Nine Ways Not To Screw Up A Batman Reboot
It’s happening again. Some of you are too young to remember, but as soon as The Dark Knight came out and proved this Batman thing might have some juice in it after all, the speculation started. The Riddler? Deadshot? Robin Williams as Hugo Strange? And now it’ll all start up again. And with the fact that the next Batman movie will probably be a reboot, the series is no longer constrained by having to fit into Nolan’s world, or make much sense.
It’ll get bad. Real bad. I’ve already seen a post saying that people would be racist for being against a Muslim Batman in Paris, despite the fact that nothing in that sentence makes sense. Soon, someone will wonder why Idris Elba can’t be Batman and then a Michael Fassbender fangirl will shiv that person, because those are the only two actors that can be cast for anything. We’re also going to have to put up with internet journalism doing a damned fine impression of Christmas list: “Five things the next Batman movie can’t do without,” “Five things that hack Nolan didn’t do that need to be in the reboot!”
The thing is, it’s a bit of a pointless gesture to say “The next Batman movie will suck if it does/doesn’t include Robin!” There’s such an overabundance of Batman comics—it’s been distilled and mythologized to such an extent–that you can just print out the Batpedia, pin it up on a wall, throw darts, and come up with a perfectly serviceable plot.
But there’s a few things I really don’t want to see. I suppose some of them could be okay; I’d muddle through a Black Mask Batman movie, even though Black Mask’s entire gimmick is looking like an African-American Red Skull and then not even being that interesting. But still, why take chances? Here’s the Top Nine Things To Avoid While Rebooting Your Batman. Why nine instead of ten? Because I’m lazy.
1. Don’t fuck with the costume
Look, I’m not one of those fans. Superhero movies aren’t fashion shows. Most costumes, so long as they’re not egregiously bad, work for me.
And I know the current Batsuit isn’t perfect; like every Hollywood design, it has to look like a Transformer cosplaying so we know it’s high-tech. So it’s probably going to be changed, and that’s fine. But let’s not go crazy.
You know what I mean. Amazing Spider-Man stuff, where they decide that it’ll sell more toys if Spider-Man looks like a Cirque du Soleil performer at a gay wedding. I’m sure there’s some costume designer right now wondering “Why does Batman need a cape?”
So, play around as much as you want, but save that shit for the variant action figures. When you’ve actually got a human being in there, it’s cape, cowl, black suit, bat on the front, utility belt, gloves with fins on them. Simple.
2. Ease up on Commissioner Gordon
Back in the Burton/Schumacher days, Jim Gordon was treated as a joke character, someone who got casually whammied by Poison Ivy and maybe showed some distaste with a giant laser question mark using the Batsignal as a dot, only able to be cleared by a bat-shaped plane flying through it (…was I high in the 90s? Was everyone else?). Skip to the modern era and Christopher Nolan giving the character some dignity by casting a great actor in the role and making him Batman’s confidante.
It fit there because Gordon always had a story arc that was integral to the movies. In Batman Begins, he was an incorruptible street officer who Batman partnered up with because he was the one good cop in Gotham. In The Dark Knight, he was one-third of the anti-crime trio with Batman and Harvey Dent. And in The Dark Knight Rises, he was grappling with the guilt over what he’d done to bring Gotham peace.
What those have in common is that Gordon is intrinsically part of those plots. He’s not shoved in there like a wacky sitcom neighbor who ends up going on a family vacation to Disneyworld. But in most Batman stories, Gordon doesn’t have that much to do. He’s the M to Lucius Fox’s Q; he tells Batman what’s up, but if Policeman Gary Oldman could save the day, we wouldn’t be watching a Batman movie.
So let’s not get Tom Cruise to play Jim Gordon–cop on the edge–and partner him up with Batman like some weird buddy movie. Get someone decent, give him a few lines, and give some new character a turn in the spotlight.
3. Don’t spend a whole trilogy building up to Ra’s al Ghul or the Joker.
There’ll a lot of reasons to hate The Amazing Spider-Man, but didn’t it especially suck how we were sold this “find out the truth about Spider-Man’s parents!” movie and in the end, it all turned out to be build-up for this totally-rad-I-promise-guys movie where Spider-Man comes face-to-face with his parents’ real killer, the Green Goblin? That probably won’t even be the next movie! We’re probably going to get, I don’t know, Hydro-Man as the guy who actually pulled the trigger, then in the last scene, he’ll go “I was only following orders! Norman Osborn paid me!” and we’ll get a whole third movie about Spider-Man fighting the Green Goblin, as we’ve already seen twice in the series? And as if the Green Goblin is going to be some big-time actor, when the only people they could get to show up in this installment was Rhys Ifans and fucking Hoyt from Rizzoli & Isles.
Yeah, that’s gonna suck, but you people like Andrew Garfield, so fine, have fun with that. But I refuse to go to a Batman movie that’s two hours of Batman fighting Harley Quinn, just so we can ‘build up’ to an evil clown. Or some random guy in a suit who creates Man-Bat for some reason then at the end calls in a report to the League of Shadows.
I know, I know, the movies left stuff out. We didn’t see the Joker using Joker toxin or hobnobbing with Harley Quinn, we didn’t see Ra’s al Ghul use the Lazarus Pit, we didn’t see Talia al Ghul forced to choose between her father and Batman, and for some reason, the movies didn’t want to portray the fanatical terrorists who hate the decadent Western world as Arabs (I know, right? Who would that offend?). These aren’t good reasons to redo the characters. Bane being portrayed as a bodybuilder with a learning disability, that’s a good reason. Venom spending most of his movie as evil licorice, that’s a good reason.
That said, I know it’s inevitable that the Joker is going to get brought back, maybe even Two-Face. But if you really have a great story involving him, just tell it. Don’t make me watch Batman go through a training mission before he can play the game.
4. Don’t have as many characters as the inevitable porno.
Porn has an excuse; there’s a lot of people that need to bone and they can’t all be Russian ballerinas getting a tan. But maybe, just maybe, not every superhero movie needs three villains, two sidekicks, a love interest, a mentor, and a mysterious stranger here to help the protagonist unlock the power of imagination.
Nolan was pretty good about only incorporating characters who had to be there. Two-Face wasn’t in The Dark Knight because he wanted to sell Two-Face double-sided tape; he had stuff to do in the story. And most people’s issues with The Dark Knight Rises come from just how many characters were being introduced and incorporated into the story: You had Bane, Talia Al Ghul, Robin, Catwoman, Roland Daggett, plus returning characters like Lucius Fox, Alfred, Gordon, Batman, and Scarecrow. Even if Gordon being in the hospital and Alfred quitting his job were better “get ‘em out of the plot until we need them” methods than Harry Osborn getting amnesia, it still felt overstuffed.
Now, Nolan had a thing about using Robin or Batgirl, so now that he’s gone, the temptation is to go wild with the sidekicks and the villains. “Batman recruits a team of vigilantes to stop the Joker and his gang of less marketable supervillains! We’ll have a whole one-minute fight between Azrael and Killer Croc so we can sell a LEGO set based on it! We’ll get the urban audience by casting a rapper as Batgirl! We’ll make Nightwing gay, no, too controversial, we’ll give him a bromance with Red Hood!”
And a lot of fans would welcome that, ignoring that the price of seeing all your favorites on-screen in one movie is all of them sucking.
Of course, the flip side of this is that it’d be easy to just do Batman—again! Gordon—again! The Joker—again! Which isn’t good either, because Batman? We kinda get the idea. His parents are dead. What’s interesting now would be seeing him in the context of relationships like the ones he has with Robin and Batgirl; all of whom have ready-made character arcs to sustain multiple movies. Dick Grayson becomes Robin, has a falling-out with Batman, becomes Nightwing. Barbara Gordon becomes Batgirl, is paralyzed by the Joker, becomes Oracle. Jason Todd is a violent and unpredictable Robin, is killed by the Joker, then returns as the psychotic Red Hood. I’d much rather look forward to Tim Drake in three movies than Ra’s al Ghul.
5. Don’t do an origin story.
This goes without saying, but if you do an origin story and people like it, you don’t have to do an origin story for a long time. Superman needs an origin story because it’s been so many decades since he first came out that people have died, but I really don’t need to see Idris Elba in a crappy first version of the Batsuit and figuring out he needs a cape and saying “I’m Batman.” Just show him in a Batsuit, punching the Riddler. We’ll get he’s Batman. Promise.
6. Don’t do a John Blake movie. Don’t you do it.
So despite the fact that Nolan said he was ending the Batman series, a bunch of fans of a children’s cartoon character for some reason seem to have a hard time letting go, so they want another movie where John Blake is Nightwing, or Batman, and he fights the Joker, and stuff. Despite the fact that it would de facto be another origin movie, despite the fact that all the interesting characters have literally left town, despite the fact that all the creators who made the universe interesting in the first place are moving on—no, people really want Len Wiseman’s Batman: The JGL Years.
Look, I know in other media, there’ve been Batmans who aren’t Bruce Wayne. But there’s always been a hook there. Dick Grayson was Batman’s surrogate son, so in becoming Batman, there was this question of if he could live up to his mentor and not lose himself in darkness. John Blake hardly knew Bruce Wayne. Terry McGuiness had another interesting relationship with Bruce Wayne, getting advice from him on how to fight crime in a cyberpunk Gotham City. It would kinda undercut the ending of The Dark Knight Rises if Bruce suddenly said “Welp, guess I’m not over my parents’ death after all. Sorry to run, Selina, but I need to cancel being dead so I can tell John Blake how to punch the Joker over the radio.”
I’m not saying it’s a bad ending to have Blake carrying on Batman’s legacy, but that’s just what it was: an ending. It’s like when Patrick Swayze told Demi Moore he’d see her again in Ghost. That’s a great ending. I don’t need a sequel where they actually do meet up in Heaven and argue about whether they should get reincarnated as butterflies.
7. No Hush
Goddamnit, we need some standards in here. In case you’re not familiar with Hush—you know how everyone said during the lead-up to TDKR that Bane really was an interesting character, not just gimmicky nonsense used to propel a nonsensical plot that has nothing to do with anything? Well, no one would’ve been saying that if Tom Hardy had been playing Hush. He’s a guy who wears a bunch of bandages on his face to conceal absolutely no disfigurement whatsoever, just the fact that he’s not even interesting enough to pull off a mustache. And in case that doesn’t sum him up enough, he’s Bruce Wayne’s childhood best friend who now hates him because Bruce’s parents saved Hush’s parents’ lives when Hush was trying to kill him. He also pops his collar and fires two guns at once.
Fact: Everyone who hates comics once read a story about Hush.
8. Maybe no grand plot to destroy Gotham City or the world?
Call me a scientist, but it seems every time a Batman supervillain stops being a deranged weirdo and starts trying to blow up the world, it’s as if the movie has lost the plot. It was okay in the first Batman for the Joker to try to kill a bunch of people, that’s his thing (see: The Dark Knight). But then the Penguin wanted to destroy Gotham with rocket-launching penguins—since that’s how you get from a sewer mutant to mass murder. And the Riddler wanted to take over the world by using the high-end electronics he had sold to every household in Gotham to read people’s minds. To make money. Because selling psychic TVs that fulfilled the viewer’s every fantasy wasn’t lucrative? And Two-Face wanted in on it because—that’s what happens when you’re abused as a child?
Then Mr. Freeze wanted to create a new ice age because his wife died and/or he just loved that Scrat character, and Poison Ivy helped him because nothing’s better for the environment than covering it in ice forever. Luckily, that series ended before we got Egghead trying to fry the entire city sunny-side up.
But then comes the reboot and you have people criticizing plot points like Ra’s al Ghul wanting to destroy Gotham with fear gas, and Bane wanting to destroy Gotham with a nuke. See, I perceive something of a pattern. These are villains that were generally never meant to be world-ending badasses. They were meant to counter Batman, a street-level hero. When you have the idea that the stakes of a Batman movie have to be the lives of twenty million people, then you start deforming the villains’ characterization to get them to the point where they can even threaten twenty million people, and eventually you lose the plot entirely. (See The Amazing Spider-Man and Curt Connors’ plan to stop people from being lonely by turning them into giant lizards.)
What would be wrong with Batman doing the kind of thing he does in the comics? Preventing robberies, rescuing hostages, stopping arms deals, catching drug shipments, defusing a bomb—those are stakes at least as high as Die Hard or Lethal Weapon.
As funny as it sounds, the Mr. Freeze story where he wanted to cut out Batgirl’s heart to revive his wife was more affecting, engaging, and suspenseful than the one where he wanted to destroy humanity. Good writing is more important than ‘high stakes’, but you can’t do good writing if every movie has to end with the whole of humanity being saved. It’s too limiting.
9. No half-assed love interest.
Look, I know Batman’s all-man and the ladies love him, but for god’s sake these movies are only two hours. Do we really need thirty minutes of that being Vicki Vale or Rachel Dawes finding out that he’s Batman and smooching him? Believe it or not, women will go to see Batman movies even if there’s no kissing. They like Batman as much as men. Everyone likes Batman.
There isn’t to say there shouldn’t be female characters, or even romance. Renee Montoya, Maggie Sawyer, Sasha Bordeaux, Barbara Gordon, Helena Bertinelli, Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, Onyx… take your pick. There’s so many female characters you can do once you get rid of the criteria that they must be gathering dead insects for Bruce by the end of the movie (as female bats do for males? Duh). We just don’t need someone ‘getting to know the real Bruce Wayne’ or ‘bringing the Dark Knight into the light’—and if we do, there are better ways to do it than with the villain taking the girl hostage and Batman saving her. Again, Robin and Batgirl have that kind of a relationship with Batman, just without the romantic context.
And if you’ve gotta do romance, just bring in Catwoman. You don’t have to end the movie with them getting married and have Selina bringing Bruce coffee in the sequel—for most of their history, they’ve had an unresolved sexual tension and been at each others’ throats. That sounds perfectly romantic to me. You can get plenty of movies out of “They love each other, but Batman can’t settle down with a criminal and Catwoman won’t give up her independence.” Just don’t try to get us to care about Bruce Wayne and, I don’t know, Harvey Dent’s sister.