There’s an old saying in comics (and soap operas) that no one ever really dies… because sooner or later they always come back. Maybe it’s someone new with the same name, or they’re a clone, or they’re revived, or they’re a version of an alternative reality … in the pages of comic books, literally anything is possible.
From the appearance of The Batmanse trailer, directed by Matt Reeves, we are promised a new, gloomy and robust approach to the character. To Christopher Nolan’s fully realized vision, and the wild subversive rule of Ben Affleck as the character, Reeves’ approach feels like a teasing “back to basics.” But a hero is just as good as his villains, right? In addition to Robert Pattinson’s Batman, who is also seen in the trailer, is: Paul Dano as a steampunk Riddler, an unrecognizable Colin Farrell as Penguin, and a predictable leather dress Zoe Kravitz as Katvrou.
Return opponents, Batman!
And although the character has such a rich collection of crooks, these particular ne’er-do-wells all appeared in earlier Batman films. Played by Jim Carrey (Riddler), Danny DeVito (Penguin) and Michelle Pfeiffer / Anne Hathaway (and Halle Berry in the very maligned self Katvrou picture) in the past, these stories have already been well explored in this series, origins and all. So why do we continue to see new versions of the same tried and tested villains?
With Christopher Nolan’s measured approach in his Dark Knight trilogy, a trifecta of films that portrayed how Batman would be in a real environment (except for Bane, who probably printed it), said villains feel hand-picked for their qualities. These were driven maniacs that (again, for the most part) reflect a Batman based on some form of reality. Conversely, these were villains who could function through contemporary human physics.
At their best, Nolan’s films were big thrillers that just happened to be centered around a man dressed like a bat. As a shot at the system, these movies were also created to wash away any memories Joel Schumacher’s High Campaign Factor in Batman forever and Batman and Robin.
Nolan’s subsequent, sharper assumption seeped through in every other superhero film and completely re-addressed how audiences continued with the genre. In the cold face, the more funny characters like Mr Vries – or Clayface, or Orca, or literally a handful of other possible unseen examples – simply because it did not seem to fit the “realism”. It looks like Reeve’s Batman, at least for now, is continuing that trend.
Murder of his parents, again
From a Hollywood executive point of view, it also makes sense. Why dare to create a brand new character when they know that both Alfred Molina is Doc Ock and several Catwomen have worked on screen before (and have a record in selling toys and merchandise)? Why plump for someone we’ve never seen before – and may just seem ridiculous – when there’s rather stability in name recognition?
The Nolan trilogy ended in 2012, with the release of The Dark Knight Rises – a whole decade ago. Anyone old enough to catch who grew up and mature, even more so for anyone who was around in the late 80s to catch Jack Nicholson narrating around as The Joker. These former audience members most likely now have children of their own. Recycling Die Raaiselaar, says, is an easy enough opportunity for risk-averse studios to do enough while still appearing fresh; like to reheat it Batman-themed Happy Meal in the Microwave.
Take The Penguin as an example: Most current moviegoers who are old enough to buy their own tickets today will recognize Danny DeVito as the guy from It’s always sunny in Philadelphia, and probably not for his game-changing role as the all-around pathetic and disgusting Oswald Cobblepot. As such, Colin Farrell is given free rein to jump into that penguin-shaped seat and claim the role as his own.
Nostalgia is a powerful drug. We see these and other antagonists return repeatedly, because when we are old enough, we remember the characters with love. Hollywood is currently marketing the same thing and repackaging it for new generations by recharging them of Ghostbusters ‘, Star Wars’, Halloween, Et al.
It can be seen most recently by Spider-Man: No Way Home, who chose to brings back several villains from separate Spider-Men’s pasts for an end-all collision. This is a trend that has made a wave in the comic book / movie world: take the Batman character himself, with Michael Keaton1980s iteration set to return for The flash in 2022.
Another time, another timeline. Anything is possible.
Based on the original comic book source material (works such as The Reign of the Supermen, Flashpoint, and Spider Wars, to name just a few examples), and the freedom on screen allowed by Enter the spider verse and Days of future past years before, it seems that all bets are off in terms of who or what can show up and return to our movie theaters – deceased or otherwise.
In a more meta-sense, the current comic landscape is also mimicking No way home‘s success. Danny DeVito himself recently wrote an official Batman comic book, with its own ’92 Penguin fall in love with Catwoman and get rid of the current world of Covid-19. DeVito went on to say this despite being killed Batman returns, he would like to see his own repetition of the character return on screen.
Why so serious?
If the trailer is something to pass, The Batman promises a nuts and bolts approach to the character – stripped back and mean. For better or worse, the bat’s more bizarre villains and bumpy past seems to suffer as a result, while classic (and supposedly more “real world”) bad things are rather revisited, re-mastered and, yes, appropriately … remade.
Eventually, fans should realize that the comics have such a wide pool of villains that can be adapted to any scenario (some of which are admittedly intended for no more than the pages of a cartoon), and that The Batman has far more options lurking in those back alleys of Gotham City than filmmakers and producers might suggest. If they know this, fans can not help but yearn for more variety for future installments, and can not be blamed if some villains-in-syndication deserves to be retired.
Jim Carrey terrorizes Robert Pattinson in an edited version of The Batman’s trailer, and oddly enough it works quite well.
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