Anyone, including me, that wrote about the downfall of the comic book trend was just proven dead wrong. Warners president Jeff Robinov just took anyone curious about the future of comic book movies, asked them where the drugs were, and then shoved them face down into the gutter as rain water poured over their nose and mouth.
Announcing a Batman reboot before cameras even start to roll on the current Batman film is a bold move. I’m still trying to wrap my cowl-less head around what it fully means, but there are at least four major shifts that just occurred, and they all affect movie goers.
Essentially, Robinov is informing us all that we’ll continue to see Batman movies forever and ever and ever. As soon as one starts filming (or slightly just before) the intentions to make a new one will be announced – each popping up on the horizon while another fills our foreground like an MC Escher drawing done pulp style.
Robinov might as well have said that the studio plans on releasing a new Batman movie every other year until the character is driven straight into the ground. Then, a healthy rest period. And the next wave of reboots. Thus, Batman will start to resemble someone we’re already fairly familiar with. A British spy with a love for martinis.
Batman is Bond
The franchise will now look to longevity beyond the scope of individual directors, writers, stars or pauses to take a deep breath. Just as there was a period of several decades where it was simply taken for granted that a new Bond flick would come out every so often, so too will Batman just emerge out of the Batcave of production every few years to wave hello, kick a bad guy’s ass and jump back down.
Bond has had some down time, and there’s no doubt that riding Batman hard and putting him away wet (so to speak) will eventually lead to some bad apples and a need to course correct, but that seems built into the system here. If the next reboot is the prompt for a new trilogy, then we’ll have Batman movies through at least 2018, but the beauty here is that the franchise no longer has to adhere to the trilogy model. They can give the character to a director and a cast as a rental to take out for a single spin, and then trade him off to the next crew. This could mean turning Batman into the movie version of a karaoke’d Journey song or it could mean he simply starts wanting his martinis shaken instead of stirred.
It’s one thing for the Spider-Man reboot to happen because things couldn’t come together for a fourth film. This is something completely different. Where reboots used to mean the mulligan on a failed attempted, reboots will now be the clean slate for new talent to slide into existing successes.
Retiring a former winner is understandable, but this announcement is the equivalent of celebrating the hiring of a new Babe Ruth while Babe Ruth gears up for his best season ever.
On the other tip, part of the reason the Spider-Man overhaul seems so craven is that there hasn’t been much of a mourning period. The third film is still fresh in our minds. Tobey Macguire is still Peter Parker. The new movie will have to change that.
What this Batman announcement does is fix that mourning period by laughing in its face. There will be no mental downtime for fans anymore. One year, Christian Bale will be Bruce Wayne. In two, Adrien Brody will be him. Maybe for the next two films, maybe for one. Then it’ll be someone we’ve never heard of. Then someone else.
It’s that sort of rotating roster that can actually hurt more than help. Bond is another good example here which points out the downfalls of replacing the character often and shows the triumph of keeping one actor for a solid run. It’s not that audiences are dumb or thrown off by a new actor in the same role – it’s that the actor has to then do so much damned work to put his particular stamp on it.
Speaking of which, the big question is whether this means each new rebooted series will have to have an origin story. If so, it’ll become exponentially annoying. If the Bond model holds true, then they won’t need it no matter how different the story gets.
Movies Are Turning Into Comic Books
Devin over at Bad Ass Digest points out that The Dark Knight Rises now has the potential to become the most important comic book movie of all time. There’s a certain hopeful freedom that comes with knowing that you can do anything (especially when you have final cut), because the character is going to be reinvented after you walk away. Christopher Nolan is looking at a situation where he can do absolutely anything with Batman. He could kill him. He could make him the mayor. He could have a sex change and become Catwoman. He could have him take a trip into space never to be heard from again. He could lose all his money and gadgets. He could get lupus and have Dr. House fail to diagnose it. Absolutely anything.
And then the character will be back, shiny and new in 2014.
However, that sort of freedom also lends itself to meaninglessness. Movie goers are smart, and we don’t watch movies in a vacuum. We currently contend with older versions – even our post-film conversations of The Dark Knight dealt heavily with Ledger vs Nicholson – and now we’ll have to mentally contend with newer versions that are but twinkles in our eye as we desperately try to sink into the present.
There’s a joke about comic books that everyone knows. It’s that nothing is permanent. As much as I love comic books, this also makes them inconsequential. This might be sacrilegious, but to me, the emotional impact of a superhero dying is nullified by the tradition of simply bringing them back to life. It’s soap opera nonsense, and it’s going to infect movies.
The thing people mock comic books for is going to become what people mock comic book movies for.
Who really cares if Bruce Wayne gets offed in the next movie if I know he’s coming back to life soon anyway? I absolutely don’t. That knowledge injures (maybe not completely) Christopher Nolan and company’s ability to create gut-punching finality. Nolan is a fantastic filmmaker, but if he kills Batman in the next film, the scene will never live up to its full potential because I’ll be sitting there with an invisible clock in my mind counting down the minutes until a new Batman shows up on screen. I can’t erase that knowledge, and it’s something I’ll carry into the theater with me like a trailer that spoils all the best parts.
What Have We Learned
So this is Warners plan. Keep running the prize horse until it absolutely has to be sent off to the glue factory. Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m a comic book fan, and I own more of Batman than any other character, but that doesn’t mean I want to see a movie studio churn him out on screen every other year. For some, the prospect sounds like movie heaven, and that’s fine. I hope it turns out to be a blissful experience, but right now, I fear that it’ll be more like shoving a pound of chocolate into our faces every hour on the hour.
And just how daring are they going to be anyway? It’s a little naive to believe the studio will use this model as an opportunity to make Batman Beyond or have Bruce Wayne travel between dimensions. Even with all the freedom in the world, the current production still went back to the spectre of Catwoman and Bane. It’s not as if the studio will suddenly allow for their careful manicured brand to simply be handed to a comic book-loving director who wants to do Batman’s Infinite Crisis.
We’ll all just have to see how it shakes out, but one thing is for sure: the geeks have won. Comic book movies forever and ever and ever, and everyone will get a turn at Batman like the village doorknob. The fans have spoken, and the studio is giving us exactly what we want and deserve.
Keep an eye out for when Warners decides to reboot Harry Potter.