We've seen a lot of Batman in the last few years. The iconic character has been in and out of cinemas consistently since the early 1990s, and thanks to his soaring comic sales and multiple animated TV shows, #Batman is one of the best known pop culture figures in the world. In fact, Matt Reeves' The Batman will be the tenth* movie since 1966. But for all these films, there's still a version of Batman that we haven't seen explored in depth on the big screen yet, which is ironic as it's the most fundamental part of his character. I am talking, of course, of the World's Greatest Detective.
Batman is many things. As Bruce Wayne he's a wealthy philanthropist; as the Caped Crusader he's Gotham's shadowy protector. His skills range from a highly-trained fighting style to the use of his many gadgets. But it's Batman's talent for detection that really sets him apart from other superheroes — or it should, if his writers remember this part of the Batman story.
The Batman Will Be A Noir Detective Thriller
Ironically, although Batman v Superman gave us the darkest Dark Knight yet, in among all the rage and the murder was an honest to God detective. The film follows Bruce as he tracks down a lump of Kryptonite, leading him right to Lex Luthor's lair... and back out again, because as good as this Bruce is at spotting clues, he's not quite smart enough to realize when he's being played.
This is what Matt Reeves aims to change with The Batman, a follow-up to Batman v Superman that we know next to nothing about. After Ben Affleck abandoned the director's chair, Reeves stepped in, and since then he's been hard at work crafting his little corner of the #DCEU — when he wasn't putting the finishing touches on War For The Planet Of The Apes, of course. Here's what Reeves told Variety in an interview about the two movies, and his comments bode very well for The Batman:
"What I see in Batman that I find so interesting is that, in a way, he reminds me of Caesar, in that he is a character with a really troubled past who is grappling within himself to try to do the right thing in a really imperfect world, in a corrupt world. That provides an opportunity, again, if you want to take that point-of-view storytelling — and I can imagine the story as being like a noir. The originals from the golden age were detective stories. I think if you can marry that with the personal, there’s a chance to do something very exciting."
There are two things that really stand out here: Reeves' interpretation of Batman as a person, and his concept of the film as a noir detective thriller. As many have pointed out before, a noir flick would perfectly suit the style of the DCEU while also getting back to Batman's pulp roots. Batman's chief weapon is his mind, and many fans would rather see him use that than build a suit to put him on par with Superman's strength.
A noir detective film could be a thrilling mystery, as Batman amazes us by uncovering clues others miss, with an intricate plot that keeps us — and Bruce — guessing until the very end. Stylistically, a detective noir would be delightful to watch: Think Bladerunner, but gothic. And of course, a noir would allow Reeves to dive into the complex psychology of Batman, and his web of allies.
Billionaire, Playboy, Detective: Batman's Enduring Appeal
Reeves has managed to get right to the heart of why Batman is such an enduring figure. Sure, he's a power fantasy, and his persona is cool enough to offset the somewhat silly notion of superheroes. But ultimately Batman is beloved because he's a vigilante who is also a detective, a philanthropist who finds it impossible to be impartial, and a traumatized man who is determined to surround himself with a crime-fighting family.
It's no coincidence that the Batman's best detective stories are also the ones that deal with the Bat-family. Detective Comics is the most long-standing of these, stretching from the Golden Age right into #DC's current Rebirth series. Detective Comics saw Batman team up with his various Robins and Batgirls to solve crimes, and Rebirth continues this by having Batwoman train new recruits.
Other excellent detective-focused Batman stories have examined his allies as much as the man himself. Gotham Knights is still one of the best Batman series, with Oracle, Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, Huntress and many others joining the Dark Knight in the fight against crime. And when I say crime, that's what I mean: Gotham Knights did not deal with huge threats against humanity or world-ending villains, but street level conspiracies. Lowering the stakes allowed writers like Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, and Devin Grayson (the only female Batman writer to date) to explore the characters themselves, which made for engaging and nuanced storytelling. The series played with the idea of Batman as an urban legend, which was also one of the more interesting parts of Batman v Superman.
I could list other successful detective-Batman stories — Batman: The Animated Series inspired a generation, the Arkham games invite players to test their own detective skills, and I haven't forgotten The Long Halloween's excellent murder mystery — but suffice it to say that this element of Batman's story is one of the best, and its entry into the cinematic adaptations is long overdue.
Reeves has plenty of material to pull from while developing his movie, and Affleck's version of the character is perfectly poised for this kind of film: After decades as Batman, it's already established that Bruce has lost at least one Robin to the fight, while becoming estranged from his surviving allies. With #Batgirl and #Nightwing solo movies already confirmed, The Batman would be the perfect time to introduce these characters. Put that together with the noir thriller style, and Reeves might just make the best, or at least the most interesting Batman movie yet.
*Ten films including the 1966 Batman: The Movie, and Batman v Superman, but not including the serial films from the 1940s.
Tell us in the comments: What would you like to see in The Batman?