Geek Cinema: Batman Reboots
Jul 20, 2012 by     7 Comments    Posted In: Columns, Geek Cinema

Dark Knight Rises LogoMany moons ago there was a really excellent episode of The New Batman Adventures (one of the many incarnations of Batman: The Animated Series), entitled “Legends of the Dark Knight”. In it, a group of kids from Gotham City all share their stories of The Batman, stories not based on first-hand experience or knowledge, but from what they’ve gleaned via fuzzy news photos, urban legend, and their own wild imaginations. (A similar story appeared in Batman Issue #250, but the two were developed independent of each other.) Each version of Batman shared by the children differs wildly from the last, but each captures in their own way some of the essential alchemy that makes Batman, Batman.

This weekend we see the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter of director Christopher Nolan’s vision of what Batman looks like, and before we know it, another imaginative child will stand in front of the campfire, sharing with moviegoers the world over their version of Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego.

Don’t kid yourself. The next Batman movie is not far off. I give it until next weekend, two weekends from now, tops, before the first rumors begin to emerge about Warner Bros. post-Nolan Batman plans. I can’t even blame them. The lucrative Dark Knight and Harry Potter franchises are over and done, and somehow the studio has yet to prove they can build any long-term big-screen success around any of the dozens and dozens of iconic characters available to them in the DC Vault other than the Caped Crusader. Spider-Man was rebooted to a financial windfall just five years out from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. You really think we’re going to have to wait longer than that for Batman Again?

Dark Kight Rises Movie PosterTruth told? I welcome it. Hey, more Batman is good Batman, as far as I’m concerned. (Some notable New York Times critics may or may not disagree.) And if there’s one thing we’ve learned  from Nolan, and Tim Burton, and even Joel Schumacher, it’s this: Batman and his supporting cast are wildly open to interpretation.

This, in my mind, is one key advantage the DC cinematic heroes hold over Marvel heroes. Marvel’s charm has always been that their heroes are everymen with foibles and failings. It’s the formula that worked for Spider-Man in 1962 and it hasn’t changed much since. The downside? There isn’t much flexibility in the telling of their stories. They are REAL people in REAL cities, passing up Metropolis and Gotham for their ever-under-siege Manhattan playground. I like Marc Webb’s Spider-Man more than Raimi’s, because he was funnier and taller and thinner and the movie was a little darker and better acted. Was The Amazing Spider-Man some wild reinvention of the wheel, though? Not at all. Spider-Man doesn’t have a mythos, he has a story, and there are only so many ways that story can be told. Same for Iron Man, same for Captain America.

But the cornerstones of the DC Universe are GODS, a trifecta of superior beings descended from on high to deliver humanity from wickedness. They came to walk among mortal man from the farthest reaches of space, from a hidden island of warriors, from a life of luxury and means most only dream of. This framework , this system of mythology, sets up a world of heroes far more open to interpretation and reinvention than is found in the Marvel stable.

I hope the knee-jerk reaction of Warners, though, is not the typical knee-jerkiest of knee-jerk Hollywood reactions: “Hey! The Nolan franchise was so freakin’ profitable, let’s do the EXACT SAME THING AGAIN!” Because, see, I love that we’ve gotten three films, one coherent arc, of Nolan’s rooted-in-reality, nuts-and-bolts, hey-here’s-how-it-all-works-guys Batman. He’s given us quintessential stories for The Joker, Ra’s al Ghul, and Bruce Wayne that are the equal of any of the stories told previously about any of these characters in any medium. I just don’t feel the need to see it done that way again. I think that three doses of Nolan-Bat are all I need, really; I think the auteur is bowing out at the exact right moment. (A tip for life: quit while you’re winning, kids.) And what I REALLY don’t need is seeing Warners mandate to their next Bat-director, “DO IT LIKE NOLAN!” Because if I don’t want to see another Nolan Batman, I CERTAINLY don’t want to see a Nolan-imitator Batman.

Batman vs. BaneIn fact, I want my next Batman movie to look at Chris Nolan’s vision… and run away from it. I want a Batman that is steeped in mystery, in darkness and shadows, who appears in being as well as in rumor to be as much animal as man, as demonic as he is mortal. I want to see the fantastic side of Batman, the mythical side, the godly side. I want his chosen rogues to reflect this: bring out Man-Bat. Bring out Clayface. Bring out Killer Croc (who may be unavailable having just appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man, big ups to J-Mart for that one!) I want the strings to remain hidden; I want to be fooled into believing this bat has wings. I want a cape that billows for days, and a daunting silhouette masking all human features. I want washed-out pupils, eyes of pure white. I want Robin! And no Chris O’Donnell crew-cutted, latex-covered, wannabe-Nightwing Robin. I want an ACTUAL Robin, a kid in red and green, being the light counterpoint to the dark of the bat.

So Warner Bros., hear my plea: you spread the wings and took a chance last time around, letting an unbridled auteur tell a story of Batman that may never have worked. Do it again. Take that second chance. Don’t be afraid to allow the Bat to leap into and out of the darkness, to let imagination and fantasy run rampant around Gotham, to let yet another bold new vision of Batman take flight.

Christopher Nolan did a tremendous job on three films. He did Batman justice. He did Batman right. But please, I’m begging you… don’t do it his way again. Not when there are so many other ways to re-imagine a myth.

Tom Hoefner (@TomHoefner on Twitter) is a playwright, theatre director, college professor, and would-be novelist living in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter. He promises: once the summer movie rush is over, there will be a lengthy column appearing in this space on the excellence of Batman: The Animated Series.

Check out “From the Casefiles of Race and Cookie McCloud”, a blog of super-short stories chronicling the adventures of Race McCloud, Private Eye, and his 15-year old former-secret-agent-in-training niece Cookie:


7 Comments Add Comment

  • Jason Martin July 20, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Honestly, they shouldn’t reboot this series of movies. The quality across the board has been high, and rebooting would just seem like a waste.

    I do like the idea of telling the next director to NOT be Nolan. Use these movies as a basis for the next set. Bring in Robin, let the movies not be so grounded in reality. It’ll make for a good continuation.

  • Jason Newcomb July 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Dear Batman (and Superman a little bit),

    I love you.

    Now shut up and let the others talk.

    The fans.

  • James Archer July 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I’m not going to really discuss whether or not I think I WANT a reboot, firstly because I’m not seeing DKR till Monday, and secondly because I can’t decide.

    But, if they do another film, I agree with you to an extent. I’d be quite happy to see Batman from an “outsider’s” point of view, rather than learning the story of Bruce Wayne.

    While Nolan’s done an excellent job at making Batman as “real” as possible, by essentially rooting it in a world based more or less on our own, I’d like to see a version that is truer to the comics, while at the same time being more convincing than Tim Burton’s version.

    Being a gamer, the Arkham games are really what I have in mind. They stick to the comic book rules – the Joker looks like his classic self, Bane is Hulk-sized, Mr Freeze exists and Poison Ivy is spreading plantlife everywhere. But at the same time, the representations of the characters are gritty and dark, and almost as realistic as they can be without removing the unrealism completely. Looking at the New 52 (specifically Batman), they seem to be following a similar style, which I’ve enjoyed.

    The problem of course, is keeping that comic book style in a live action movie without it looking really cheesy.

    I think it would be tough, but I don’t think it’s impossible – maybe looking toward someone like Zak Snyder who’s work on 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch has shown he can be true to source material and also put unrealistic things into realistic settings – not to mention how Gotham would look in his style. In fact, now that I think about it I’m pretty sure he’s directing the new Superman movie, so who knows?

  • Chip Reece July 20, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    I’m with you, I really want to see something different now, as long as somewhere in there we also get to see Ventriloquist!

  • Danny D July 21, 2012 at 12:00 am

    “The Dark Knight Rises” was really fantastic. Yeah, it’s darker and grittier and hell, BLEAKER than 99% of ANY of the movies out there, it was still an absolutely stunning movie, and as a trilogy, the Nolan “Batman/Dark Knight” movies work as one long narrative AS WELL AS individual movies (right up your alley, Hoefner).

    That said, when the reboot comes, provided it’s done well, I’ll probably welcome it if they don’t do what Nolan did. Why? Because his trilogy is dark, gritty and hell, BLEAKER than 99% of the movies out there. I don’t really appreciate that some critics took off points because this movie is SO dark in tone and not light hearted in any respects, but I see where they’re coming from. It’d be a refreshing change of pace for a Batman movie to be fun again (and again, not saying I didn’t love Nolan’s trilogy, because it’s terrific.) And please, God, no origin this time. We know it, we get it, we’re good.

    That said, “Man of Steel” trailer makes me look forward to it next summer.

  • CountingGardens July 25, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    I’m interested in seeing more Batman movies that focus around the character himself and not Gotham as a main subject. That’s how I feel these Nolan Batman movies truly differ from the other movies. Even the cheesy late 90s Batman movies were totally ABOUT Batman and what he was doing. No one cared about Gotham. It was cool looking, but that’s all you needed to know.

  • TomH July 26, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    @JamesArcher – Can I say I just played Arkham City for the first time (never played AA) and after five minutes I knew it was the best superhero game ever? Makes me want to still an XBox from a little kid who can’t fight back.

    Because I’m terribly, terribly weak.

    Also… the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced I wanna see the next Batman movie rebooted and told from the Boy Wonder’s POV.

    It would probably flop, but I’d love it.