When Hollywood converges on Gotham, the results can be poor
When it was announced that Hollywood pretty boy Robert Pattinson would play Batman in a standalone movie, fans were sceptical. But after a few well-timed memes and expertly crafted puns, R-Batz had everyone’s backing. Then the A-Listers started queuing up to act alongside him. First, Jonah Hill was rumoured to play the Penguin, but dropped out. Next came Zoe Kravitz, confirmed as Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, before Paul Dano and Westworld‘s Jeffrey Wright came on board to play the Riddler and Commissioner Gordon respectively. It’s a loaded cast the likes of which Gotham hasn’t seen in decades.
Seasoned DC fans will remember a certain pair of spandex-stuffed movies that combined mega-watt call sheets with less-than-brilliant results. We’re thinking, most recently, of Batman & Robin – the campy 1997 flick that served as an ill-advised vehicle for some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dodgiest puns.
Before that, there was Batman Forever, which boasted perhaps the most Hollywood heavyweights of any Bruce Wayne picture ever. Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Drew Barrymore, the list goes on. The point is, both of these films sucked: an over-generous 39 percent and 11 percent on Rotten Tomatoes respectively).
Loud, over-the-top and excessively silly, the Joel Schumacher Batman era led major studios to switch off the bat signal for nearly a decade. They might have some kitsch appeal, but alongside The Dark Knight or Batman Returns? Well, you know which Blu-ray you’re pulling off the shelf.
Of course, more recent movies about the Caped Crusader have featured big names, but not to the same extent. Christopher Nolan’s trilogy featured a pre-superstardom Christian Bale, who hadn’t snagged the lead role in a mainstream hit yet (R-rated American Psycho never broke the box office top five).
Meanwhile, his supporting cast was filled with actor’s actors (Gary Oldman) and indie stars (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Admirable professionals, to be sure, but not blockbuster icons. Ben Affleck doesn’t count here, as he never got his own standalone adventure.
Fast forward to 2019 and director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) has rustled up his own line-up of popcorn personalities. Admittedly, Warner Bros’ direction is wildly different now compared to the mid-’90s. Joker – an adult-aimed origin story with little action – has just become the highest grossing R-rated film of all time. While the DCEU has pivoted away from Avengers-style team-up movies to tell stories about its second tier characters (Aquaman, Cyborg, Harley Quinn). There’s also a focus on gritty biopics à la Joker – hence Reeves getting the go-ahead for The Batman movie, reportedly a ’90s-set film noir about Bruce Wayne’s younger, more vulnerable years.
However, the cast (Pattinson, Kravitz, Dano, Wright – all at the peak of their popularity) has more in common with Schumacher’s critical flops of the past century. Pattinson himself is firmly in the George Clooney ‘fancy Dan’ camp – a fine enough thespian, but probably looks the part better than he plays it. Could Reeves’ project represent a return to the overblown aesthetic of Mr Freeze aka Dr Victor Fries? It’s definitely a risk.
Of course, none of this means The Batman will definitely be bad. All we’re saying is, don’t get too excited about the prospect of so many LA faves lining up for a showdown with the Bat. It tends not to end well. Just ask Clooney, who is still having to apologise for “destroying” the franchise nearly 25 years later. Here’s hoping Pat-man doesn’t go the same way…
‘The Batman’ is due in US cinemas on 25 June 2021 (UK release date TBC)