The Shadow Of The Bat

There’s been a lot – and I mean a lot – of comment about Ben Affleck being the new Batman.

I don’t understand the fuss. After all, I’ve always believed the actor “playing” Batman is incidental. You don’t need to be a great actor to be Batman – you need a great costume and a good stunt choreographer. Playing Bruce Wayne is a little bit more of a stretch but to pull off a good Bruce Wayne, the most important thing is to have a great Alfred supporting you.

Looking at the recent Dark Knight Trilogy, I would argue that Christian Bale is merely adequate as Bruce Wayne and is actually a pretty poor Batman (the nonsensical growly voice for example). The difference is the films he appears in are (with the exception of “The Dark Knight Rises”, which is a muddled, illogical mess) superbly made and have brilliant supporting casts and villains. Michael Keaton delivered a quirky, haunted take on Bruce Wayne and was a suitably deadpan Batman in both his films (“Batman Returns” is my favourite of all the Batman movies) while Val Kilmer was actually pretty good but trapped in a neon nightmare which also ensnared George Clooney and reached its nadir in “Batman & Robin” where the only good cast member was Michael Gough’s Alfred – although he tried his best to die in that film, just to escape Joel Schumacher’s awful vision.

But comparing Batmans (Batmen?) is kind of like comparing James Bonds – ultimately futile because they each reflect and are perfectly suited to their particular era. Adam West’s Batman was absolutely right for the time and retains a kitsch charm even today, but you wouldn’t try to pitch that now, in the dark and gritty 21ST century. But Batman himself as a character has had so many interpretations throughout the decades in the comics that to believe Nolan’s Dark Knight is all Batman can and should be is just plain ignorant given the rich, varied and frankly sometimes bizarre history of the world’s greatest detective.

No, Ben Affleck will be fine as Batman/ Bruce Wayne. That he will be Batman in the follow-up to “Man Of Steel” isn’t the problem; it’s the fact that Batman is going to be in the follow up to “Man Of Steel” at all.

When Zack Snyder announced at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con that the sequel to “Man Of Steel” was going to be Batman Vs Superman or Superman Vs Batman or whatever, all I could muster was a weary sigh of despair. It was a cynical and sadly predictable move, and they invoked the seminal Batman graphic novel Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” to do it (thereby setting themselves up for a nerd rage backlash down the line that will make the Ben Affleck thing look like a politely worded letter of concern). But it all feels so forced and rushed, that I have a real concerns about it.

It reminds me of the conversation between Ian Malcolm and John Hammond in “Jurassic Park” and I think if Warner Brothers and Ian Malcolm sat down to dinner the conversation might go something like this:

Warner Bros.: “Green Lantern”. The “Green Lantern” as a movie franchise is pretty much extinct.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: [shaking his head] No…
Warner Bros.: If I was to create a role for the “Green Lantern” in the next Superman movie, you wouldn’t have anything to say.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: No, hold on. This isn’t some franchise that was obliterated by poorly executed CGI costumes, or terrible reviews. “Green Lantern” had its shot, and the audience selected it for extinction.
Warner Bros.: I simply don’t understand this Luddite attitude, especially from a movie character (who started out as comic relief and was inexplicably promoted to leading man status for the sequel). I mean, how can we stand in the light of the box office for “Marvel’s The Avengers”, and not act?
Dr. Ian Malcolm: If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the cinematic power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You saw what others had done and you took the most obvious graphic novel to steal from. You didn’t earn the buzz for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now [bangs on the table] you’re selling it, you wanna sell it. Well…
Warner Bros.: I don’t think you’re giving us our due credit. Our producers and directors have done things which nobody’s ever done before…
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your producers and directors were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

I actually feel sorry for Henry Cavill in all this. His “Man Of Steel” was certainly good enough to be given a sequel and why shouldn’t he have the spotlight all to himself, at least for one more film? The second film in a super hero franchise is usually the best one because it’s freed from the baggage of an origin story and can really let the hero spread their wings.

But no, Superman isn’t going to get that chance and instead he’s going to be saddled with introducing a new version of a fellow superhero and probably setting up a larger world for a future “Justice League” movie. After all, cramming all that expositionary baggage into “Iron Man 2” didn’t do it any harm, did it? Oh, wait…

Despite the occasional clunkiness of “Iron Man 2”, what Marvel managed to do worked because they were careful, patient, took nothing for granted and embraced creative risks to shake things up. You know when you see a Marvel film, even if you know the comic book inside and out, you’re still likely to see a new and potentially unexpected take on it on the screen.

What Warner/ DC are trying to do is cut to the chase, slapping the product down in front of us and assuming that we’ll just take a new Batman and buy into a story where the god-like Superman from “Man Of Steel” doesn’t just smoosh the very human Batman in a couple of seconds. Because there’s a graphic novel that everyone likes where that happens. But it’s not a straight adaptation, no no. They’re using the source novel as “inspiration”. Hmmm. No doubt some kryptonite doohickey will be involved otherwise, you know, SMOOSH. And everybody knows that they’ll actually be tricked into fighting each other only to realise they’re on the same side, team up and take down the real villain.

No, Superman/ Batman fans – Ben Affleck is the least of your potential problems. The real risk here is that both iconic heroes will be compromised by this lazy cash grab by Warners as they pillage a beloved graphic novel just to try and catch up.

Besides, I’m keeping my powder dry until they announce who’ll be playing Alfred…


1 Comment

  1. sanclementejedi September 14, 2013

    I like the choice of Affleck. Also agree DC is rushing things. There should be a stan alone Supes sequel and a new Bats film first. Also please let snyder shoot the action his way rather than making the film look like something Michael Bay would film.

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