Matt Reeves’s The Batman should break from superhero tradition and have multiple endings. Set in the DC movie universe (albeit a rather different take to Ben Affleck’s version), The Batman already has an immense air of mystery and hype over a year ahead of its Summer 2021 release, with fans anticipating an exciting and risky take from the director.
So far, The Batman’s cast includes a host of unpredictable, varied names. Robert Pattinson assumes the lead role, and already four villains have been confirmed: John Turturro plays mobster Carmine Falcone, Zoe Kravitz is Catwoman, Colin Farrell is Penguin, and Paul Dano dons the Riddler’s green suit. These are not typical comic book movie stars, supporting the conclusion that Matt Reeves has a different take on Batman and the genre.
Some have speculated that The Batman will follow the story arc in Batman: The Long Halloween, which would fit with the number of villains cast, but when Reeves said early last year that the film would focus on a “noir-driven detective version of Batman,” he teased the possibility that the movie will actually show Batman being the world’s greatest detective. Leaning into the mystery elements of an original story, becoming a whodunit rather than a traditional superhero film, would explore elements of the character not seen in other film adaptations.
In Batman movies, the detective aspect has often taken a backseat. He was shown solving mysteries in Batman (1989) and during sections of The Dark Knight, but those were secondary to the action sequences or the villain-centric crime saga. At critical points in both films, the Joker simply told Batman his plan rather than the detective piecing together clues. What is more, in Batman v Superman and Justice League there were world-ending stakes that have grown tired. If the film’s stakes are limited to just one murder, the plot takes on a grounded reality that is missing from yet another plot of superheroes battling super-powered aliens.
Just one crime with four villains in play means that four different scenarios could flash through a chaotic third act, similar to Clue in 1985. Batman considering the plausibility of each villain being the real culprit provides the opportunity to show the character’s mind at work. The depictions of Batman haven’t gotten inside his head, aside from the repeated pearl-clattering trauma that motivated his origin, and a demonstration of his detective work proves that there’s more to the character than childhood trauma.
And mysteries are engaging – intellectually and emotionally. The continued success of Knives Out, Rian Johnson’s box office surprise hit, proves that audiences want to be involved in the creative battle of intellects that underlies the mystery genre’s appeal. Audiences guess alongside the hero – they play detective. Having four possible scenarios with four villains in the film’s climax would keep audiences guessing until the end.
Matt Reeves, whose Planet of the Apes trilogy combined a complex meditation on violence as well as the spectacle of a machine gun-wielding ape on horseback, has the ambition and wherewithal to pull off such a feat, and with the superhero genre in need of a flood of new ideas, The Batman could be a ground-breaking entry into the history of franchise filmmaking.
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