Michael Keaton Returning as Old Man Batman Feels Right

Bringing the actor back into Gotham offers a much-needed revolution for the franchise.
Michael Keaton Bruce Wayne

Welcome to Stapled Cinema, our new ongoing series celebrating the valiant adaptations of one sequential art form into another. Comic book movies are seemingly everywhere. We’re uncovering the beauty in the best (and worst) attempts that tear the staples from comics in a dash to splash their panels upon the big screen.

The caped crusader pulls the goon’s grizzled mug in close. The leather around the vigilante’s gloves crinkles and cracks. The goon responds in quivers and squeaks, “What are you?”

Michael Keaton answers, “I’m Batman.”

And from that revered instant thirty-one years ago, for many, Michael Keaton remained Batman. Val Kilmer and George Clooney did their best to fill out the codpiece. Christian Bale made his mark with a growl grumbling inside two (maybe three – don’t fight me on it) exceptional Dark Knight entires. Ben Affleck stole a whole lot of our time and energy while pummeling the Man of Steel, and we wait to see how Robert Pattinson will fare under fandom’s scrutiny, but if these last few days have taught us anything, it is that Michael Keaton is our Batman. Sorry, Adam West – we still love you, but Keaton’s our guy.

We should all consider the amount of ire Keaton received when word of his casting initially broke. Many hemmed and hawed at the idea of Mr. Mom stalking the crime-infested alleys of Gotham. Fandom fantasized that Tim Burton’s Batman would marry the Dark Knight to the grim 80s aesthetic of comic book idol Frank Miller, finally freeing the world’s greatest detective from his Batusi shame.

Lol. The joke was on them, as Burton’s gothic camp parade has more in common with the 60s TV series than the right-wing rage of Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (TDKR). Still, for those looking to get a little more serious with their grim avenger of choice, the ’89 Batman delivers, and nostalgia firmly roots Keaton to the character.

Now, according to The Wrap, there is a possibility that Keaton will squeeze back into the Batman body armor for The Flash‘s proposed solo movie. The DCEU film is currently being constructed under the direction of Andy Muschietti and will revolve around the famous/infamous Flashpoint event from the comic book series. In that storyline, Barry Allen races into the past to save his mother and, in doing so, causes a catastrophic ripple effect in which Bruce Wayne died as a child, and his father Thomas took on the mantle of the Bat. Also, the Justice League never formed, Superman is M.I.A., Wonder Woman rules over the United Kingdom while waging war with Aquaman’s Atlantis.

When mucking with time, there are plenty of opportunities to get wild with continuity, and it’s easy to conjure how Michael Keaton’s Batman could be involved. Many speculated that Jeffery Dean Morgan would reprise his Thomas Wayne role from Batman v Superman within Flashpoint‘s apocalyptic storyline. However, couldn’t Keaton take on the job of the most dangerous daddy?

Nah. You don’t want that.

Keaton is Batman, remember? It’s his line. Let’s not twist it. Let’s not play around with his stature. He owned the title when we doubted him, and he deserves to rock the cowl free of any timey-wimey asterisks. If Keaton is to be Batman once again, he should be our Batman, his Batman.

Keep Morgan as Thomas Wayne. Take twenty or thirty minutes of Flashpoint‘s runtime (pun intended) to revel in the atrocity of a psychotic elder Batman battling his beloved Martha turned Joker after the death of their child. Take their grotesque domestic dispute to the very limits of insane emotional carnage; then, let another dimensional barrier crack so a savior can step through.

The Keaton Batman is a hero to save the day. His grizzled, statuesque appearance cuts a mean son-shape and one that would mortify the mirror universe versions of Thomas and Martha. The Keaton Batman has seen some dark days himself, but he stands after every fall, because he was born from the fall. This Batman rose from his agony and anger and channeled his emotions into purpose.

We gotta keep The Flash movie a Flash movie. Keaton can’t take over the screen, and he can’t be the sidekick or wise mentor to Barry Allen. Reserve those roles for the Bat-family and future movies. The Keaton Batman is a third act rescue, a hero in the right place at the right time to lend Barry a hand so he can right the wrongs he made when he first when back in time.

When the dust settles on Flashpoint, Barry will return to his timeline so the Keaton Batman can get back to his, which is where Keaton can have some fun. Warner Bros., throw all your money at Keaton! You saw the joy he relished on the set of Spider-Man: Homecoming. If he’s willing to suit up as The Vulture in Morbius, and he’s willing to dabble as the Batman one more time in Flashpoint, back that dump truck full of cash onto his lawn and nab yourself another pair of Keaton Batman movies.

Some corners of Bat-fandom will scream, “The Dark Knight Returns!” Yes, yes, yes. Many hold out hope that a “proper” adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal work will see the light of a screen someday (psst – it has! Peter Weller voiced Old Man Batman in a pair of animated adaptations, and they are excellent, and you will never get anything better). Zack Snyder used up most of that TDKR energy in Batman v Superman, and whatever you think of that film, there’s no redo on translating those Miller images.

Let TDKR go. You’ve got the book. You’ve got the cartoon. You’ve got the countless homages. Keep Old Man Keaton, but give us a Batman we haven’t seen before…or, at least, one who never got the cinematic celebration he so rightfully deserved.

Batman Beyond aired on Kids’ WB in the wake of Batman: The Animated Series. Roughly twenty years in the future, when Bruce Wayne could no longer don the costume due to age, another wreckless teenager stumbled into the Batcave. Terry McGinnis has the fire of all the boy wonders who once joined Batman’s side in the fight against injustice and corruption, and it is a passion that rekindles purpose in the crumbling soul of the billionaire crimefighter.

In Batman Beyond, we can get Keaton back as well as a brand new universe to expand the weird of Batman. Think Batman: Blade Runner, or Batman: Robocop. The world is similar to ours but advanced just enough to be a little bit cracked and interesting.

The sci-fi superhero series was a new universe to explore classic Batman tropes and characters but injected with new life and ideas. The restraints were off. There were no rules. Batman Beyond was an utterly freeing endeavor that did not need to worry about the 80+ years of continuity standing on the previous animated series’ neck.

You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)