Today, The Batman arrives on HBO Max, so fans of the film and those waiting for it to hit streaming can enjoy Matt Reeves’ take on the Caped Crusader. That three-hour run time will be way more palatable with the magic of a pause button, especially compared to sitting smack in the middle of a packed IMAX screening knowing that a snack or bathroom break is out of the question. (Totally not speaking out of experience here.)
With The Batman co-star Colin Farrell getting his own spin-off series starring the Penguin, it really begins to set a precedent for DC films allowing continued storytelling on HBO Max. Sure, it could get a bit confusing as currently the CW is the home for the DC universe of television shows, and there was also Fox’s Gotham (hey, it had a dedicated fanbase). However, it’s worth noting that DC and Warner Bros. are also constantly expanding their slate of DC heroes on HBO Max, most recently announcing both an Aqualad series and a Wonder Twins movie (read all about what DC has in the works here, on screens both large and small), after finding great success with The Suicide Squad spin-off series Peacemaker.
So there seems there’s a continued evolution at play. Now that WarnerMedia has merged with Discovery, there’s been chatter about the company reassessing its slate of WB IP, particularly its DC properties. According to Variety, “David Zaslav, the CEO of the combined companies, and top leadership have been toying with the idea of turning DC into its own solidified content vertical … The move would potentially affect DC feature film development in the Warner Bros. Pictures Group, streaming series at Warner Bros. Television, and the creative arm within DC proper — all in an effort to have the disparate elements more closely aligned in order to maximise the value of the superhero stable — one often seen as punching up against Marvel.”
With that in mind, we’re going to explore a future path that we think really applies to Batman: perhaps he should take up permanent residence on streaming. Sure, Marvel has been doing it recently, but Batman has more history on TV.
Batman ‘66 and Batman: The Animated Series
In the ‘60s, the Batman live-action series was a big draw for ABC, helped along by all those families tuning in on their newfangled colour TVs. Led by Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin, Batman was also the first time a lot of people met Batman’s famous rogues’ gallery via the show’s villain-of-the-week format; each one hit differently with audiences thanks to iconic performances from standouts like Cesar Romero as the Joker and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. One thing was true, everyone wanted more of them. We’re seeing that again with Reeves’ cinematic adaptation, and WB knows it — that’s why the Penguin series is waddling its way to streaming soon. Imagine, though, if The Batman had taken its stylistic cues from West and company? Shazam director David F. Sandberg has you covered:
Next week on HBO Max! pic.twitter.com/wpzPz0YOt1— David F. Sandberg (@ponysmasher) April 15, 2022
In the early 1990s, with Batman: The Animated Series, Bruce Timm, Kevin Altieri, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett proved that animation can be way more than just for kids, with valuable assists from Shirley Walker’s iconic score, Andrea Romano’s pitch-perfect casting, and its Tim Burton-inspired aesthetic. The storylines were adapted from notable comic arcs and the characters were treated with care. This show provided fans with their Bat-fix every week and the show just got better and better with every re-introduction of Gotham’s villains and heroes. Just like Batman ‘66, the animated series spawned its own film as well — The Mask of the Phantasm — which many consider to be the best Batman film of all time. In an interview with Premiere France, Robert Pattinson said that The Batman shares more tonally with the animated film than previous live action takes, particularly in regards to the main character. “In the cinema, it is always his heroic side that is put forward. The Batman does the opposite: We capture the inner bubbling of the character,” Pattinson explained, noting that Mask of the Phantasm helped him understand why Bruce had to be Batman. “When I saw it, it clicked: Being Batman is a kind of curse, it’s a burden.”
Burton and Beyond
When Tim Burton’s Batman premiered in 1989, moviegoers were familiar with the character through the comics and the Adam West show; his profile had increased substantially by the time Batman Returns was released in 1992. But despite the success of the first two films, both Burton and star Michael Keaton did not come back for a third film. “It was a job and then the next one was a job,” Keaton recently shared on the Jess Cagle Podcast. “I enjoyed it. But then over time the third one, I just couldn’t do it.” Val Kilmer would go on to pick up the cowl with Schumacher’s Batman Forever, followed by George Clooney in Batman and Robin. Both really only did films that ended up being standalones.
Then in pop culture at large came Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man, which began the mandate of really rooting superheroes within their comic book mythology more faithfully on screen. This prompted Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer to create a more grounded and true-to-the-character interpretation of Batman. The Dark Knight saga also heightened the action in set pieces that were shot to be seen on the biggest screens possible. Nolan’s version was soon followed by Zack Snyder’s vision for a more mythological approach to Batman with Ben Affleck, who once hoped to bring a bit of James Bond flavour to a standalone Batfleck film.
This was around the time Reeves took a meeting and declined directing Affleck’s take on the character. He simply didn’t align with what they were planning and wanted to do something more personal, which is what he eventually got to do. “They did wait for me, and then they let me make this movie,” Reeves shared. “[I wanted to] have [Batman] have a ways to go — have him have an arc so that he’s not quite figured it out, and have him have an awakening.”
And in 2022 we finally got The Batman. The widespread return to theatergoing arrived with the year’s biggest release yet. And while it wasn’t shot on IMAX, the three-hour film played really well on its screens. It’s here that we want to mention that we went for repeat viewings — and while we’re leading up to suggest that Batman should take up more space on streaming, we’re not ruling out getting excited over future movies. (And we don’t think Warner Bros. and DC will either.) Since a big critique of the film was its runtime, with ticket prices for better presentations of the film running around $US25 ($35) or higher in some cases, your time is money in the theatre and needing to leave for the bathroom or snacks can cost you, not to mention paying more for a sitter if your kids aren’t the right age to witness acts of Bat-vengeance. The film’s box office suggests that Batman will put people in theatre seats, but three hours is just… long. Honestly, bring back the intermission for anything past two and a half hours or split it in two if it must be a story that needs to be told in the cinema.
With Batman, however, does he need to only be a cinematic mainstay? We refer back to the ‘60s show and the animated series, which past the camp really propelled its own cadre of stories in ways that more seamlessly fit a world like Gotham and its rogues versus the Batman. Even the Gotham series fit more of the world of Gotham by not being limited to “oh, it’s the Joker again!” as the films have been.
It’s strange that at this point the Penguin show has no official title — which leads me to suspect that maybe including Batman isn’t entirely off the table. The noir aspects of the film combined with the pacing really felt closer to how one would enjoy a limited series on streaming like David Fincher’s Mindhunter, or even more closely Marvel Studios’ current Oscar Isaac vehicle Moon Knight. Both feature theatrical names, and both are prime examples of how contained cinematic arcs can be successfully expanded into stories with longer arcs that work much better across multiple episodes.
With a film slate that’s positioning itself to give us more Michael Keaton as Batman, and the current obsession with multiverses reaching critical mass, there’s no telling who might don the Bat-suit again (though George Clooney seems highly unlikely, and Christian Bale has since moved on to Marvel). And the thought of seeing Pattinson’s Batman jumbled up in there makes me slightly apprehensive. I like a Batman who isn’t just an elevated strategist, or a General Batman having to bring the Justice League together. That was more Affleck’s thing and maybe will be Keaton’s moving forward.
Pattinson as Batman? Leave him with the rogues. We can’t wait for the Penguin show to give us an arc with him based on longer comic runs. Let Reeves really get into that build on Hush or dip into more Long Halloween. And for the love of Gotham, let’s add more villains. Let’s add more of Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman. Let’s build out a 10-episode series focusing on Batman being an honest-to-goodness detective, and see how much better and more satisfying that works on HBO Max. For that, we’d tune in and then… OK sure, we’d also show up for event films in the same universe. We won’t turn down more Batman. But a deeper dive into the character — with the space that TV allows — could help make him feel more fleshed-out and truer to his comic-book origins than ever before.
In the meantime, you can create your own series experience, complete with all the snack breaks you need, because The Batman is now streaming on HBO Max.