Wednesday, 27 June 2018

THE BATMAN: How Matt Reeves Can Fix The Dark Knight


It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched this channel for any amount of time to learn that I am a pretty big Batman fan. That being said, while I’ve been a fan of virtually almost all of the different live-action incarnations of the character (sorry, Val Kilmer), I’ve never quite felt like any of the various actors to don the cape and cowl have ever truly embodied the Batman I wanted to see on screen.

While the likes of Keaton, Bale and Affleck have all brought pieces of the complete puzzle to the table in their take on Batman, I’m yet to truly see my Batman brought to the big screen. And with the many question marks surrounding the future of the Caped Crusader on screen, with Ben Affleck’s status remaining unclear for Matt Reeves’ upcoming standalone film, I thought it’d be interesting to discuss what I’d like to see in an upcoming Batman movie.

Ben Affleck's future as Batman remains unclear

One of my biggest complaints with the previous incarnations of Batman onscreen is that none of the films have delved too deeply into the detective element of a character named the World’s Greatest Detective. While there’s nothing wrong with seeing Batman punch his way to victory, it’d be refreshing to see the Dark Knight stuck in a situation where the solution isn’t in his utility belt, and instead in his mind. Much like how you would in the Arkham video game series, I want to see Batman investigating crime scenes and attempting to unravel a greater mystery.

There is no shortage of great comic books that focus on Batman’s detective skills that could serve as inspiration. A few I’d mention would be The Long Halloween, Black Mirror (although that story features Dick Grayson under the cowl) and Hush.

A detective-heavy Batman movie could take inspiration from the Arkham video game series

Interestingly, in an interview with New Trailer Buzz, Matt Reeves stated that “I think there’s a chance to do an almost noir-driven, detective version of Batman that is point-of-view driven in a very, very powerful way.” Furthermore, it has also been reported that Reeves is looking at “David Fincher films like Se7en, Zodiac, and The Game. He’s really high on this idea of a gritty crime drama, with the World’s Greatest Detective on the case.”

Furthermore, not only are films such as Zodiac and Se7en deeply rooted in mystery, they also present a notable psychological element, one which would also work tremendously in a Batman film. I’ve always wanted to see a Batman film that deeply explores the psychology behind the Batman identity (this was something originally planned for Batman: Forever but was largely abandoned, save for one fantastic deleted scene), and while the Dark Knight series touched on the notion of Batman as a symbol, I want to see Reeves explore this in greater detail. Batman is a deeply psychological character, and when faced with the right villain, this can quite quickly become an integral part of the story; villains such as Hugo Strange, the Riddler and even the Joker can attempt to unravel and deconstruct the Dark Knight, and use his repressed psychological issues as a weapon to defeat him. Many of Batman’s villains are inherently symbolic of the human psych.

For instance, the Joker is Batman’s ideological opposite, the chaos to the order. Two-Face and Black Mask both represent the battle for identity which Batman also struggles with, who is the man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne or Batman? Scarecrow is the fear which has driven Bruce Wayne into the cape and cowl, and fuels his rage against crime, and Mr. Freeze is the cold-hearted, emotionally void crusader for justice that Bruce had to become, in order to revive a semblance of meaning and purpose.

There is no shortage of psychological analysis that could be used to deconstruct the Batman character

By delving deeply into the psyche of the man behind the cowl, coupled with the almost thriller-esque mystery as mentioned prior would make a really fascinating Batman film, one which would push the character to his very limits, but not exclusively in a physical manner (as characters such as Bane have done previously), but on a personal and psychological one, also.

Like most Batman fans of this generation, I grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series, and one major difference I’ve noticed from that version of the character and the ones we’ve been treated to on-screen is the noticeable supporting cast around Batman. While pretty much all of the films (besides Joel Schumacher’s series) have tried to paint Batman as a loner, this isn’t actually so true in the comics.

The addition of the Bat-family could make Reeves' film stand apart from previous iterations

We tend to think of Batman as a vigilante who works alone, but the character was only ever like this for less than a year (from his introduction in May 1939, to the debut of Robin in April 1940), and pretty much all of the beloved Batman stories in the comics or the animated series have depicted Batman as someone with a partner. And honestly, I would really like to see this on screen. Whether it’s one of the many different Robins or Nightwing, Batgirl, Catwoman or someone else entirely, the Bat Family is arguably just as beloved as the Dark Knight himself, and in desperate need of their live action debut. Especially in an age where we’ve now seen Batman work alongside the Justice League, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he would have other heroes on standby to offer a helping hand.

As someone that’s read Batman comics from practically every era of the character’s existence, it’s somewhat frustrating to see different filmmakers falling into the trap of only looking to a certain era of Batman stories for their on-screen inspiration. For instance, while Tim Burton did borrow the aesthetic of the 1940’s Bob Kane/Bill Finger comics, his story was heavily influenced by Alan Moore’s 1988 graphic novel ‘The Killing Joke’. Likewise, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy took inspiration from several Batman comics, mainly Frank Miller’s ‘Batman: Year One’ from 1987 for Batman Begins, 1996’s ‘The Long Halloween’ for The Dark Knight, and 1993’s ‘Knightfall’ for The Dark Knight Rises. And even more recently, Zack Snyder’s interpretation of Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was very much based off Miller’s other seminal Batman work, 1986’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’.

Look, I love TDKR as much as anyone... but can we adapt other Batman stories?

As you can see, all of the comics that have served as inspiration for were written and released within a 10-year period, and that’s a problem. Batman is a character that has existed for almost 80 years, and has arguably more iconic stories than any other comic book character. While I’m not arguing that the comics used as inspiration aren’t great, many of them are some of the best, I am arguing that Matt Reeves (or whomever helms the next Batman project) looks further than this time-period and by doing so, present a fresh take on Batman. Whether this be by revisiting the classic Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams run from the 1970’s, or taking inspiration from more recent comics, such as Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls, doing this would prove beneficial in crafting a Batman movie that would stand apart from those which came before it.

One of the luxuries of a character existing as long as Batman has, is that he becomes extremely malleable over time, able to be reshaped and changed to fit the particular story he finds himself in. And while each different cinematic iteration of the Dark Knight has brought elements which do feel like Batman, I still feel like we’re yet to see a definitive Batman on screen. And while I think Affleck brought us the closest rendition to this so far, his possible exit from the franchise should not bring this to an end.

Whoever director Matt Reeves hires to don the cape and cowl isn’t too important (as long as they can effectively portray the various roles needed to bring Bruce Wayne and Batman to life); I’m more concerned about capturing the feel of the very best of the character, and not leaning too heavily on the films that came before, because (as great as many of them are), we’ve seen them already… and it’s time for a fresh take on the character.

I have little doubt in Reeves’ ability to make a great Batman film, and whatever he decides to base his story off, I’ll remain eager and excited to see his iteration of the beloved superhero. His work on the Planet of the Apes series was tremendous, and if he captures the same tortured-soul warrior characterisation he gave to Caesar to Batman, it could make for a tremendous film. But until then, all we can do is speculate and anticipate the return of the Dark Knight to the big screen.

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