Is the DC Film Universe Relying Too Heavily On Batman?

1 batsignal

“The Bat Signal! DC needs me to save another film!”

It’s not unusual for a film studio to continue to rely on what’s worked in the past. That’s why we have so many sequels and remakes these days. DC/Warner Bros is using this tried-and-true philosophy in their cinematic universe by relying deeply on their heavy hitter, the Batman. Since they are mired deeply in a rivalry with Marvel Studios in a battle to be the dominant super hero screen universe, no one should be surprised that Batman is being trotted out for their future films. After all, the Christopher Nolan Bat trilogy, starring Christian Bale, was the most successful super hero franchise ever. And Batman is DC’s most popular character. It makes sense that they’d utilize him to help gain traction in catching up to Marvel’s lead.

But looking at DC’s future line-up of films and what we know about the plots so far, doesn’t it seem that the Batman is popping up everywhere, in a desperate attempt to segue the popularity of the Nolan films to the new DC Cinematic Universe?

Let’s look at the timeline: After the completion of the Bale/Nolan trilogy, DC began its shared universe with Man of Steel. However, Man of Steel has become a divisive film in terms of quality (some love it, some hate it) and it didn’t make as much money as it was predicted to earn. DC therefore panicked, fearing that Superman wasn’t up to the task of taking on Marvel, so they announced the addition of Batman (played by Ben Affleck) to the planned Superman sequel. As time went on, the project morphed from a Superman sequel into an equal co-starring vehicle called Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. From what we’ve learned, Batman will be the champion of humanity, taking on the feared alien powerhouse with the red cape.

Batman will also figure into the upcoming Suicide Squad movie, firstly in an action scene that will feature the capture of the Joker and Harley Quinn, but also as part of the plot motivation of Amanda Waller. In fact, all the members of the Suicide Squad will be Batman villains who were captured by the caped crusader. His presence will hang over the entire film.

Next comes the Wonder Woman movie. The latest bit of news from DC this week is that Batman will have a role in the 2017 Wonder Woman movie. Why? Because there is tremendous pressure on Wonder Woman to do big business when it comes out.  This is the first film in a long time starring a female lead, since the ones in the past (Supergirl, Catwoman, Electra) have been extremely underwhelming, to put it kindly. If the most iconic female character in comic history crashes and burns at the box office, it could spell doom for future films starring crime-fighting ladies. (I could even see Marvel reevaluating Captain Marvel if Wonder Woman bombs.) Was the inclusion of Batman the real reason for the plot changes from its original 1920s setting to the dual WW1/modern era story we have now? Was the rewrite done to allow Batman to help Diana out in her battle against Aries, and therefore, help Gal Gadot at the Box Office? There’s a good chance this is true.

Following that, the Bat will naturally appear in the Justice League films, (Part 1 & 2) and will no doubt be a major player in that story. Bruce Wayne will probably be the Tony Stark of the franchise, supplying the team with a headquarters and whatever else they need. Bruce will continue his busy movie schedule when he then branches off to his own solo franchise, which will possibly be co-written and directed by star Affleck himself. Expect Bats to appear in several solo sequels, as well as in all the Justice League sequels.

That’s six appearances over the next few years, with the inevitable sequels following later. We could conceivably have as many as 10 Bat-fleck adventures over the next 10 years. If you think about it, Batman will be in more than half of the planned slate of films DC currently has in its line-up. (They have 11 movies officially green-lit for development at present.) And this doesn’t rule out more cameos in other planned films, like the Flash and Green Lantern projects. That’s certainly a Bat-heavy schedule.

You might make the argument that Robert Downey is set to make his 7th MCU appearance since 2008 as Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War next year. True, but the difference is the overall size of the MCU. When you think of the amount of MCU films they’ve made and are still making (12 already, with 10 more officially due out in the near future) Iron Man doesn’t loom over the MCU the way Batman does over the DCCU.

Does all this reek of a lack of confidence on DC’s part in any character who isn’t Bruce Wayne? The harsh fact is that their most recent non-Bat films (Superman Returns, Green Lantern, Man of Steel) have all either flopped or just under-performed, and none of these have a particularly high critical rating overall. On the other hand, we have Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, which rained wads of cash down onto Warner Bros, and which got critics on their feet applauding its dark realism. Considering the pressure that Marvel is putting on DC with their string of hit comic book adaptations, it seems that DC is going back to the Well it knows has a lot of water in it, rather than digging a new one which may or may not hold water. It seems like the safe route, but is it the smart one?

So can one character hold up the weight of an entire cinematic universe, like Atlas holding the world up on his shoulders? If any character can do it, it’s the popular cowled crusader of Gotham. However, characters do go through phases of popularity (Spider-Man is a very popular hero but even he was a dead fish for a while after the horrible Clone Saga storyline in comics) and the risk of overexposure could facilitate just such a slump for the Dark Knight. It brings to mind the fact that the old Batman TV series with Adam West was a Top 5 rated show during its first season in 1966, but overexposure killed it by ‘69. The show aired twice-per-week, (The cliffhanger aired on Wednesday and was resolved on Thursday) and the film version, where Batman fought United Underworld (Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman), was released as the second season was debuting. All this coincided with a massive merchandizing blitz, hawking everything from lunchboxes to posters to action figures. What was the result…the biggest new hit on television was gone in only three years. Overexposure is dangerous.

Also, we don’t yet know how well Ben Affleck’s Batman will be received by fans.  If you recall, his last outing as a grim costumed crime-fighter in Daredevil did not exactly lead to long lines of fans camping out at their local theaters. Some actors resonate with fans as Batman (Bale, Michael Keaton) and some don’t (George Clooney.) If Affleck fails to connect with fans—who have strong expectations about their Batmen—then the whole future of the DCCU could be in jeopardy because Bat-fleck is supposed to the nail that holds the whole universe together.

While Batman is unquestionably a money maker, it seems to be a risky proposition to have one character as the whole foundation for a multi-picture, cross-franchise shared universe. If Batman is the thread that the entire future of DC is hanging by, then they had better pray the thread doesn’t get frayed enough to break, otherwise Marvel will continue to leave them in the cinematic dust.

Holy high pressure, Batman! Don’t let DC down or Marvel will get the last laugh.