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Monday, February 27, 2017

Matt Reeves Will Direct The Batman

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It’s worth noting that I’ve always been pessimistic about the DCEU.  A lot of that does come from what I actually want in a superhero film- I’ve been “over” DC’s style of superhero film since Captain America: The First Avenger and the long slog from Dark Knight Rises to Suicide Squad have only confirmed how much their approach doesn’t work.  Beyond that, I think a lot of folks tend to ascribe DC a measure of inevitability that I’d say is unearned.  Sure, we’re probably going to be getting more crappy movies, but projects like Shazam or The Flash currently feel about as likely as Green Lantern 2 did back in 2011. 

So, when The Batman, the Ben Affleck-fronted Batman film that DC thinks will be the NEW blockbuster to get its universe on track after the last three failed to do that, showed signs of fraying I assumed failure and abandonment was on the horizon, especially given that the Bat Brand has proved less infallible lately.  But, it seems I was wrong as after much hemming and hawing Matt Reeves will be directing The Batman. 

Right out of the gate I’ll say I quite like Matt Reeves more than most other considerations.  There’s a real annoying tendency nowadays to give AAA blockbuster projects to mostly untested directors who usually end up better cinematographers than storytellers.  That was the case with Garreth Edwards’ bland and tedious Godzilla, Colin Trevorrow’s sour and cruel Jurassic World, and even some of the aimless and ham-fisted later work of Neill Blomkamp such as Elysium and Chappie. 

Reeves, thankfully, doesn’t fall into this particular bracket.  He spent the first ten years of his career slogging himself up through various TV work before coming out of nowhere in 2008 with Cloverfield, the 2nd half of the double barrel blast that brought back found footage as a favorite film style.  

He followed up Cloverfield with Let Me In, the American version of Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In, and then moved on to direct Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Lately, he directed the quasi-sequel to 10 Cloverfield Lane as well as the actual sequel War of the Planet of the Apes, which will come out later this year. 

That’s an impressive body of work and speaks to a lot of good strengths for someone helming a Batman film.  His work with the Planet of the Apes films shows a willingness to deliver big, high concept goofy, weird spectacle with enjoyable sincerity, while Let Me In, and 10 Cloverfield Lane speak to his skill at blending genre stories with small, intimate drama.  Those are some serious chops that you need for the weird, contradictory nature of the Batman universe.  

Seriously, the Batman universe is one of the best examples of the “we won’t bring it up if you don’t ask” compromise comics fans have with their material.  Transitioning between the brooding solemnity of unaddressed childhood trauma and neon colored clowns with toxic gas parade balloons is not an easy move to make, there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance there. 

Of course, that’s assuming The Batman looks to be at all similar to the various incarnations of Batman we’ve seen across TV, movies, and video games in the past, which is a big assumption.  From what we’ve seen of the DCEU “brand” and know of the film’s casting it might be time to downgrade the scale of what we’re expecting from The Batman.  This is a drumbeat I’ve marched to before when speaking on the DCEU but it’s hard to get around as a mere fact of brute economics.  

The DCEU films are not making the kind of consistent big bucks that Marvel or even Fox have begun managing, even as WB has started to accept “it made more than it cost” as a standard of success for these movies.  If you follow that trend forward, I’d expect a lot more small-to-medium scale flicks with less special FX requirements, which is why Suicide Squad 2 is already getting trailed when The Flash can’t even find a director. 

As for The Batman, my initial assumption was that we’d be getting something in the vein of the Arkham games as they’re probably the biggest multi-media Bat moneymaker DC’s had in the 2010s.  Something that took the basic style of the Batman animated series and added a thick layer of grime and neon to it, which worked well enough for 3 out of 4 games.  What I think we’re going to be getting instead is something heavy on the brooding and the grime but a lot lighter on the neon and cartoon elements.  The best example of this is that Deathstroke will be our premiere villain. 

I’ve spoken at length about my complicated feelings on Deathstroke and, while his current comic has started to win me over and Joe Manganiello is a fantastic casting choice, I still have a lot of reservations.  This is based mainly on what the DCEU has already made out of characters like Joker, Lex Luthor, and Superman giving me very little hope for what’s to come.  What’s more, even accepting that there are good versions of Deathstroke the version that’s most often pushed by executives tends to be the worst take on the character.  

He tends to end up a kind of bad Batman where he’s a normal human who can beat anyone if he has time to plan as a power fantasy avatar for pent up hate and angst against those who’re physically superior.  There’s still room for good commentary with that vision of Deathstroke, focusing in on Batman’s failures of paranoia and inhumanity as reflected in this villain, I just don’t think we’re going to be getting THAT Batman movie. 

The other big looming question about The Batman is what’s going on with his sidekicks.  Robin is pretty much the only legitimate mystery in the DCEU right now, established as someone who had existed in Batman v. Superman, we really don’t know what the deal is with him.  

There were rumors early on that DC wanted Adam Driver to play Nightwing in Dawn of Justice, which didn’t happen, but now the new rumor patrol reports plans for a Nightwing film are rearing up again.  That would make a certain amount of sense with the Robin memorial in the bat cave.  In the comics, that memorial is for the second Robin- Jason Todd. 

If the films want to keep that set-up they’d need to address Dick Grayson and having him on hand as Nightwing would be a smart move.  Honestly, I’m a bit surprised Jason Todd isn’t the villain of The Batman in his Red Hood persona, especially given how profitable Red Hood’s been for DC.  

Then again, Red Hood and Deathstroke are remarkably similar in how they’re meant to appeal to the audience so maybe DC will try and combine them for the film, with Deathstroke training Red Hood.  That’d be a clever way to avoid introducing the Lazarus pit and Ras Al Ghul, which are major elements of Jason’s comic book origins. 

More than anything I just feel disappointed that Matt Reeves is making The Batman instead of some more interesting film.  Reeves is a legitimately compelling filmmaker with a lot of raw talent to throw around as well as a skill for animating the vision of others.  After all, he may be the man behind the camera for the Cloverfield films, but they aren’t really his babies as much as they are J.J. Abrams’.  

I’d like to think Reeves is the man to turn this whole venture around and The Batman will finally find a good balance between fun and inventive Batman action (which we’ve never had on screen) and compelling personal drama (which we’ve had like twice) but that’s a lot more hope than prediction.  What I think we’ll probably get is something, at best, good enough and at worst…a complete mess, just like the last 4 DC movies. 

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