You’d think that getting a movie about Batman into production would be the easiest thing in the world. Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939, the billionaire who dresses up as a rodent to fight crime has consistently been one of the most famous characters in pop culture, across multiple mediums and incarnations. And cinematically speaking, he probably still stands as the most consistently popular superhero.
But despite all of that, history is littered with unmade or what-if Batman movies — a third Joel Schumacher film, Darren Aronofsky’s “Year One,” an aborted early battle with Superman that Wolfgang Petersen would have directed. And now one more what-if has been added to the file, with current wearer of the cowl Ben Affleck stepping away from the director’s chair on the upcoming “The Batman.”
The current period of turmoil in Bat-history came to an end over the weekend (appropriately, with animated comedy “The Lego Batman Movie” landing in theaters and topping the box office in the process), with the news that director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield,” “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes”) had been offered the job of directing the film, over candidates like Ridley Scott (!) and “Don’t Breathe” helmer Fede Alvarez. He’s a great choice, and a solid pair of hands, which is probably what’s needed at this point, but in order to be the man who saves and redeems Batman, he has a long road ahead of him yet…
Certainly, Reeves is a popular choice. His announcement for the gig was greeted with a level of goodwill that no recent DC Movie announcement can match. He straddles the blockbuster and arthouse worlds — he’s close to both tentpole king J.J. Abrams, a friend since they were 13, and cinephile favorite James Gray, a film school buddy (the pair co-wrote “The Yards” together). He has an almost Lord & Miller-ish facility for taking what would seem to be bad ideas — “Blair Witch” but with Godzilla, a remake of “Let The Right One In” — and spinning them into terrific movies.
“Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” vaulted him into the tentpole world — it was a blockbuster with rare brains, heart, and filmmaking craft. And word on “War For The Planet Of Apes” is already strong, and is no doubt one of the reasons he beat out the competition to the job. He’s even used to tight deadlines: he took over ‘Dawn…’ when original director Rupert Wyatt decided there wasn’t enough time to hit the release date, and turned “Cloverfield” around in a matter of months. Interestingly, he was even on the list of directors that Nolan and WB considered for “Man Of Steel” back in the day — how differently the DC universe could have turned out, eh?
With due respect to the talented Patty Jenkins (who’s doing “Wonder Woman”) and James Wan (who has “Aquaman”), it’s the best hire the DC Movie Universe has made so far. Which is not to say that Reeves will necessarily make it into production. Before Jenkins, Michelle MacLaren was hired to do “Wonder Woman” before ‘creative differences’ took over, while “Dope” director Rick Famuyiwa was meant to do “The Flash” but dropped out last year (let’s not just put this at DC’s door, either: rivals Marvel parted ways with Edgar Wright on “Ant-Man,” while Ava DuVernay’s discussions for “Black Panther” were short lived, seemingly over creative freedom).
Some directors — James Gunn, Joss Whedon, arguably Zack Snyder — thrive within the studio superhero environment, but make no mistake, these movies are product first and films second, as far as their backers are concerned. And the DC movies so far bear those scars: “Suicide Squad” in particular is a bad movie that was transparently made even worse by studio interference.