America, We Have a Batman Problem

Chris Barsanti
Eyes Wide Open
Published in
8 min readMar 13, 2022


Zoë Kravitz and Robert Pattinson in ‘The Batman’ (Warner Bros.)

How many Batmen does the world need? This may seem an odd question in the current era. Many might consider the answer obvious: Clearly, there can never be enough Batmen.

This was not always the case.

Following 1966’s Batman¹, the world went over three decades without another movie starring the Caped Crusader. That changed in 1989 with Tim Burton’s Batman. The troubled production history and its being directed by a mostly unproven cult filmmaker² made the movie’s blockbuster achievement something of a surprise. It was such a shock, in fact, that Warner Bros. botched most of the movies that followed.

Burton’s 1992 sequel Batman Returns had a more assured gothic sensibility (meaning Siouxsie and the Banshees, not flying buttresses). But despite Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito’s best efforts at cackling and purring villainy, it missed Jack Nicholson’s giddy anarchy, not to mention the wonderfully strange Prince soundtrack.

Joel Schumacher’s two efforts — Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin³ (1997)— were everything wrong with peak 1990s’ Hollywood, when the studios just hurled millions of dollars and a random array of A- and B-list stars at a nonsensical screenplay and hoped there were enough explosions to distract the audience.

There were no Batman movies for eight years. The world got by.

Michael Keaton in ‘Batman Returns’ (Warner Bros.)

But other comic franchises from Blade to Spider-man, the X-Men, Hellboy, and the Incredible Hulk were given the green light in that time. This meant that the box office and merchandising revenue to be made off a legacy superhero like Batman was too enticing to resist.

Many failed attempts⁴ to revive the franchise for a post-Schumacher era finally led to the Christopher Nolan trilogy: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Just as Burton’s Batman was hailed for hauling the hero back into moody darkness after being sullied by the Adam West Batman’s self-aware humor, Nolan’s films were praised for using a more mythic tone to wash away the ignominy of Schumacher’s half-hearted camp.

The Nolan trilogy was far from perfect.⁵ Still, his movies had a sweeping grandeur and emotional texture not seen before or even since in the superhero canon, despite Zack Snyder’s strenuous but subpar efforts. By the time The Dark Knight Rises rumbled to its conclusion, it felt as though Nolan had mined the Batman mythology for just about all that it had. The trilogy made dramatic sense on its own, not as part of a larger interlocking DC universe of never-ending sequels and reboots and cross-overs. But all together, the Nolan films raked in about $2.4 billion, so there was no way the studio would give Batman a rest.

Even though they should have.

Christian Bale in ‘The Dark Knight’ (Warner Bros.)

Now we have the glowering Ben Affleck Batman barking orders at his fellow Justice Leaguers in the Zack Snyder movies like a retired corporate executive who now spends all day at the gym yelling at cable news. Will Arnett does his best Bale grumble imitation in the Lego movies⁶. Robert Pattinson delivers possibly the most redundant Batman of recent memory with his pale and characterless take in Matt Reeves’ The Batman, possibly the most redundant superhero reboot since the first Andrew Garfield Spider-man⁷.

Hyped as a back-to-basics story, The Batman does away with the broader ramifications Nolan explored⁸. Instead, it puts a young and inexperienced Batman on the streets of Gotham. Hunting down perps with a wounded and thuggish intensity, this Bruce Wayne is different from most of the others who preceded him on screen. He mostly ignores the Wayne family fortune, does not even try to play up his alter ego as ditzy playboy, and exhibits very mediocre detective skills.

In some scenes, Reeves’ movie appears deeply inspired by Frank Miller’s graphic novels The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. Though the spirit of those landmark books has influenced just about every post-Adam West Batman movie⁹, Reeves might have come closest to rendering Miller’s cluttered urban decay and sense of nihilistic societal collapse, visually at least.

‘The Batman’ (Warner Bros.)

The Batman was supposedly attempting to draw on Batman’s pre-cinematic comic book roots as a detective who got out in the streets and mixed it up with the criminal element rather than indulging in high-altitude hero-versus-villain combat. But instead, the movie instead just wants to remake Se7en with the Riddler (Paul Dano) as John Doe, while Batman and Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright, whose stentorian depressiveness tries to bring some weight to the imitative story) try to solve his arcane and sadistic murders. The copycat nature of Reeve’s take extends from the elaborate clues left by the Riddler (the scene exploring his lair may as well pay royalties to Fincher for its similarities to how he unveiled John Doe’s hideout) to his desire to deliver a moral verdict on Gotham to even the luminously shadowed cinematography and purgatorial rainfall.

The times where The Batman departs from the Se7en template, though, do not necessarily improve matters. A lengthy subplot involving Gotham’s underworld, turning Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) from a drug-running don into a criminal mastermind and recasting the Penguin (Colin Farrell) as a thuggish but still somewhat jolly enforcer who acts like Johnny Boy-era Robert De Niro, is B-movie mafioso shtick. Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman never quite makes sense and is primarily just … there¹⁰. The chaos of the concluding terrorist attack — melding typical comic supervillain mega-plotting with eerie Boogaloo Bois-ish accelerationism — feels like a forced grafting on of Nolan-era gravitas. None of this ever feels urgent, necessary, or remotely deserving of the movie’s egregiously inflated runtime¹¹.

But wait, there’s more!

Since the current media conglomerate demands necessitate an ever greater torrent of content to fill our screens, The Batman will already be spawning at least two series (one on Gotham’s police, likely focusing on Gordon, and another on the Penguin). Meanwhile, the animated movies and series keep coming. Later this year, The Flash is said to feature both Affleck and Keaton’s Batmen¹².

It does not have to be this way.

At the current rate of Batman adaptations, there is no end to the potential variations that can be spun off the core story. Right now, the model seems to be only slight variations to the mold, ala the cautious with which Lucasfilm expands the Star Wars universe to avoid fanboy blowback, ala Rian Johnson. This makes the Batman output ever more repetitive, with the same characters and plot building blocks given slight tweaks while being shifted around in a never-ending game of musical chairs where the only possible change may be the occasional bit of stunt casting.

That is not to say that greater variation in tone and content, while offering respite from duplication¹³, would greatly improve future Batman movies. Yes, self-parodic travesties like The Batman could be more original. But even a creative Batman story is still just another Batman story.

Batman’s appeal to artists and audiences is understandable. His immense wealth, traumatized childhood, and schizophrenic relationship with the villains he hunts provides a buffet of dramatic possibilities. Batman’s need (trauma) and ability (wealth) to act is as bottomless as his inability to avoid questioning his actions. Still, isn’t it time to give the man a rest?

The quantum of Batman at any given time in our media landscape is apparently one. It can be zero. We do have other stories to tell.

Don’t we?


¹ Really just a jumped-up episode of the Adam West TV series. Nevertheless far superior to just about every movie that followed.

² At this point, even after Beetlejuice, Burton was still an acquired taste at a mass scale. His successful evolution into blockbuster director could have been detoured in many ways, especially given the level of studio interference in his Batman. In a different cinematic universe, Burton’s Batman would be remembered as an interesting failure on par with David Lynch’s Dune.

³ Later attempts to revisit the second Schumacher as a misunderstood camp classic have not been persuasive.

⁴ At least a couple additional Batman movies could likely have been made using just the development money blown in the 1990s and early 2000s on various unproduced scripts.

⁵ The over-busy plotting approaches incoherence at times, some villains were not quite up to snuff (Bane being just a WWE heel), and the decision to have Christian Bale gruff up his voice when in his Batman outfit deserves every ounce of mockery it has received.

⁶ Good as Arnett is in conveying Nolan-era Batman’s self-pitying pathos, Danny Pudi’s Abed Nadir on Community has the better voice, not to mention a lovingly satirical take on the overwrought narration (“I must be out there in the night, staying vigilant … watching, lurking, running, jumping”) which somehow extends even deeper into parody with The Batman.

⁷ Do you remember what that one was called? Or anything about it? I don’t, either. And I am not looking it up.

⁸ Especially the morality of a surveillance state, the role of perception in the maintenance of civil society, and how heroes and villains are manufactured as propaganda for often ambiguous ends.

⁹ Though never actually crediting Frank Miller, no matter that he changed the entire conception of the character from then on.

¹⁰ Understandably wanting to create a more grounded and less camp character, Reeve’s movie fails to give Catwoman even a perfunctory rationale (why does she wear the cat suit, again?) or make her anything else than Batman’s slinky sidekick.

¹¹ Not to mention the disturbingly lax PG-13 rating. Want to give your eight-year-old nightmares? Take them to The Batman.

¹² Something to do with time travel? Whatever the reason, bringing together multiple Batmen in the same movie feels like an escalation of what Spider-man: No Way Home started with putting Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland in their spidey suits simultaneously. If fully embraced, the multiverse’s boundlessness indicates DC and Marvel will no longer be limited by even the loose rules of blockbuster cinematic reality. Meaning a potentially even greater multiplicity of superheroes in an already overcrowded landscape.

¹³ How about a version shot in black-and-white? A period-specific throwback to Gotham circa the first comic’s appearance in 1939 (Batman fights Nazi saboteurs, or perhaps helps stop his fellow industrialists from launching an anti-New Deal coup)? Gender reverse casting in which Bruce Wayne has a sister who takes up the cape and ends up in a dalliance with Catman? Maybe a musical take with dance numbers featuring batarangs?

Title: The Batman
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Matt Reeves, Peter Craig
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Andy Serkis, Peter Sarsgaard
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year of release: 2022
Rating: PG-13
Official site

The Batman poster