At this point, one can only imagine the DC Extended Universe is built upon an ancient Indian burial ground. This riposte to the Marvel Cinematic Universe has tripped over three critical paving stones since its inception in 2013, failed to break $1 billion with a film that co-starred perhaps the two most popular superheroes of all time, and now Ben Affleck has stepped down from directing The Batman.
Official word is that it was Affleck who made the final call (citing the irreconcilable twin responsibilities of the cowl and director’s chair), but it’s a safe bet to assume it’s a mutual decision between him and Warner Bros. Affleck was the best thing about last year’s Batman v Superman, but the result of his latest one-man-band show, Live By Night, will see Warner out of pocket to the tune of $75 million.
It’s disappointing news for everyone involved. Despite provoking considerable nerd-rage at his casting announcement, Affleck managed to capture the Batman in ways not explored by the character’s other actors, and was seen as something of a double-threat after successes in helming Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo. The idea of him directing his own version of the Dark Knight was a tantalising one, and something that will now always remain just out of reach.
While Batfleck will remain in the cowl (at least for now), that director’s chair needs filling. Let’s take a look at the top choices:
Aronofsky is a name constantly linked to direct the Bat, and with good reason: he was supposed to direct a live-action adaptation of Batman: Year One, but the project fell through, resulting in the Nolanverse. Signing him up for the DCEU could give us a glimpse into what might have been – and both Aronofsky’s mooted project and this current incarnation of the Bat have been overwhelmingly influenced by the work of Frank Miller. Plus, a Batman score from his long-term collaborator Clint Mansell is an enticing thought.
Whether Aronofsky would do it or not is up for debate. He did originally sign up to direct The Wolverine, but that fell through too – meaning he could perhaps be burned out on bailing from superhero films.
Alfonso Cuarón is just the type of prestige director you could imagine being up for The Batman. He’s an extraordinarily gifted filmmaker, revered by the industry, and already has a healthy rapport with Warner Bros.’ franchise department after directing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the one where things start to get dark, hint hint).
It’s doubtful Cuarón would ever stick around for multiple outings, but the aforementioned precedent shows he can be an electric one-and-done – just the type of safe hands to bring some much-needed assurance that this universe is going, well, somewhere.
While 2011’s The Raid was a stonking, bloody, rock’em-sock’em thrill-ride – bringing videogame mentality vibrantly to the silver screen – its followup, The Raid 2, is truly the Godfather: Part II of action movies.
The warehouse scene in Dawn of Justice has proven that fans are clamouring for kinetically choreographed fight sequences – the style we have only really seen in videogames, via Rocksteady’s Arkham series. Audiences have seen Batman’s stealthier side time and time again, but Zack Snyder opened up the possibility of a more brutal and brawny Bat. With his handling of crime epics and striking visual style for battle, Evans could be the one to unleash the beast.
Let’s be honest; this is pie-in-the-sky fantasy ‘casting’ at its finest. Fincher wouldn’t sign up for The Batman for all the stock in Wayne Enterprises (his most recent brush with franchising was Alien 3, so… ), especially considering the universe’s precarious state.
But a fan can dream; and why wouldn’t we? His signing up makes a lot of sense on paper: not only is David Fincher the last word in producing creepy, oily, psychological thrillers – the likes of which would fit this pointy-eared hero like a tight spiked gauntlet – but many of his films obsess with the concept of the alter ego. He even has recent history with Ben Affleck in Gone Girl – a role that, crucially, proved the actor could handle the Wayne/Dark Knight dichotomy.
Batman films have always been most successful under the stewardship of an auteur – someone who can bring their own vision of Gotham City rather than simply laying the slabs of a studio’s concept. WB made a lot of noise pre-2016’s chapters that the DCEU was committed to filmmakers rather than hired guns (which is effectively Marvel’s game plan under Kevin Feige’s showrunner model). Successfully hiring Fincher for The Batman would underline this as the coup of the century and a Herculean gust of wind through a cinematic universe that is gasping for air.
PS. Can you imagine a Batman movie in the style of Se7en? So can I. *shivers*
Though one of the more understated names on this list, Cary Fukunaga might be the ideal choice for Bats. His pièce de résistance remains, at least for now, the first season of HBO’s once-transcendent True Detective (you know, the good one) – providing the world with Matthew McConaughey’s best performance to date and a genuinely sinister mystery full of murk and nightmares.
Fukunaga could fix one of this version’s chief problems by dialing back from Dawn of Justice‘s ridiculously operatic tones and returning to the character’s roots: detective work on the streets. Batman was never designed to fight gods and save the universe. He must return to Gotham and his quintessential bleach-like form, ready to burn through the city’s scummy criminal underbelly.
Fukunaga is the ideal choice for this approach, blending crime and thriller, mystery and horror. Given a chance, he could just be the next Nolan.
Alex Garland is a brand-new talent who has actually been around forever. He’s an acclaimed screenwriter (28 Days Later… , Never Let Me Go), who would be able to lend a hand with the DCEU’s pesky script problems as well as step behind the camera.
Though Ex Machina was a fascinating, stylish directorial debut, Garland might still be best known for his work on 2012’s Dredd, for which he wrote the screenplay and, if rumours are to be believed, assumed control of the film’s post-production from credited director Pete Travis. Dredd may not have set box offices alight but it showed a thorough understanding of a much loved comic-book character, and one whose persona is hardly a million miles away from Batman’s own fractured moral compass.
Superheroes have infested cinema like a plague, and like any good virus, they must adapt to survive. Last year, Fox Studios stumbled upon what could be a wildly successful niche in the genre: the R-rated comic-book movie. Deadpool became both the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time and the most financially successful X-Men movie ever. Logan looks as though it, too, will be a suitably adult (and lucrative) affair in March.
Warner Bros. will have taken note, and it’s not unreasonable to consider they might follow a similar path, with Batman the perfect superhero with which to go even darker. If they do, Park Chan-wook would be a superb signing, with his films offering beautiful brutality, humming with crime, revenge, and molten rage.
Batman is no angel – his intentions might be righteous, but his approaches don’t exactly follow suit. Park could bring this to life more brutishly than we have seen before, with his past films like Oldboy and Stoker showing his taste for the taboo.
Nicolas Winding Refn
He apparently turned down Bond and would, presumably, do the same to the Caped Crusader given the chance, but the perfect franchise for Nicolas Winding Refn has to be Batman. He has the aesthetic ability to deliver a macabre Gotham City – gothically resplendent on the outside, decaying and toxic under the scab – the likes of which have not been seen since Tim Burton’s days. Plus, as the nastier episodes from all his filmography attest: he shares the Dark Knight’s bloodlust quite magnificently.
Although Deathstroke has already been confirmed as the primary antagonist for The Batman, one can’t help but salivate at the thought of Refn directing Jared Leto’s version of the Joker. Now that’s a match made in trolling heaven.
Or finally… Tim Burton?!?!
While none entirely deserved the savage mauling they received, neither Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, nor Suicide Squad lived up to heady expectations. With the future of The Batman now in jeopardy, the signs aren’t good for the DCEU.
It would be crushing to admit defeat, but at this point maybe Warner Bros. should just cash up and call it quits. Sometimes bad films happen to good actors – just ask Andrew Garfield. If they do go nuclear, there’s one option available to quell the oncoming Nerd Storm: bring back Keaton and Burton for a final part to their Gotham opus.
Again, it’s all fantasy, but it works so well on paper. Burton hasn’t been great in years and returning to some of his most beloved work could set his stock on fire. Keaton, on the other hand, has gone through something of a renaissance recently and is just as good – if not better – than ever. He’s still got an open fondness for the cowl, too, and an upcoming outing in enemy waters shows he’s not above comic-book films.
As good as Batman and Batman Returns are, their overall story feels incomplete. Batman’s canon has shown incredible outings in the character’s latter years and Keaton’s version could easily be the most compelling vessel for bringing such a project to the big screen.
The time is now. Legacy sequels are the new black (or, at least, the new very very dark grey).