First up, let’s look at how introducing a happier, more well-adjusted Batman may be the most significant and important way in which The Batman can blaze its own cinematic trail.
Batman’s History of Happiness
Whether you look to the comics themselves or adaptations like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or the Arkham games, most incarnations of Batman in the 21st century follow a similar pattern. Batman is almost always portrayed as a dark and brooding figure. He’s tormented by the deaths of his parents and fully committed to his war on crime, to the point where he’s become an antisocial recluse who drives away girlfriends, sidekicks and basically everyone in his life besides the faithful Alfred Pennyworth. He doesn’t get along well with his Justice League comrades and almost never smiles. This has been the default portrayal for so long it’s almost hard to remember a time when there was anything else.
But it wasn’t always like this. While the very earliest Batman comics were pretty dark (even featuring the Caped Crusader killing his enemies), by the time Robin debuted in 1940 the franchise was firmly in kid-friendly territory. In fact, it wasn’t until Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns that the idea of Batman as a grim and gritty avenger of the night really started to take root. Even though that story features an older Bruce Wayne in an alternate universe setting, many comic creators began following his example. Tim Burton’s Batman movie helped further popularize the idea of a darker Batman outside the comics, paving the way for where we are now.
But before the mid-’80s, Batman was a very different character. As strange as the campy, happy-go-lucky tone of the 1966 TV series may seem now, that was much more in line with the comics of the time. Even after Bat-Mania faded in the late ’60s and the comics began to trend in a relatively darker direction again, Batman was still painted as more swashbuckling detective than tortured vigilante. He still yearned to find love and one day end his nightly crusade. He genuinely enjoyed his team-ups with Robin and the Justice League. He actually smiled from time to time.
Even though grim and gritty Batman has become the default in this post-Dark Knight Returns world, some comic storytellers have begun tapping into that older, lighter era. The recent Batman Universe is a fun romp that reads like a throwback to a simpler time for the Caped Crusader. And as bleak as Tom King’s long Batman run could be, the series ultimately ended with Bruce choosing to be happy and embrace his romance with Catwoman. Maybe it’s time for the movies to undergo a similar shift.
What the Reboot Can Learn From Batman & Robin
1997’s Batman & Robin is pretty much universally regarded as one of the worst DC movies of all time. That said, star George Clooney actually made for a pretty solid Bruce Wayne. It’s not just the strong jawline (though that certainly didn’t hurt), but the fact that Clooney’s Bruce is one of the more well-rounded versions of Batman we’ve seen on the big screen.
Clooney’s Batman is committed to his cause without being constantly tormented by his past. The movie emphasizes the brotherly bond between Clooney’s Bruce and Chris O’Donnell’s Dick Grayson. This Bruce even seems to enjoy his role as sexy, mysterious playboy, even if his nightly activities take a toll on his personal relationships. Clooney’s performance tends to be overshadowed by everything else wrong with the movie, but there are elements of Clooney’s Batman we’d really like to see return in this next franchise revamp. Perhaps not right away, as Reeves has made it clear Pattinson’s Batman won’t be a fully formed hero in the first movie. But as Bruce becomes older and more experienced over the course of the planned trilogy, it might be nice to see his performance show echoes of Clooney – that greater sense of ease and a comfort in playing the roles of both billionaire and superhero.
That’s not to say Batman & Robin is the only film in that series that can and should inform the reboot. There’s a reason we recently argued Michael Keaton is the best live-action Batman to date. Keaton may not have been built like a comic book superhero, but his unique blend of haunted orphan, aloof billionaire and unstable psychopath makes for a very convincing Batman. As much as that Batman series lost its way in the transition from the two Tim Burton films to the Joel Schumacher sequels, there’s something worth emulating in terms of the progression of Bruce Wayne’s personality. The new trilogy can and should give us a Bruce who evolves and grows in a way Christian Bale and Ben Affleck’s versions don’t.
To its credit, 2017’s Justice League did attempt to lighten up Affleck’s Batman and make him more of a team player. That’s most noticeable through his relationship with Ezra Miller’s Flash and that speech about heroism starting with saving just one life. But as the product of extensive reshoots and two wildly different directors with competing visions, Justice League is hardly a tonally consistent superhero movie. The new Batman series needs to set out with a clear vision for Bruce’s character arc and stick to it, not attempt to course-correct several movies in.
The Robert Pattinson Movies Batman Fans Need to See
How Robert Pattinson Can Lighten Up Batman
If the goal is to introduce a more well-rounded version of Bruce Wayne, Reeves could hardly have found an actor better suited to the challenge. One could argue Pattinson’s entire career has prepared him for taking up the mantle of Batman. Early on, Pattinson showed he can play a charming, handsome, likable hero in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and a reclusive, haunted loner who enjoys dressing in black in the Twilight movies.
But since wrapping the Twilight Saga, Pattinson has seemingly been on a crusade to show just how much range he has as an actor. In 2011’s Water for Elephants, we see echoes of the aloof, haunted loner that made Keaton’s Batman so memorable. 2014’s Maps to the Stars casts him as a decent, ambitious man brought low by a city that means so much to him. 2018’s High Life (easily one of Pattinson’s best performances yet) thrusts his character into larger-than-life circumstances that put his very humanity to the test. All of these roles prove he can play a Batman who does more than just brood and punch bad guys, but also feels and yearns and struggles with the role he’s built for himself in Gotham City.
Pattinson has long since established himself as one of the finest young actors in Hollywood. He not only has the potential to make a great Batman, but to give us the most well-rounded and cohesive cinematic version of Bruce Wayne we’ve ever seen. If that doesn’t justify this latest superhero reboot, we don’t know what does.For more on what to expect from The Batman, find out how the reboot will pay tribute to classic ’70s movies and how Reeves is using the coronavirus shutdown as a chance to tweak the tone of the movie.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.