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The news that War for the Planet of the Apes and Cloverfield director Matt Reeves is in talks to take over the next Batman movie is heartening, and not merely because it brings in a big-name replacement for the outgoing Ben Affleck. Additionally, Reeves’ background in large-scale sci-fi movies might mean that we can finally get a big-screen, live-action Batman that isn’t “grounded” or “realistic” once again.
If there’s been one constant in the Dark Knight’s big-screen adventures — with brief, glorious, exceptions like 1992’s absurdist Batman Returns or this year’s animated Lego Batman Movie — it’s that Bruce Wayne’s alter ego tends to trade in the excesses of the superhero genre for something that could be more accurately described as amplified action: stories that have visual spectacle and massive set pieces, but are for the most part closer to James Bond in terms of realism (albeit with more elaborate costuming) than they are Superman.
This trend peaked with the Christopher Nolan movies — and especially The Dark Knight, the most beloved of the trilogy — with a series of storylines that at times seemed tonally distant from the comic book history of the character, preferring to replace the childlike wonder and possibility of superheroes with a pessimism and structure that spoke more to the anxiety of adolescence. Batman movies — to an extent mirroring Batman comic books post-The Dark Knight Returns — were self-serious stories that were meant to be taken seriously by people who cared about serious subjects.
The long-term appeal of Batman, of course, is broader than that. In his 75-plus-year history, this is a character who’s had to deal with his own extradimensional fanboy (Hi, Bat-Mite!), who’s made colorful and questionable fashion choices and who has sacrificed partners on alien planets. In the last decade alone, he’s traveled through time and launched an international organization staffed by fellow superheroes aimed at defeating the very idea of crime. Although he’s often considered a relatively low-key character, there’s no lack of Batman stories that think outside the box and go very, very big indeed.
It only makes sense to have a more fantastic big-screen Batman now; as part of the expanded Justice League universe, the character already exists in a world that’s more removed from reality than previous cinematic incarnations, and as part of the Justice League movies, he’ll be facing off against aliens and extraterrestrial “gods” between solo movies. Given that résumé, wouldn’t going back to fighting non-superpowered psychopaths, no matter how ambitious they might be, feel just a little bit too much like a downgrade?
The addition of Reeves to the franchise — a man who has shown affinity with city-crushing kaiju, vampires and ape uprisings in his career to date — can be seen, then, as a positive sign for widening the idea of what a Batman movie can be once again. Interestingly enough, his aesthetic, which mixes the more fantastical elements with a naturalistic treatment, tracks somewhat with that of fan-favorite comic book writer Scott Snyder, whose runs on Batman, Detective Comics and All-Star Batman have been both critical and sales successes across the past seven years — and also restored some of the more outre elements to the Batman mythology. (It was Snyder who “killed” Bruce Wayne, and had Jim Gordon replace him as Batman for a year, wearing an oversized robot suit, after all.)
Could the background of the new director, combined with the Caped Crusader’s new onscreen comrades, point toward a new, more over-the-top direction for Batman’s movie career? We can but hope. If nothing else, the success of The Lego Batman Movie this weekend has demonstrated that audiences are ready for more spectacular Bat-ventures if they’re done well — and, really: won’t it just be more fun to see Batman try something different for a change, for the audience?
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