Earlier this week, I posted my thoughts for where to go with another Batman movie, now that Christopher Nolan seems to have wrapped up his “Dark Knight” trilogy. Little did I know that Newsarama and io9 were both planning to rip me off, albeit with more actual speculation about where to go next and fewer brainwashed killer orphans. But that’s okay. I can play that game too. And after the cut, I’ll talk about what I seriously think the next Batman movie should be like. (Hint: brainwashed killer orphans…from space!
The first thing I have to say is that unlike Newsarama and io9, I don’t think that an actual sequel to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is feasible. Sure, people were walking out of that movie excited about the next installment…but most of the conversation I heard was about how cool it would be to have Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the new Robin. I think that comic book fans, who are used to frequent temporary permanent Batmen, underestimate how much resistance there would be to a Batman movie that doesn’t feature Christian Bale in a prominent role as Bruce Wayne. And the odds of getting Bale back are slim to nil…for him to come back in any significant role, Nolan would have to come back to write and direct, and Nolan has made it fairly clear he’s got no interest in that at any price. Bale might, in theory, come back to do a cameo, but a fourth “Dark Knight” movie without Bruce Wayne would feel like an attempt to cash in. We are looking at a reboot.
So if we’re looking at a reboot, how do we approach it? I’d argue that there’s no point in trying to do something akin to ‘Batman Begins’…the somewhat lackluster response to ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ has made it clear that a) two origin movies in a decade is one too many, and b) you’ve got to avoid feeling like you’re just making a movie for the money. This has to feel like an attempt to create a work of art, even if it’s an attempt to create a commercially successful and easily accessible one. So redoing Batman’s origin is out, and another “dark” Batman movie is out.
Luckily, Batman is such an enduring and versatile character that he can survive multiple approaches. I don’t think that people want to see a campy, Adam West-style Batman movie–at least not if the response to ‘Batman and Robin’ is any indication–but something lighter and more fantastic, to counter the seriousness of the last three films, would work. Something like an Indiana Jones movie in tone, albeit one of the good Indiana Jones movies and not the ones made after everyone involved was well past their creative peak. (Incidentally, this means we’re including Robin. Robin is perfect for leavening the darkness of Batman’s origin, which is why he’s not used in most of the cinematic Batman stories.)
So this is going to be a soft reboot, light in tone, that doesn’t dwell on Batman’s inner turmoil. The villain…let’s face it, it can NOT be the Joker. Ledger’s portrayal was so good, and the circumstances surrounding it so memorable and tragic, that the part is radioactive for at least another decade. Likewise, Two-Face, Ra’s al-Ghul, Talia, Catwoman and Bane are all off-limits because a hypothetical reboot would be looking at a 2016 release at the latest, which means the memory of those characters will still be strong. The existing movies have mined Batman’s Rogues Gallery pretty heavily, in fact…we’ve not seen the Mad Hatter yet, or Lady Shiva, but most of the big-name “planners” have been used. (Musclemen like Killer Croc and Clayface haven’t been used yet, either, but let’s face it…Batman vs. Killer Croc is not a movie.) The Penguin hasn’t popped up in a couple of decades, but he’s always been vague and ill-defined as a villain…so let’s think “Riddler”. Perfect in tone for a light-hearted movie.
The film would open up with a brief pre-credits scene establishing a dark, pre-Batman Gotham (just to make it clear to everyone that this is a reboot and not a continuation)…and unlike the Nolan movies, this one would make it clear that the supervillains did not show up in response to Batman. The city is a war zone, with beleagured cops outgunned by the crazies that the mob brought in as enforcers in their turf wars, only to see them take control of the gangs. Just when things seem at their worst…in swoops a mysterious new caped hero, dropping off an unconscious Killer Croc at Gotham Central. (This conception of Batman would get away from the armored character we’ve been seeing in the films since ’89…he’d be an action hero/martial artist like Jason Statham, wearing something light and fabricky.) The cops almost mistake him for a crazy super-criminal, but he just smiles grimly at them. “I’m nothing like them,” he replies. “I’m here to help. Call me…the Batman,” he says, before swinging away.
The credits would play out over a montage of newspaper headlines, each one detailing the capture of another Gotham supervillain by “the Batman”. Clayface, Killer Croc, Mister Freeze, the Mad Hatter, the Penguin (hey, I said they wouldn’t make good main villains, not that they couldn’t show up…) Finally ending with a headline that says, “Gotham’s ‘Smartest Man’ Captures the Cluemaster”. Which would get crumpled up into a little ball and flung against the wall by Edward Nygma, B-list celebrity nicknamed “the Riddler” for his mastery of puzzles, games and trivia and previous “Gotham’s Smartest Man”, who is furious at the way the Batman has become the talk of Gotham. Why, he’s not so smart! Not half as smart as the Riddler!
And so the Riddler sets out to prove it. He breaks out five of Batman’s enemies (the five mentioned above) from Arkham and sets them to stealing five mysterious artifacts designed by Leonardo da Vinci and hidden in museums and private collections all over the world, all the while leaving clues to each theft that dares Batman and Robin to catch them. Each time, Batman and Robin brave a deadly gauntlet of lethal puzzles and recapture the thief…but each time, the Riddler shows up at the last minute to nab the goods (cleverly manipulating the crooks as well as Batman.) Worse, Batman realizes that the five items were part of a secret design by da Vinci, built for a mysterious purpose, rumored to be anything from transmuting lead to gold to creating an elixir of eternal youth…and now, of course, someone wants them all together in one place.
In the end, Batman proves cleverer than the Riddler, tracking him back to Gotham and getting there…just a little too late, as the Riddler assembles all the pieces of the device. “Behold!” he says, as the device finally whirrs to life for the first time in centuries…
…only to be revealed as a toy. A clever toy, well ahead of its time in its use of clockwork, but nothing more. The Riddler realized it as soon as he saw all the drawings in the books about the “da Vinci conspiracy”; his goal all along was to prove that only he was smart enough to reassemble it, and that he could outwit Batman, Robin, and five criminals to obtain it. Having proved himself, he’s quite happy to go to jail. At least, until he gets to Arkham and finds out that Mister Freeze, the Mad Hatter, the Penguin, Killer Croc and Clayface are all very happy to see him…