Will Keaton’s clas­sic Bat­man swoop in to save DC’s flail­ing su­per­heroes?


Michael Keaton might once again don Bat­man’s cape and cowl in the film, The Flash.

The news of­fers a nos­tal­gic hug and self-know­ing nod to fans of the DC stan­dard bearer, but when it comes to big ticket su­per­hero movies, few things can be taken at face value. It seems cer­tain that we can read plenty more into one of the big­gest sur­prise cast­ing an­nounce­ments of the year.

It is fair to say that DC has strug­gled, in re­cent years, to em­u­late the cin­e­matic suc­cess of its ri­val, Mar­vel. While the Mar­vel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse has been met with al­most uni­ver­sal praise over more than 20 films, DC has found both crit­ics and au­di­ences harder to con­vince with its at­tempts to build its own cin­e­matic uni­verse. Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of

Jus­tice (2016), DC’s first at­tempt at bring­ing its most-loved char­ac­ters to­gether on screen, was crit­i­cised for be­ing too dark in its por­trayal of its two heroes and too frothy in its (spoiler alert) ham-fisted end­ing, in which the two fi­nally bond over a shared mother’s name.

The same year, Sui­cide Squad was DC’s try at on-screen team build­ing, al­beit by a group of su­pervil­lains, and that film was roundly pil­lo­ried for sim­ply not be­ing very good.

Jus­tice League (2017) was bet­ter re­ceived, but it was not Mar­vel’s The Avengers. The team of Bat­man, Su­per­man, The Flash, Aqua­man, Cy­borg and Won­der Woman united on screen for the first time and earned only $657 mil­lion (Dh2.4 bil­lion) at the box of­fice. That is less than half the $1.5bn The Avengers pulled in five years ear­lier.

By re­cast­ing Keaton, DC is hark­ing back to a time when it was unas­sail­able at the box of­fice. In the 1980s, Christo­pher Reeve’s Su­per­man ruled the su­per­hero world and his poster adorned the walls of teenagers across the globe. In 1989, Keaton and di­rec­tor Tim Bur­ton teamed up for the first big-screen Bat­man since Adam West’s 1960s ver­sion. Fans and crit­ics were im­pressed that Bur­ton had cre­ated a su­per­hero movie with gen­uine depth, a trick Christo­pher Nolan would re­peat and im­prove on with his Bat­man tril­ogy, start­ing, again pre-MCU era, with 2005’s Bat­man Be­gins.

Dur­ing the same pe­riod, Mar­vel’s most no­table movies were 1989’s straight-to-video The

Pu­n­isher and 1986’s en­ter­tain­ing, but hardly com­pa­ra­ble,

Howard the Duck. Back in the days be­fore the dis­trac­tion of Mar­vel’s all-con­quer­ing uni­verse, DC ruled the roost, and was quite ca­pa­ble of mak­ing suc­cess­ful films on its own terms.

DC’s big­gest post-MCU suc­cesses have come about when it made things a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. Won­der Woman (2017) was set dur­ing the First World War, a cen­tury be­fore the events of the Jus­tice League-era films. It also stood out among all su­per­hero ti­tles by be­ing both fe­male-led and di­rected.

The hugely suc­cess­ful

Joker (2019), mean­while, was self-con­sciously sep­a­rate from the rest of the DC uni­verse from the out­set. It made no ef­fort to tie into other films, rev­elled in its 18 rat­ing cer­tifi­cate and was nom­i­nated for Os­cars in­clud­ing Best Pic­ture and Best Di­rec­tor. Joaquin Phoenix won the Academy for the role of Joker and Hil­dur Guon­adot­tir for her sound­track. It prob­a­bly did not es­cape DC’s no­tice, ei­ther, that the film raked in more than $1bn at the box of­fice on a mod­est bud­get of about $60m.

By bring­ing Keaton back into the fold, DC has the op­por­tu­nity to re­set its cin­e­matic fare to a pe­riod be­fore the rise of Mar­vel. In fact, it has the op­por­tu­nity to do al­most any­thing it wants to. A key el­e­ment of

DC’s comics is the “multiverse” – many time­lines and ver­sions of char­ac­ters which co-ex­ist with­out the need for con­ti­nu­ity or the con­cept of the “canon”.

It’s a con­cept that comic fans are com­fort­able with, though so far, none of the big play­ers have dared try it out on main­stream cin­ema au­di­ences.

It has been tri­alled on TV au­di­ences, how­ever, with some suc­cess. Amer­i­can chan­nel CW’s Ar­row­verse fea­tured a cameo from Ezra Miller’s big screen The Flash along­side Grant Gustin’s small screen ver­sion.

Now, it looks like Miller could be the first to test the multiverse on the big screen.

The Flash di­rec­tor Andy Muschi­etti has re­vealed he will be in­formed by the comic se­ries

Flash­point, in which Barry Allen (The Flash) trav­els back in time to save his mother.

The pos­si­bil­i­ties are al­most in­fi­nite. Could The Flash travel back to Keaton’s 1989 Gotham? Could Keaton’s Bat­man travel for­ward to meet Miller’s 2020 Flash, and if so, could he serve as a men­tor to the 2020 young­sters, such as The Flash and Cy­borg, and per­haps con­tinue in that role in fu­ture films?

We will have to wait un­til 2022 to be ab­so­lutely sure, but per­haps DC has con­cluded that its chance to one up Mar­vel again lies not in copy­ing its in­tri­cately con­structed uni­verse and in­ter­linked sto­ry­lines, but in aban­don­ing those com­pletely and do­ing the ex­act op­po­site – by suc­ceed­ing once again, en­tirely on its own terms.

By bring­ing Keaton back into the fold as Bat­man, DC has the op­por­tu­nity to re­set its cin­e­matic fare to a pe­riod be­fore the rise of Mar­vel

Warner Bros

Michael Keaton as Bat­man in 1989. Keaton is re­port­edly in talks to ap­pear in ‘The Flash’, due for re­lease in 2022. This would serve as a nod to a time when DC dom­i­nated the su­per­hero movie sphere

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