thing, culturally. It’s iconic. So I have even more respect for it because what do I know? This is a big deal in the world to people. You’ve got to honor that and be respectful of that. Even I go, ‘Jesus, this is huge.’“
We’ve seen little of Keaton’s Batman so far, but one picture posted on Instagram by The Flash director Andy Muschietti did confirm that the movie will feature a Batsuit that’s very similar to the one the actor wore in Batman Returns. Whether we’ll actually see Keaton don this suit in the movie remains to be seen — so far, set photos have only shown him meeting up with Barry as Bruce Wayne.
While The Flash is supposed to be Barry Allen’s solo story, most of the buzz thus far has surrounded the dual Batmen in the movie. Not only is Batman arguably DC’s most popular character ever — just look at how many Batbooks the company is publishing at the moment — but the film brings back two actors most fans never thought they’d see in the cape and cowl again. Affleck made his initial exit from the role after 2017’s Justice League despite attempts to write and direct his own solo Batman movie in the early days of the DCEU. Meanwhile, until he joined The Flash, Keaton seemed largely over his years playing the Dark Knight.
But maybe his apathy towards the Caped Crusader was all a front. It sounds like bats have been lingering in the back of Keaton’s mind for a while.
“Frankly, in the back of my head, I always thought, ‘I bet I could go back and nail that motherfucker,'” Keaton said. “And so I thought, ‘Well, now that they’re asking me, let me see if I can pull that off.’”
The Flash opens in theaters on Nov. 4, 2022.