It is one hell of a bittersweet morning for Batman fans. The bitter part comes from the tragic news that Joel Schumacher, the director of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, as well as such proper classics as The Lost Boys, A Time to Kill, St. Elmo’s Fire, and Flatliners, has passed away after a year-long battle with cancer. Schumacher was 80 years old.
But now comes the sweet… and damn is it ever SWEET! According to reports from various publications, Michael Keaton is in talks to reprise his role as Batman in the upcoming The Flash feature film starring Ezra Miller! Holy bombshell, Batman!
Following a run of loveably cheesy TV series and serials for the character in the 1940s and 1960s, Keaton became the first actor to play the Dark Knight on the big screen in Tim Burton’s breakout 1989 Batman film as well as its masterpiece 1992 sequel Batman Returns (Schumacher’s films were sequels to these). While Keaton was a hugely unpopular casting at the time due to his comedic background – he can be damn lucky the internet wasn’t really a thing back then, or he would have broken it – Keaton would squash all of that once he put on the rubber suit and went on to become arguably the most popular actor of all time to don the cape and cowl. That was over thirty years ago though, so what’s he doing returning to the role now?
Well, here’s where things get intriguing. Back before the divisive reception of Batman v Superman and the flop of Justice League (both movies starring Ben Affleck as Batman before he gave up the role) caused Warner Bros to completely change course on their DC Comics extended universe plans, The Flash movie had originally been announced to be Flashpoint. Fans of the comics, as well as the animated and live-action TV series that all pulled from it, would know that Flashpoint is the name of a massive 2011 comic book crossover that saw the Flash race back in time to prevent the death of his mother, but inadvertently set off a chain of events that made huge differences to the present.
In this new timeline, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are at war over Europe, Superman is missing, Bruce Wayne never became Batman but instead, it’s his brutal father Thomas under the mask, while Bruce’s mother Martha became the Joker, etc. Over the course of the storyline, Flash attempts to correct all the timeline changes, and in the process discovers that there are multiple alternate timelines already in existence. And, guided by a mysterious figure whose identity is too much to get into now, he merges them all to produce a new timeline with some major differences.
At the time of it being announced, it was a bit weird for Flashpoint to be done so early in the life of the DCEU, but now it offers the perfect way for WB to soft reboot their universe into a cohesive whole. Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman sees Robert Pattinson as a younger Batman at the start of his career, but it’s unclear how this fits into the DCEU continuity if at all. Even more intriguing are the reports that Keaton’s deal is not just a one-and-done, but for multiple appearances over many years. The idea is that he would take on a role similar to that of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, shepherding events and mentoring the younger generation of heroes like Batgirl, whose own movie is already in development.
But wait! There’s more! There are also reports going around that Jeffrey Dean Morgan is set to reprise his role as Thomas Wayne from Batman v Superman. He is killed in the opening scene of that movie, which naturally leads us to assume that he will be playing the Flashpoint version of Batman here, if the casting reports are true. That’s a whole lot of Batman to go around, so here’s my theory on how it will shake out.
Flashpoint is going to be to the DCEU what Captain America: Civil War was to the MCU – a supposed solo character film that was actually a team-up movie, a Justice League 2.0 if you will, which sets up a whole new status quo for the universe. And to do that, Affleck will be convinced to reprise his role one more time… before dying. Or being lost in time. The specifics are not important. What is, is that he will be gone. This will possibly be tied into Ezra Miller’s Flash tinkering with time to prevent the death of his family as a kid – a cause that Batman would possibly help him with seeing as they have that in common. So maybe he dies in getting Flash back to the past, triggering some responsibility on Flash’s part.
Either way, when Flash puts everything back together again, he feels that the world still needs a Batman and it should definitely not be the Thomas Wayne version who has no problem in just straight-up shooting people in the face with a gun. So Flash grabs not just one, but two Batmans… Batmen from different timelines. One being Robert Pattinson’s younger Caped Crusader and the other being Michael Keaton’s older, retired Batman… who’s been mentoring a certain Terry McGinnis. Yes, I’m saying that on top of potentially giving us two separate Batmen in the DCEU, Flashpoint could also be setting up that live-action Batman Beyond movie adaptation that fans have been screaming about for years now. And that could still happen in its own future-set continuity as well. Hell, even Pattinson’s Batman could go back to his past-set continuity and continue on there, while just being aware of other timelines.
One of the ways that DC Comics has always differed from Marvel Comics was in the publisher’s willingness to not just embrace, but thrive on having a multiverse – a series of universes/timelines that all exist on their own, with their own versions of characters who would frequently crossover with each other. The CW’s DC Comics TV series have been doing this for years, and their most recent Crisis crossover even established Keaton’s original Batman films as existing in one of these universes. This would be a way to tie EVERYTHING together, from TV to the various versions of movie characters we have flying around. Need a Batman for an upcoming Justice League movie? Just have Flash use the Speed Force to jump through the Multiverse and go get the Patt-man. The possibilities are endless when you have timey-whimey shenanigans to play with.
Hell, you could even have Flashpoint get rid of Jared Leto’s unpopular Joker to replace him with someone more traditional. Before you get too excited though, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that this replacement would be Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. The Oscar-winning actor has been hugely against blockbuster franchises just like this and the only reason he took the role in Todd Phillips’ 2019 film was that it was not actually a traditional comic book movie but a dramatic deconstruction of a character.
Outside of that though, this is essentially a blank canvas upon which WB can now draw out a brand new DCEU… oh, sorry. Not the DCEU, which has just been the fan-coined unofficial term for this cinematic universe. The recently announced official title for this cinematic universe is now actually the Worlds of DC. Huh. Amazing how that fits perfectly with my theory, right?
As for The Flash movie, after being stuck in development hell for years with a revolving door of directors, it’s currently on track to be released in 2022. Andy Muschietti, a favourite on the WB lot after he helmed the two It films, will be directing Miller as the Scarlet Speedster. We’ve also heard reports that Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot and Cyborg actor Ray Fisher have both already signed on for the film, and there are reports that Superman actor Henry Cavill has signed a new deal to make appearances in other upcoming DC movies as well (see previous Justice League 2.0 comment). The script for The Flash has passed through many, many hands for rewrites, including Miller himself as well as comic book legend Grant Morrison. If my theory is true, and this film really has to do as much heavy lifting as I suspect to get the Worlds of DC set up, then let’s hope and pray that it’s still coherent after all those revisions.