The Flash Movie Moment That Brings Back Michael Keaton’s Original Idea for ‘Batman 3’
The multiverse-hopping DC movie The Flash teases a side of Michael Keaton's Batman we never got to see despite the actor's attempts to make it happen in the '90s.
Don’t know if you’ve heard, but Batman is in The Flash movie. Although the film stars Ezra Miller as the Barry Allen of two worlds, the movie also features not only Ben Affleck’s Batman of the Snyderverse but the return of Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight.
With his appearance in the canceled Batgirl movie all but buried, The Flash will mark the first time Keaton has donned the cape and cowl since 1992’s Batman Returns. But a Batcave shot included in a recent TV spot for the film hints at a longer legacy for Keaton’s Batman, one that we unfortunately didn’t get to see back in the heyday of the Burtonverse.
In the teaser, we get a brief glimpse at several Batsuits, giving us a better look at the unseen history of Keaton’s Batman. Some of these suits are familiar — two of them closely resemble the suits he wore in both Tim Burton movies. Then there’s a more high-tech suit with what looks like a breathing mask attachment for the cowl, possibly for underwater missions; a suit with goggles over the mask a la Knightmare suit from the Snyderverse; as well as a variation of the classic blue and grey costume from the Neal Adams and Jim Aparo days.
But the most compelling suit of all is the one farthest left, and not just because of the ears that stick out prominently from the sides, in the manner of Batman’s first appearance in 1939’s Detective Comics #27. This costume also includes over-the-shoulder holsters for his grappling guns, a nod to the character’s pulp detective influences, such as the Shadow and the Spider. And to top it off, the Bat-symbol is in the style of Adam West’s 1966 suit, a reference to some of the character’s earliest onscreen adventures (not to be out done by the original serials, of course).
Concept artist and costume designer Chris Weston, who worked on these suits for Warner Bros., jumped on Twitter to provide some more context for that costume in particular, explaining elements of the suit were inspired by the character’s “golden age,” the comics era between 1938 and 1956 that made up Batman’s formative years.
Including this old-timey costume in Bruce Wayne’s luxurious walk-in Bat-closet points toward a character arc we never got from Keaton’s Batman: a proper origin story. Sure, we get a flashback of the Waynes getting murdered by Jack Napier/Joker, but 1989’s Batman begins with a fully formed Caped Crusader. Batman Returns goes even further, basically imagining Bruce Wayne as a weirdo who sits around in his dark mansion waiting for the Bat-signal to appear.
But if Keaton had had his way, we would have seen his Batman’s origin on screen. In fact, Keaton pushed for a Year One-type story for his third go-around in the ’90s. Speaking with the WTF podcast’s Marc Maron in 2013, Keaton recalled pitching Warner Bros. an idea not unlike 2004’s Batman Begins: “[Christian Bale] is so talented. It’s so good….You look at where he went, which is exactly what I wanted to do when I was having meetings about the third one. I said, ‘You want to see how this guy started. We’ve got a chance here to fix whatever we kind of maybe went off. This could be brilliant!'” But once his friend and collaborator Tim Burton left the project and the flashier Joel Schumacher took over, Keaton decided to hang it up after a few meetings with the Batman Forever director.
“I remember one of the things that I walked away going, ‘Oh boy, I can’t do this,'” Keaton said on the In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast in 2022. “[Schumacher] asked me, ‘I don’t understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,’ and I went, ‘Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read… I mean, it’s pretty simple.'”
It’s hard to say that Keaton was wrong about where his “Batman 3” should have gone, given the popularity of Batman origin stories in the movies that followed. Christopher Nolan revitalized the franchise with Batman Begins after audiences turned on Schumacher, and more recently, Matt Reeves broke new ground by setting The Batman during the second year of the Caped Crusader’s career. Even during the Burton/Schumacher era, the animated movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm contrasted Batman’s fight against a new villain with his first days as a costumed vigilante.
With Keaton now in his 70s and James Gunn planning a Batman and son story for the upcoming The Brave and the Bold, we’ll likely never get that Burtonverse origin story. But thanks to this easter egg in The Flash, we at least have a slightly better idea of what the early days of Keaton’s Batman might have been like.
The Flash opens in theaters on June 16, 2023.