A few days ago, some friends and I were embroiled in a discussion about the rumors surrounding the new Justice League movie. This is the film that Warner Bros. and DC have been talking about doing for millennia but no one’s quite sure if they’re ever going to actually do it or not. They’ve seen Marvel pull out all the stops with their epic Avengers series of movies, dedicating a solo flick or two to each major character from the Avengers team before bringing them all together for an unprecedented superhero team-up flick that has essentially changed the game for superhero films. It’s clear that the original super-team, the Justice League, is overdue for the big screen treatment.
DC has recently wrapped up it’s Dark Knight franchise and is trying to reboot it’s Superman franchise, meanwhile its Green Lantern film was a non-starter in spite of a strong cast and typically not-bad director. Other characters, like Wonder Woman and Flash, who have been dying to get their own movie in the midst of all the superhero film hysteria, seem to be left behind.
The current rumor now is that Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel film, which will start the Superman film franchise over with a seemingly more grounded, Nolan-ish approach, will also tease an upcoming Justice League movie. So, this would work pretty well if Man of Steel were the first DC super-hero movie to be released in the current era of super-hero films, but unfortunately it wasn’t. It’s coming hot on the heels of a Batman movie that essentially stopped the franchise in its tracks. The last thing mainstream audiences saw of Batman was that Bruce Wayne faked his own demise in the skies above Gotham and willed the Batman mantle to John Blake, who served as the Robin figure for Christopher Nolan’s saga.
Rumor has it that DC is looking to cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the actor who portrayed Blake, as the Batman in the Justice League film. I assume this is to connect Nolan’s very successful Batman series to the team-up film while also solving the problem of Nolan essentially killing off Batman just before he is intended to appear in a major crossover flick. It would seem that Nolan painted them into a corner with his series along with giving them the best movies they’ve had since the Burton Batman films.
The thing that me and my friends more or less unanimously agreed upon throughout this discussion was that none of us wanted to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the batsuit for the Justice League picture. This isn’t to say that we don’t like Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an actor, in fact he’s one of the actors whose performances we look forward to seeing. It just means that we don’t want him as Batman. No sane director would cast him as the Caped Crusader in a standalone Batman film, so it leads me to believe that the only reason that he’s being floated for the role of Batman in the upcoming League picture is because of his ties to the Nolan franchise and how those movies concluded. DC needs that Nolan bump to ensure that Justice League won’t tank. At least that’s my speculation.
Here are my problems with JGL playing Batman. First of all, he’d be playing John Blake, who is decidedly NOT Bruce Wayne. Now this has some initial drawbacks just based on the fact that it’s a different person under the mask. Bruce Wayne was cold and calculating, a stoic hunter of the criminal element. That’s the Batman we know. He’s dark, cynical, almost has a death wish. He doesn’t trust anybody. So gone are those great moments between Batman and the rest of the League, who Bruce thinks are largely a bunch of jerks, maybe even threats, at least at first. No scenes establishing the reluctant partnership between him and Clark that later blossoms into a time-tested friendship. No scenes where he’s scoffing at Hal Jordan’s immaturity or explaining that he has a contingency plan to kill each and every member of the League if the need should arise. You wouldn’t get that with John Blake. Blake’s just a working man, he’d probably almost be like an intern around the Justice League Watchtower, not the dominant force that Bruce is. You’d be hard-pressed to accept a John Blake Batman among the Trinity.
Blake also just doesn’t seem ready to be Batman. Sure he was given the bat-cave at the end of The Dark Knight Rises. Sure, he is a tough cop who isn’t afraid to put his life on the line to rescue others, and who proved himself a very capable detective as Gotham was under siege by the League of Shadows. But that just means he qualified for the position, not that he can pull it off in his current state. Batman, as it was explained in the first of Nolan’s films, was a member of the League of Shadows who went rogue and began using their training along with his own social and financial resources to fight corruption in his city. Blake doesn’t really measure up to all that just by being an orphan that knows how to point a gun. JGL doesn’t really have the Batman physique (and, like me, is probably too slender to ever really acquire it) and certainly his character hasn’t gone through the intense League of Shadows boot camp that Batman did. How could he have? There isn’t a League of Shadows around anymore. And even if Bruce left all of his bat-gadgets to him in his will, it’s not like he took the time to show him how to use any of it. Blake could kill himself just in trying to learn how to pilot the Bat-Pod.
And finally, the reason John Black shouldn’t be Batman for the Justice League team-up flick is because that was never the point of the ending. In showing Batman ride off into the sky and explode, then having a memorial statue of him erected at Gotham City Hall, and then ending with Robin finding the Batcave, Nolan wasn’t trying to say “Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the new Batman.” He was following the theme that was started in the first movie that Batman is an idea, it is bigger than Bruce Wayne, and it can carry on without him. And it should. And if they ever wanted to do a Mask of Zorro-style film where the old Batman trains a new one to take his place, then I’d be all for it. Hell, DC needs some new blood. I wish they had the balls to do something like that. It’s why Batman Beyond was so well received. But not in the Justice League movie. Not for the first time that these heroes meet onscreen. That is an occasion reserved for Bruce Wayne. He’s earned it.
Plus, why would we want to tie the Nolan-verse into the Justice League film? Those films have a dark, grounded aesthetic because that’s a good angle for a Batman film. But for a team-up film with multiple aliens and demigods on-screen at the same time? The Avengers worked so well because it had more of an “Indiana Jones” tone, it felt more like a high-flying adventure movie than a morose, pondering character study of a tortured soul who is doomed to live out his days in blue spandex. And I don’t think there’s any way to put a Nolan character (or possibly multiple Nolan characters, according to some rumors) into that movie without influencing the overall tone. Those Nolan movies have very serious, dark connotations in the mind of the general audience, and it would be imprinted across the rest of the film as a whole, which is the wrong direction to take.
But you never know with DC. They’re completely tone deaf when it comes to their super-hero movies. They have all the right ingredients for a stellar super-hero saga and they spoil it by letting the mixture sit in the dark too long. If you ask me, they need to lighten up a bit. More on that next week.
(Also, as a huge Robin fan, I’ve always been much more excited about the idea of John Blake as either Robin or Nightwing, even though I hope they’d never try to force out a movie based on that premise, and so I’ve elected to attach a lot of John Blake Robin/Nightwing fan art to this post rather than stuff with Blake as Batman or something of that nature. Enjoy.)