I’m not a comic book fan, generally speaking. I wasn’t into comic books as a kid, and while I have a passing familiarity with some of the superheroes and other characters from film adaptations, it’s certainly not my favourite genre. Despite that, there have been some decent comic book adaptations over the years. The Dark Knight trilogy, which ran from 2005-12, was certainly enjoyable, and remains for many the best take so far on the character of Batman.
One of the things that can be quite jarring for me is when a comic book film takes itself too seriously. The aesthetic of comic book superheroes is cartoony and childish, and when contrasted with “gritty” realistic themes and scripts the mix all too often doesn’t work and falls flat. The Dark Knight trilogy was, for the most part, a rare exception to this, and while I wouldn’t place those films at the top of any list, they worked well.
But even in the mere eight years since The Dark Knight Rises we’ve had several other attempts to bring Batman into a “dark and gritty” modern-day setting. There have been the films of the wider DC Comics expanded universe, including the likes of Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman, in which Ben Affleck took on the role. There’s the Gotham television series which featured a young Bruce Wayne and took an in-depth look at many of Batman’s antagonists. There has been the Batwoman television series, the Joker film from last year, the Batman Arkham video game series, the Batman Telltale video game series, and a dozen or more animated features. The character has been referenced in the Arrowverse television franchise, and there are at least two Gotham spin-offs in development.
Almost all of these projects took the “dark and gritty” approach that many franchises have favoured since the millennium. Despite attempts to offer variety – for example by looking at Bruce Wayne as a child, or having Batwoman instead of Batman – a lot of them ended up feeling pretty derivative and unoriginal as a result.
Just considering Batman’s major appearances in cinema, the version of the character seen in Batman v. Superman and the other DCEU projects was fundamentally no different from that seen in the Dark Knight trilogy. There was no originality compared to what we’d had just a few short years prior. And it seems that the new Batman seen in the trailer just published will be more of the same. Maybe that’s what Batman fans want – the same thing over and over again. And I freely admit that as someone who is a casual viewer at best, the new film isn’t really being made for me.
But it’s supposed to be a big box office title, and as I say all the time, franchises aren’t just made for their hardcore fans. Reboots in particular are supposed to be made to appeal to new fans and bring in large audiences. I’m just struggling to see how The Batman is supposed to do any of that when it seems to offer more of the same.
In the Star Trek franchise, which is a favourite of mine and something I talk about a lot here on the website, each new iteration offers something different. In recent years we’ve had the Kelvin timeline films, which aimed to reboot Star Trek and bring in more mainstream audiences. We’ve had Discovery, which is an action-sci fi show that took a serialised approach to storytelling. We’ve had Picard, which was a dramatic sci fi show that took a radically different approach to Star Trek than Discovery had. And of course now we have Lower Decks, which aims to be a comedic take. Four mainline entries in the franchise all bringing something new to the table.
Contrast that to the approach DC is taking with Batman, where they’re following up one “dark and gritty” take on the character with another equally “dark and gritty” take. If the fans and audiences want that and are going to lap it up, then okay I guess that’s fair enough. Tastes are, after all, subjective. I’m not trying to argue that this approach is fundamentally wrong, instead I’m simply saying that it doesn’t work for me. I like when new iterations bring something genuinely new to the table, not when they’re a rehash of what’s come before. For a franchise that hadn’t seen a new entry in decades, maybe that would hold some appeal – bringing back a classic. But Batman has hardly been off our screens at all since the late 1980s, and since 2005 when Batman Begins aired, every mainstream entry in the franchise has taken a very similar approach. I guess it’s just not my thing, even though the Dark Knight trilogy was pretty good.
The closest that the Batman franchise has come to something different has been 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie, which injected some much-needed humour into what has become a pretty grim and humourless franchise. Practically every other major release has stuck firmly to the formula Batman Begins established in 2005.
It’s no criticism of Robert Pattinson, who will take the lead role in The Batman. He looks to be doing a perfectly solid job in the role, and were it not for fifteen years of samey takes on the character I might even be convinced to say I was looking forward to seeing this film. But I’m not, because it seems to offer nothing fundamentally original or interesting, just another “dark and gritty” take on a character and setting whose darkness and grit have been done to death.
I’d like to be proven wrong, and for The Batman to be a film that has something more to offer, so when it’s released next year I’m sure I’ll take a look to see what Pattinson and director Matt Reeves have to offer. Perhaps by setting a low bar for the film I’ll come out of it pleasantly surprised; it’s happened before! Because of the hype and buzz that surrounds any major comic book film these days they’re inescapable, and I found myself drawn to comment on this upcoming release.
I have enjoyed several Batman projects in the past, so perhaps The Batman will surprise me. Check back in 2021 (or 2022) to find out!
The Batman is the copyright of DC Films and Warner Bros. Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.