It seems as though we can’t go one week without seeing some tidbit of Batman movie news, for better or worse, popping up on the pages of Collider, Birth.Movies.Death. and the like. The entire DC Extended Universe has had its fair share of the spotlight, but its prime moneymaker is Batman, which puts every piece of drama — Ben Affleck’s decision to leave the director’s chair, the constant script rewrites — under a microscope. It’s not all bad news, though, because “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” helmer Matt Reeves (more on him later) has signed on to direct the next Batman film (tentatively titled “The Batman”), working with story ideas from Ben Affleck, Geoff Johns and Chris Terrio. While I believe that the people handling the next Batman film can be trusted, there are some concepts that I think are too good not to use in a future film. Hollywood probably won’t listen to the ideas I’ve listed here — maybe they shouldn’t, I’m no expert on all things Batman — but what’s the point of being a fanboy if I can’t go on rants and make some fancasts? Without further ado, here are some suggestions for the next Batman film.
The news of script rewrites suggests that the folks at Warner Bros. don’t really know what story they want to tell. Such script troubles are understandable, though — the DCEU’s Batman has the special task of showing us something we’ve never seen before, which eliminates the potential stories that could be told. For example, we’ve already seen hints of the seminal Batman story, “The Dark Knight Returns,” in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which eliminates the possibility of an adaptation of that classic comic book.
In any case, I think it’s high time the DCEU step away from the shadow of Frank Miller, who wrote “The Dark Knight Returns” and set the “dark and gritty” tone that has since been attached to Batman in comics and film. Leaving the grim world of Miller’s comics would be in line with the DCEU’s overall departure from the direction of Zack Snyder, who is quite possibly the world’s biggest Frank Miller fanboy. While Miller gave us some of the best Batman stories of all time, he also wrote stories where Batman is pretty much an asshole, so the DCEU certainly shouldn’t limit itself to his tales.
In fact, Batman has a 78-year history, so the filmmakers of the next film have a plethora of source material from which to choose. For example, it was rumored that Ben Affleck’s original script would take inspiration from Grant Morrison’s surreal, psychological-horror story “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” Filmmakers shouldn’t limit themselves to the comics either, as “Batman: The Animated Series” perfectly encapsulated Batman’s character through humor and a noir/art-deco style. I think that the perfect Batman story for the big screen, however, lies in the panels of a more recent Batman comic.
When DC rebooted its comic universe in 2011 with the New 52 line of comics, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo took over the primary Batman title. Their tenure is widely considered to be one of the best, if not the greatest, runs on Batman of all time. The story arcs that Snyder and Capullo created were epic in scope, and they added to the lore of the character, whether it was through a redefinition of Batman’s early days on the job or even the passing of the mantle to Police Commissioner Jim Gordon.
Even though every issue from the Snyder-Capullo run is superb, their best story — and one that should inspire the next Batman film — is their first, “The Court of Owls.” In this story, Batman discovers the titular Court of Owls, a shadowy organization that has been pulling strings and shaping Gotham for centuries. The Court enforces its will through a force of assassins called Talons, who are child circus performers that the Court kidnaps and molds into immortal, knife-lobbing killing machines. Think of the Court as a scarier version of the Illuminati, a concept that is perfect to introduce in a Batman film. After all, the owl is the natural predator of the bat. And while it is true that the “Gotham” television show has used the Court before, the budget of a live-action Batman film would allow the Court to be completely fleshed out.
The first volume of “The Court of Owls” story arc is a mostly self-contained Batman narrative, which would allow a potential film version to focus on telling one story rather than setting up a sequel. Thus, this initial film should be a singular, quasi-horror film in the spirit of “Alien.” Batman discovers the Court, is trapped by them and must fight to survive a single Talon, which would fill the role of the Xenomorph. When Batman narrowly defeats the single Talon with the help of Nightwing and Batgirl, he escapes, but the Court retaliates by setting a whole legion of Talons on Gotham. In this sense, the sequel could imitate “Aliens,” expanding the scale of the first film’s horror. Now, we could get introduced to a whole plethora of Batman characters/villains through the Court’s attacks on each of them.
In addition to providing a solid narrative structure, drawing inspiration from “The Court of Owls” would offer visuals that we’ve never seen in a Batman film before. The design of the Court is unsettling; its members, the movers and shakers of Gotham, are clad in their finery but hide behind simple white masks. Other times, the Court is depicted as composed of beastly, spindly-legged creatures that evoke a literal owl persona. In the comics, the Talons are a force to behold, and their precision with knives often results in panels that are violent and unnerving. Additionally, “The Court of Owls” includes an issue in which Batman is trapped in the Court’s underground labyrinth and driven to the brink of insanity through intense psychological torture. In the comic, as Batman loses his mind, the panels rotate so that, eventually, the reader is holding the book upside down. This is just a taste of the surrealist horror that a film version of the Court of Owls could inspire. Pair such horror stylings with Warner Bros. veteran and “Batman v Superman” cinematographer Larry Fong, and the result would be a visually unique Batman film.
If the first Batman film is to mimic “Alien” as an atmospheric horror film, then Denis Villeneuve would be a perfect choice to direct. Even though Matt Reeves has already signed on, I think he could be better utilized later down the line in a sequel, which I’ll explain later. Villeneuve though has shown time and again that he can craft atmospherics like few other directors working today. Each of his films carries a sense of dread. In “Prisoners,” he crafts a taut thriller, where the tension never ceases to escalate and our dread seems to be validated with every passing frame. Recently, in “Arrival,” he uses dread as a red herring of sorts, leading us to a heartfelt subversion of the alien invasion film. Villeneuve could do the same thing in a Batman film, in which a lone Talon hunting Batman could inspire his trademark atmospheric dread but, this time, through a superhero film.
More importantly though, the Court of Owls would offer a Batman villain never before seen in film. We’ve seen most of Batman’s A-list antagonists put to film, and unfortunately, the inclusion of the Riddler, Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy in the Schumacher films counts. As far as having a Batman-Joker showdown, that already happened in “The Dark Knight,” and I don’t think anyone wants to see much more of Jared Leto’s version (and I’m not sure if Jared Leto does either).
Part of the brilliance of “Batman Begins” was using Ra’s al Ghul, an unknown character for most moviegoers, as its principal villain. This bold decision helped make that film feel fresh for audiences, and a future Batman film could pull off the same trick through the Court of Owls. The Court wouldn’t just offer a different villain though, as the Talons are a physical match for Batman as well. The warehouse battle in “Batman v Superman” was the best part of the film, and the same type of energy and brutality could translate well to a fight between Batman and the Talons. Cast Donnie Yen as the main Talon, and we’ve got ourselves a Batman versus Ip Man fight that could become one of the best Batman film scenes of all time.
In addition to introducing a terrifying new crop of villains, a story with the Court of Owls would be a handy way to introduce Batman’s protégé-turned-superhero, Nightwing. Nightwing’s great-grandfather was a Talon, and Nightwing almost became one himself. With the introduction of Nightwing, the DCEU could expand its universe naturally through its narrative, rather than through shoehorned cameos that make no sense (looking at you, “BvS”). This brings me to my next point…
Bring on the Batfamily
We already know that the DCEU wants to introduce Batgirl and Nightwing, with Joss Whedon and Chris McKay (“The LEGO Batman Movie”) in talks to direct them, respectively. But the DCEU shouldn’t stop there. In the comics, Batman has plenty of allies who form the Batfamily. Introducing the various members of the Batfamily would do much to differentiate the DCEU’s Batman from all other cinematic iterations, especially Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” Standing apart from the Nolan trilogy rather than riding its coattails is something the DCEU has been struggling with ever since “Man of Steel.” And the only whiff of a Robin in Nolan’s films was a sly name drop at the end of “The Dark Knight Rises.” In this sense, introducing a faithful portrayal of the Batfamily would show audiences something unique, which is particularly important as comic book movie fatigue becomes more prevalent.
Beyond setting the DCEU apart, introducing the Batfamily would enrich the character of Batman. Much has been said about the DCEU’s thus far unlikable characters, but in short, its version of Batman is a murderous xenophobe whose defining personality trait is rage. Don’t get me wrong, Batfleck is the most badass version of the character put to film, but cool fight choreography alone won’t bring audiences back into theaters. As of right now, Batfleck is a problematic character, and the best way to flesh him out is by showing his interactions with the Batfamily.
Each member of the Batfamily shows us a different side of Batman. With Nightwing, we see Batman attempt to mold a mirror image of himself into a better human being, and with Batgirl, we would see Batman’s relationship with Gotham’s police force become nuanced, as she is the daughter of Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. The list of characters that can help flesh out Batman emotionally goes on and on.
Casting the Batfamily
The first step toward breathing life into the Batfamily is casting. I think most of us can agree that casting Ben Affleck as Batman was a great move on Warner Bros.’ part, despite what the internet unanimously proclaimed, at least initially, as a disaster. In keeping with Warner Bros.’ mostly solid track record in DCEU casting, the following are a few suggestions, with some background info on the characters’ comic book origins. These choices were made with the intention of including these characters in a possible Court of Owls-centric film. That being said, it might be overly ambitious to include other Robins such as Tim Drake or Damian Wayne, so I’ve limited myself to Batgirl, Nightwing and Robin (likely to be Jason Todd, who becomes the anti-hero known as Red Hood), who are already confirmed to exist in the DCEU:
Batgirl/Barbara Gordon — Anya Taylor-Joy
Barbara Gordon is the daughter of Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, who was inspired by Batman to take up vigilantism as Batgirl. After being crippled by the Joker, she became a hacker to aid the Batfamily, but she eventually recovered (through the arbitrary magic of comics) and returned to her superhero role. Her intellect and crime-fighting prowess make her an invaluable member of the Batfamily but also a key member of the superheroine team the Birds of Prey.
Anya Taylor-Joy, who would be my pick for Batgirl, deserves a significant chunk of the credit for making “The Witch” one of the most affecting films of 2016. The film’s scares are a result of our investment in Taylor-Joy’s character, which speaks volumes about her dramatic chops. Joss Whedon is sure to bring his talent for writing strong, funny female leads to the Batgirl film, and someone of Taylor-Joy’s caliber would be perfect for the role. It also helps that Perri Nemiroff of Collider agrees with me. As far as weaving Batgirl into a Court of Owls film, her hacking skills could help put Batman on the scent of the Court’s location, and in a climactic battle in which Batman and Nightwing are almost defeated by the Talons, Batgirl could be the cavalry that saves them.
Nightwing/Dick Grayson — Hayden Szeto
Young Dick Grayson was left orphaned after his parents’ murder, but he was adopted by Bruce Wayne and became the first Robin. In this sense, Dick faced the same trauma that Bruce did, but he was allowed to heal by having a family in the aftermath. As a result, he became Batman’s equal physically and mentally but without being hindered by overwhelming grief after the death of his parents. Dick Grayson is Batman, if Batman had a sense of humor. Eventually, Dick outgrew the Robin mantle, and he became an independent superhero through his Nightwing identity.
Many fans have rallied behind Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead” fame to play Nightwing, but I think a better choice would be Hayden Szeto, who starred in “The Edge of Seventeen.” In that film, Szeto showed his comedic timing, which is essential for Nightwing. As with Yeun, casting Szeto would put an Asian actor in a leading role, something we all want in the wake of films such as “Ghost in the Shell.” As previously mentioned, Nightwing plays an integral role in the original “Court of Owls” storyline, so his inclusion seems like a natural fit.
Red Hood/Jason Todd — Dane DeHaan
After Dick Grayson left behind the Robin identity to become Nightwing, Jason Todd took on the Robin mantle. Todd was brash, and he was later murdered by the Joker (the DCEU has added Harley Quinn to this dark moment in DC comics, who is described as an “accomplice to the murder of Robin” in everyone’s favorite literalized groan of a movie, “Suicide Squad”). After resurrection (again, because comics), he became the anti-hero known as the Red Hood.
Though not officially confirmed by Warner Bros., many bits of info, such as the “Suicide Squad” hint and a behind-the-scenes tour, heavily suggest that the mangled Robin suit displayed in the Batcave in “Batman v. Superman” belonged to Todd. While it could be difficult to weave Todd’s resurrection into a self-contained Court of Owls story, the reviving serum the Court uses could be conducive to a future Red Hood-centric film. To fill the character’s shoes, Dane DeHaan’s vengeful streak in “Chronicle” could translate well to a newly resurrected Todd, who is angry at Batman for failing to save him from the Joker.
So we’ve made a Batman film. What next?
Since we’ve already introduced Batgirl, Nightwing and possibly Red Hood in the first film, the second film should follow the spirit of the second volume of “The Court of Owls” arc by introducing more Batman characters through the Court’s attack on Gotham. This would be an “Aliens”-style sequel with an epic scope. Here is where I think Matt Reeves could do the most good. With “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” Reeves told a Shakespearean epic tale within the confines of an action-packed genre film. Reeves could pull off the same trick with a Batman sequel, building on the atmosphere that Denis Villeneuve crafted in the first film, much like James Cameron did with “Aliens.” In regard to some characters that could be included, I’ve listed and fancast them below, though not all of them should be involved in a sequel:
Red Robin/Tim Drake — Ryan Potter
Potter, who voiced Hiro Hamada in “Big Hero 6,” recently made a concept video that shows how suited he is for the role of the third Robin.
Robin/Damian Wayne — Finn Wolfhard
In “Stranger Things,” Wolfhard shows a toughness that could translate well to the fourth Robin’s (the biological son of Batman and Talia al Ghul) steely arrogance.
Batwoman — Emily Blunt
Batwoman started out as a soldier before turning to vigilantism, and Blunt’s turn as a soldier in “Edge of Tomorrow” would work well with Batwoman’s military sensibilities.
Catwoman — Anne Hathaway
Hathaway was too good as Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Bring her back!
Poison Ivy — Emma Stone
According to the Hollywood Reporter, a “Gotham City Sirens” film featuring Harley Quinn, Catwoman and Poison Ivy is already in the works from “Suicide Squad” director David Ayer. If these fancasts were to come true, the chemistry between Margot Robbie, Hathaway and Stone would probably be amazing. More like “Gotham City of Stars,” if you ask me.
Huntress — Ruth Negga
As seen from “Loving,” Negga is a talented, Oscar-nominated actress, and from her role in “Warcraft,” we know she isn’t opposed to doing franchise work. As a crossbow-wielding warrior, Negga’s presence in the DCEU would elevate its stable of talent.
Bane — Dave Bautista
Though Tom Hardy gave an iconic performance as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Bautista could turn in a different take on the character, more of a sheer force of strength and intelligence, rather than Hardy’s revolutionary interpretation of Bane.
Penguin — Toby Jones
In the “The Lying Detective,” Jones joined the cast of “Sherlock” as a serial killer, and the creepy delight he takes in murdering his victims makes him a perfect match to play the Penguin.
Riddler — Adam Driver
As we saw with Kylo Ren, Driver can pull off a scary, condescending sneer that makes him perfect for the Riddler.
Two-Face — Viggo Mortensen
Though a bit of a recluse, Mortensen is known to give his all for every part he takes, whether it’s as Aragorn in the “Lord of the Rings” franchise or as the Man in “The Road.” His dedication would go a long way toward a Two-Face performance that could top Aaron Eckhart’s in “The Dark Knight.”
Scarecrow — Mahershala Ali
With Ali, “Luke Cage” had one of the best Marvel villains to date. He was coolly threatening, which could work well for an interpretation of Scarecrow similar to that of the “Arkham Knight” video game.
Mr. Freeze — Ralph Ineson
As with Anya Taylor-Joy, Ineson acted in “The Witch,” in which his character slowly gives into hysteria. Ineson’s voice is already on par with Michael Ansara’s vocal performance in “Batman: The Animated Series,” and he could make Mr. Freeze a sympathetic villain, just like he makes his character in “The Witch” a sympathetic figure.
Dr. Hugo Strange — Vincent D’Onofrio
D’Onofrio could bring an imposing physicality that would make Dr. Hugo Strange a truly threatening villain. Plus, we’ve already seen D’Onofrio play a terrifying villain as Kingpin in “Daredevil,” so he would bring a level of experience needed in order to play a scientist with supervillain aspirations.
Hush — Matt Damon
Who better to play Batman’s childhood friend-turned enemy than Batfleck’s actual childhood friend?
Ra’s al Ghul — Shaun Toub
Toub played Tony Stark’s mentor in “Iron Man,” so it would be fascinating to see him be a darker, more villainous version of that character for Batman.
Talia al Ghul — Golshifteh Farahani
Having shown an impressive turn in “Paterson,” Farahani seems poised to feature in a blockbuster or two, with a role in the upcoming “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” A franchise with better potential, however, is the DCEU, where Farahani could make for a perfect Talia, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul and the mother of Damian Wayne.
Carmine Falcone — Al Pacino
Back in the day, Pacino played an iconic mob boss. Let him play another one, if anything, to keep him from doing anything like this ever again.
Black Mask — Bryan Cranston
Speaking of gangsters, Cranston would be the perfect fit to portray one of Gotham’s most notorious criminals, Black Mask. Cold and calculating as Walter White, Cranston would embody a truly menacing Black Mask.
The Mad Hatter — Matt Smith
I can picture the 11th Doctor hopping around quoting Lewis Carroll, and I know you can too.
Clayface — Andy Serkis
This villain is a shapeshifting mud monster, which would likely be a CGI character. Who better to play Clayface than the king of performance capture himself, Andy Serkis?
Victor Zsasz — Paul Dano
There’s a reason why you think Dano was the culprit in “Prisoners.” He can pull off a creepiness that is perfectly suited for Zsasz, a serial killer who scars himself after every murder.
Azrael — John Boyega
Azrael is a member of an order of warriors, and on one occasion in the comics, Azrael takes over the Batman mantle. He has no compunction against killing, and it would be interesting to see Boyega’s leading man persona go in a darker direction with his portrayal of Azrael.
Owls or no Owls, the next Batman film should just focus on telling one great story. I really don’t mind that the folks at Warner Bros. are taking their time to make this film, because I just want to see the best film that they can make. I really believe that Ben Affleck has the potential to be the best onscreen Batman we’ve seen so far and that he deserves a shot at starring in the definitive Batman film. We live in a time in which a talking raccoon and a fourth-wall-breaking mercenary can feature in critical and commercial hits, so I have faith that the world of Batman can be brought to life on the big screen in a way that combines the sensibilities of the modern comic book film — shared universes, crossovers and the like — with the quality filmmaking we’ve come to expect from past directors such as Nolan and Burton.
Harrison Tunggal covers film. Contact him at [email protected].