Comments made by new The Batman (tentative title) director Matt Reeves have resurfaced this week in which he claims the much anticipated solo Batman movie, starring Ben Affleck, will not be part of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).
Updated Reeves comments at end of post.
Speaking with The Business podcast’s Kim Masters in July (before San Diego Comic-Con), Reeves said he had “a vision for a way to do something with that character that at least feels like it resonates with me personally, and a perspective that can grow outward into other things… When they approached me, what they said was, look, it’s a standalone – this isn’t part of the extended universe.”
Not much was made of this at the time, but now we’re all aware of this development, don’t you find it really frustrating?
When it was announced that Ben Affleck would be starring and directing in a solo Batman movie, based on his positively received portrayal in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, fans were incredibly excited. I was no different.
While I had my qualms with Dawn of Justice as a movie, I loved Affleck’s version of the Dark Knight. The battle-hardened Bruce Wayne, exhausted from Joker’s madness and Gotham’s underworld in ways which we can only speculate (which is a lot fun to do), slotted perfectly into this broody and visually striking world created by Zack Snyder.
Similarly Suicide Squad, which left some to be desired narratively, captured a very particular, neon-noir style featured prominently in DC’s Batman comics. Director David Ayer, despite various other criticisms, translated the lore-drenched, hyper-stylized world of the comics onto the screen incredibly well. The Batman: Arkham games are probably Ayer’s only competition in the race for best extra-comic book adaptation.
So far we’ve had just brief glimpses of what Ben Affleck’s Batman looks like in this world – but he looks great. Affleck is perfectly cast, and everything about his version of the caped crusader – from his appearance (particularly his age and hench build) to the costuming – has been spot on. This wonderfully moody setting created over these last few films are what made me excited for a solo Batman film.
More than visuals
But a good Batman film can’t live on aesthetic alone. It has to tap into the incredible lore that already exists, and develop some of its own – as Nolan did. The DCEU has already started laying down some very interesting breadcrumbs; what happened to Robin? Was it indeed Jason Todd that fell victim to the Joker (as in Death in the Family), or is something else going on? And what of the Joker? Leto’s Joker is an interesting new take on the character – how does he interact with Affleck’s Batman? What encounters have they had already?
Speaking of Robin – I’d just like to let Warner Bros know that my agent will take your call. So, door’s open for you guys. Let me know.
Which is why, regardless of the cool stuff that we wanted to see from the DCUE brought into a Batman film, the biggest loss to the movie is Affleck himself.
Affleck is quite an old-school filmmaker – an auteur who dives into every aspect of the production not out of vanity, but for passion. He clearly loves this character, and he jumped at the chance to direct, star in, and produce a solo Batman film. He eagerly turned in a draft screenplay (with assistance from DC mainstay Geoff Johns) less than a year after talks for the movie began. Affleck’s film was picked up by Warner Bros in April 2016, with Jared Leto expressing his interest to return as the Joker, and test footage of Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke appearing online soon after. The project was moving ahead, and I was totally on board with Affleck’s vision.
This was the film fans wanted. This was the film fans were promised. But then things changed.
The first blow came in January 2017, when it was announced Ben Affleck would no longer be directing the film. A show of no-faith from Warner Bros following Affleck’s loss-making gangster romp Live By Night? Perhaps. Regardless, actor-auteur Affleck was no longer helming The Batman. By February, a new script had been turned in by Dawn of Justice collaborator Chris Terrio.
By the end of February 2017, following weeks of turbulent talks, Matt Reeves signed on as the new director, delaying production until 2018 while he wraps up his commitments to War for the Planet of the Apes (a film which I did not love).
Affleck’s recent remark that he may no longer play Batman following Justice League says everything. With every passing announcement, I feel Affleck’s enthusiasm for the project eroding – as does mine.
Compromising the franchise
I’ve said before how Warner Bros are going about building this franchise all wrong. They’ve going in with a set of big, ensemble epics first, and leaving the solo films until later (or never). The big team movies are great for marketing and general world building, but do very little for character development – that’s what the solo films are for. Putting Affleck in a Batman film out of canon will only serve to confuse casual viewers, and prevent that essential character exploration.
Warner Bros recently announced a cinematic imprint – a subset of standalone DC movies, not linked the DCEU, starting with a Joker origin story. I’m all for that – there’s something very comic book about it. But for God’s sake WB – develop the main DCEU first!
To persuade Reeves to sign on, clearly Warner Bros had to relinquish a lot of control over its franchise. Everything from the script to distancing from the DCEU has been done to grant Reeves greater creative control.
It’s rare to see a commentator despair at a corporate giant giving too much control to a director, I know. But this is a rare case.
The Batman justifies its existence by being part of the DCEU. We’ve not long had an excellent trilogy of Batman films, detailing his origin to his retirement. It simply hasn’t been long enough to start again.
But a film that explores the emerging universe currently being built through a series of films, that delves into the incredible Batman lore (the best mythology in all of comics, in my option), and that delivers on what fans have been waiting for since Dawn of Justice – that is most welcome.
UPDATE: Reeves has ‘clarified’ his comments on Twitter. Posting last night, Reeves said, “Just to be clear: Of COURSE Batman will be part of the D.C. Universe. Batman will be BATMAN…” He went on to say, “I was talking about The Batman being a story specifically about Batman not about the others in the Universe. That it wouldn’t be filled with cameos servicing other stories — that it would be a BATMAN story.”
So, as far as we know as of right now, The Batman will be in the DCEU – but the film will be focused on Batman, and not try and set up other DCEU movies. Kinda like how… Oh wait, none of the solo films have done that. Neither Superman nor Wonder Woman spent a great deal of time focusing on the wider DCEU because – y’know – that’s not what solo movies are for. Nobody considers Captain America: Civil War a Captain America film, it’s clearly the Avengers 2.5.
Anyway, I am massively relieved at this news. I’m taking future announcements with a pinch of salt from now on, but things seem to be back on track. My comments about Affleck stand though. It’s a damn shame that he’s not running the project anymore, and while I appreciate Reeves’ desire to create a very focused film, he must acknowledge a responsibility to the series and not completely disregard the universe in which this movie lives – and Warner Bros must hold him to this.