I don’t have the extensive knowledge of comics and characters that Harrison Tunggal does — who in the world is Clayface and why in the world should I care about him? His movie wishlist, though, is an incredibly in-depth piece on a Batman film he’s clearly been stewing on for a while, and I commend him for that. But, as a diehard fan of Christopher Nolan and his now legendary trilogy whose second installment many see as the modern day “The Godfather,” I do have to offer a rebuttal for my vision of the next Batman film, mostly because of the ridiculous comment that Ben Affleck is the greatest cinematic Batman. Ridiculous. Just absolutely ridiculous. Here are my ideas for “The Batman.”
Story elements and the right director
I won’t pretend that I’ve laid out a massive, sprawling story in my head. I haven’t. While I have written an original script that would be the fourth movie in “The Dark Knight” franchise, I feel like, because of the fact that I don’t know the rest of this superhero universe involving all of DC Comics — I’ve only really invested myself in Batman, and mainly the Nolan version — I can’t properly offer a story that integrates the entire mythology of its world. I also don’t entirely buy that the story should be based on a comic book or some other previous Batman story. It doesn’t need to be. It can take small moments as inspiration, but I think a new film should shy away from finding its basis in a story that’s been told. Why retread already-tread waters when we can add to the mythology with something thoroughly new? Regardless, though, I have thought about general story elements.
I agree with Hans Zimmer: Ben Affleck’s Batman lacks the pain that Christian Bale brought to the character (making Bale’s easily the best on-screen version of the character to date; he’s had three movies to traverse a grand emotional arc of quiet, scarred young man to a selfless figure of sacrifice. Don’t even try me, Harry). And because of this fact, I think that this next Batman film has to bring that out of the character. Don’t get me wrong, his anger in Zack Snyder’s film was quite fascinating. Affleck’s moments of pure rage offered thorough character motivation, and rendered him as the most badass on-screen version yet (But he also has Snyder and company to thank for their fight choreography and filmmaking).
The tentatively titled “The Batman,” though, should absolutely explore his inner pain, and open up what really drove him to become Batman and what really keeps him around after his un-retirement party. I get it, a power that’s likely going to enslave the human race is heading to Earth, but that’s more forcing him to stay; I want the emotional scars that make him want to stay. We also need some goddamn depth to actually explain the borderline unforgivable amount of killing Ben Affleck’s Batman does in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
Therefore, my Batman film would be a psychological thriller. I think a horror version, as Harry suggests, could be interesting. Horror could offer decent opportunity for psychological investigation, and play heavily into the Gothic mythology that Tim Burton and the comics have capitalized on, but the more fascinating mental deep dive can be found in the dark thriller that borders on the edge of horror. Harry’s version isn’t wrong (well, maybe it is); it’s simply based in comic love. I’m taking more of a Nolan approach, but differentiating it enough from Nolan to actually have merit.
It’s interesting to compare my version and Harry’s version because my choice for director (and we can make director choices because they haven’t started filming yet; anything can happen considering how fluctuating their director problem has been) would also be Denis Villeneuve. But I’m picking Denis precisely because of his past work in the psychological thriller genre. After watching “Prisoners” a few years ago, I turned to my brother and said, “This may seem weird, but I want that guy to do the next Batman.” And I’ve held that belief ever since.
I don’t really see Villeneuve as someone who should take a horror approach. He does the dark thriller so well that it’s more scary than most horror films are today. Harry does point out how Villeneuve does it: dread. Villeneuve is incredibly adept at crafting an atmosphere. Viewers can almost feel the dark cold of the suburbs in “Prisoners” or the dry air on the border in “Sicario.” The sense of chaos and despair that he can bring to both Batman as well as the dirty streets of Gotham would be perfect. Gotham should be another character in the film, just like it is in Burton and Nolan’s films, because Gotham is the mode through which we locate Batman’s pain. These are the streets his parents died on. This is the city that created the criminals that caused that killing, and even more. No other director could do that as well as Villeneuve could.
Villeneuve could also do something with the city that Nolan did, but in a different, more thriller-oriented way. While Nolan’s city held a quality of expansiveness like most cities do in crime dramas, Villeneuve’s city could hold an expansiveness similar to that that the suburban neighborhood of “Prisoners” and the broken town of “Sicario” held. And this would offer the perfect avenue for Villeneuve to explore Bruce Wayne’s tragic fears and weaknesses, to bring out and manifest his pain.
One could even look more directly at “Enemy” for the best proof. The dusty off-green-and-brown color palette, and the Kafka-esque visuals of the movie yet again show the control that Villeneuve has on painting a city. That film, in which a man encounters his doppelganger, who might not have even been his doppelganger in the first place (don’t look up the theories unless you’ve seen the movie), is a more literal example of Villeneuve’s abilities to explore a man’s inner self.
To help Villeneuve, I would bring in Taylor Sheridan, writer of “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” and Aaron Guzikowski, writer of “Prisoners,” to rework the script — except this time, more of a ground-up rewrite that merely retains the best aspects of Affleck, Geoff Johns and Chris Terrio’s work if useful to them. Villeneuve wouldn’t be where he is without his screenwriters and there’s no doubt that the sense of dread and fear bubbling up from beneath the streets begins with the dialogue and story arcs of his writers.
Alongside the writers, I would bring back frequent Villeneuve collaborators in cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. We need a truly innovative and experimental composer to make a new Batman theme stick — Junkie XL’s take was a good start, but needs growth — and Jóhannsson would surely do just that. Deakins is also instrumental in the flairs of dread and fear. His stark and breathtakingly shaded long shots would be the avenue through which we establish the expansive and terrifying Gotham, and the avenue through which we would enter into Bruce Wayne’s psyche. And come on, who wouldn’t absolutely die of fandom if they heard that 13-time Oscar-nominated legend Roger Deakins was shooting a Batman film?
Finally, to cap it all off, I think that the film would need a villain who could also be seen as a manifestation of the streets of Gotham and one who could play on the psychological vulnerabilities of Bruce Wayne. Wayne doesn’t necessarily need a physical match — I mean, not many could pose a threat to this (on second thought, after rewatching this, I might throw in some side villains that could offer more of this absolutely, astoundingly badass and terrifyingly vicious Batman). But what’s always more fascinating is how a villain can be another side of the same coin, how a villain can defeat our hero through his mentally trying tests rather than his brute force. That’s why I would bring in Edward Nygma.
For those who don’t know, Edward Nygma is the Riddler — Edward Nygma, E. Nygma. But I wouldn’t call him the Riddler. That name is so ridiculous that it would border on camp if in this movie, and we need some way to move far, far away from this atrocity. The name Edward Nygma is even a bit silly too, but if no one in my movie makes the joke of how it can be shortened, we’ll be fine.
To play him, I would cast none other than Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal has had a fruitful history with Villeneuve, turning in two of probably his top-five performances in “Prisoners” and “Enemy,” and a reunion would be beyond exciting.
I envision Gyllenhaal to bring similar sensibilities to Edward Nygma that he brought to those roles. Take the hardened, almost defeated and enraged detective in “Prisoners,” the ruthless and unsympathetic evil of the evil double in “Enemy” and, finally, a more subtle version of the psychotic tendencies and physicality of his best performance of all time in “Nightcrawler,” and you’ve got a villain that has the potential to border on the iconic terror of Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker.
The best use of the character, in my opinion, would be as a constant presence in Gotham, but rarely in direct contact with Bruce Wayne. Dread, I repeat, dread. That can be found in Bruce Wayne never really seeing him all too often and in making his few interactions with Bruce and others in Gotham utterly terrifying. I envision a “No Country for Old Men,” Anton Chigurh-like handling of Gyllenhaal’s Edward Nygma, but with the mystery element of the character as the driving force rather than Chigurh’s physical interaction.
More story and casting
Beyond that, I would bring in Bruce Wayne’s key players: J.K. Simmons’ Jim Gordon and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred Pennyworth. These characters represent parts of Bruce Wayne, or psychological counterpoints, that would be greatly utilized in this type of film.
I couldn’t really play with the Bat-family too much — that would be a bit campy, and I’m not too high on having a character called “Batgirl” or “Nightwing” in my film, or, if they are in my film, they wouldn’t be called that.
Characters who I do think should be brought in, however, are law officials, cops, journalists and whoever else could offer a human edge to the psychological aspects. I wanted to have some sort of credibility, so I did a bit of research and I found the character of Renee Montoya.
Not only would a Batman film, one with a few too many overwhelming men, desperately need a strong female character — as well as an LGBTQ+ character — it could also greatly benefit in the story department from the narrative of Renee Montoya.
For those who don’t know — which is likely almost all of you — Renee Montoya is, in the comics, a Gotham City Police Department cop who quits the force after her partner is killed and justice isn’t served. She later takes on the mantle of the “Question” — if you’re saying: “He only picked her to have the ‘Riddler’ and the ‘Question’ in the same movie,” you’re not entirely wrong.
But I do see Montoya as being a more morally centered crime fighter at the beginning of my film, almost as the better side of the coin to Batman. She’d rather not subscribe to him or work with him because she believes in justice within the law, but she also sees that he gets things done and actually serves justice when it’s so often corrupted. Over the film, she encounters Edward Nygma during criminal investigations and is psychologically tortured by him, capped off by the death of her partner Crispus Allen (another comic book character I researched), someone who hated the Batman and sees his death as Batman’s fault. The whole ordeal challenges Montoya’s beliefs in good. She quits the force and nearly is broken, but ends up doing detective/police work outside of the law — not necessarily bad character development, but also not quite a good one; mainly one that offers a growth toward a Batman partnership — to help Batman temporarily defeat Edward Nygma.
As Montoya, I would cast Bérénice Bejo, whose talent — she was nominated for an Oscar for her turn in “The Artist” — would only bring weight to the role and the film, not to mention the fact that her and Villeneuve could have some fun French banter on set.
Ultimately, Harry’s might be the better avenue when taken into the context of what this next Batman movie is supposed to do. His fits more within DC Extended Universe. It integrates vast history and mythology into the film. It takes a fascinating approach with the same director. But, I think my version puts up a fight and, if it were to be the start of a new Batman trilogy for a world in which Batman is the only superhero, I think mine would be the undeniable choice. I choose a director whose past can be directly utilized for a new, yet still visually profound and emotionally affecting approach. I focus on psychological elements, which could actually make Ben Affleck’s version of Batman interesting in the long term and maybe, just maybe fulfill Harry’s position on who’s better (but not for at least two more movies; I mean, come on). I offer a frightening and thoroughly laid out villain who could fit in brilliantly in the film and what it’s trying to do with it’s fear and thriller-related artistic elements. Honestly, I might take back this idea as the next Batman film in the DCEU and shelf it until Batman needs another reboot when Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. inevitably screw up in November with “Justice League.”
Simply put, and as kindly put as I can, I believe mine would make the better film overall, even though Harry’s would make the better comic book film. And that’s not meant to be the dig that it sounds like (maybe it is). We just approach the character of Batman differently, yet equally as valid, which is the greatest thing about Batman: he can be for everyone, he can be anyone.