When Bob Kane and Bill Finger developed Batman for Detective Comics in 1939, they had no idea that he would become one of the most popular figures in global culture and endure for 77 years, they just needed a new hero to follow in the wake of Superman’s premier a year earlier. Yet here we are in 2016 with another version of Batman in theaters in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the upcoming Suicide Squad, with a solo film in the works as well as being a central figure in the upcoming Justice League films, the first of which is due out in 2017.
Batman has been a staple in the DC comics universe, starring in more titles than any other hero and has been in films and television since 1943, though surprisingly he never had a radio program despite the popularity of other millionaire vigilantes like The Shadow, The Green Hornet and (sort of) The Saint, unlike Superman, who’s radio program, The Adventures of Superman lasted for 11 years from 1940-1951 before giving way to a television show that ran from 1952-1958. Despite not having a show of his own, Batman did appear on The Adventures of Superman from time to time.
Batman leapt from the pages to the silver screen first in 1943 in a 15-part serial titled Batman starring Lewis Wilson, making him the first person to represent Batman on screen (anywhere really, Batman didn’t start showing up on The Adventures of Superman until 1945). Co-starring Douglas Croft as Robin and directed by Lambert Hillyer, the story pits Batman and Robin against a plot to topple the U.S. government by a group loyal to Emperor Hirohito. Keep in mind, this was the height of WWII, so the whole thing was anti-Japanese propaganda, stemming so far as to cast a white man, J. Carol Nash, as Dr. Daka and making him up to look vaguely Japanese while he affected an accent that was Chinese by way of Peter Lorre. This racist caricature is only the beginning of the problems with this series, though it is the biggest, making this the hardest Batman to watch (yes, that includes Batman and Robin from 1997, but more on that one later). Further problems stem from a budget that seems to have consisted of $15 and sandwiches for the cast and crew. The Batman costume is terrible; Robin is about 25; the interior of the Batcave is limited to an antique desk with afew antique chairs and is only used to tie up captives (to an antique chair) and interrogate them, and frequently threaten to leave them to the bats to die; Alfred (played by William Austin) drives them around everywhere, including while they’re in costume; they only act on tips that they get while out of costume, making it impossible for anyone paying attention to not figure out who they are, and both Batman and Robin have the worst glass jaws ever seen (until the 1949 serial, that is). The fact that they get knocked out in nearly every fight sets up the cliff-hanger for the next episode, something that would be taken for the 1966 television show, but it makes Batman ineffectual. That and his detection style is to stumble blindly into every situation, try to punch his way out and get knocked unconscious. The writing is terrible, direction non-existent and the acting is horrible.
There is some value to this first serial, though. According to Batman co-creator (who for too long was listed as the sole creator) Bob Kane, he was invited by Hugh Hefner, a huge movie buff, to a screening at the Playboy Mansion in the early 60s. He screened this serial and the audience laughed all the way through. Kane saw an opportunity to make Batman into a television series and make it campy and funny, thus the Adam West/Burt Ward series was conceptualized and later made to great success.
Following the 1943 serial, another was produced in 1949 titled Batman and Robin. Now starring Robert Lowery as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Johnny Duncan as an even older Robin/Dick Grayson and introducing Vicky Vale played by Jane Adams. This 15-part story has Batman on the trail of The Wizard (the actor is not credited to preserve the ‘mystery’) who has stolen a device that can control any form of transportation via radio control. First, he needs diamonds to fuel the machine, so there are a few diamond heists that Batman foils or fails to foil, then an experimental explosive that can be turned into a power source is stolen, no thanks to Batman, then a countering device is stolen that when the two beams are crossed, anyone in their path becomes invisible (because they cancel each other out…logical, right?). Batman bungles and gets knocked out as much as he did in the first serial, but this time he at least drives himself. In Bruce Wayne’s car. Which he and Robin go to while it is parked in the driveway of Bruce Wayne’s modest suburban home. In the middle of the afternoon. Exiting the house in costume. Now, I know that the Batmobile wasn’t introduced until the mid-to-late 40s and until then he just used a regular roadster, but still…some subterfuge would have been nice. Vicky Vale even says to Batman “Does Bruce Wayne know you’re using his car?” to which he replies “Of course!”. At least the Batcave has his chemistry set instead of a room in the house this time around. Batman eventually stumbles upon the Wizard and puts together the whole thing, and this one sets up Batman’s cozy relationship with the Gotham City Police Department, but he just stumbles into his successes mostly by way of information gathered as Bruce Wayne just as before. There are some points of note that make this one slightly more tolerable than the first serial. First, this one really puts emphasis on Batman’s detective skills, frequently having him go undercover to infiltrate the Wizard’s gang (which fails each time because he runs away before he can be included in anything, but he still tries) and his piecing together of certain elements of the story. The writing is just as bad, though and the direction by Spencer Gordon Bennet is just as non-existent as Hillyer’s and the acting isn’t any better either. But at least this one isn’t overtly racist!
It would be another 17 years before the next screen version of Batman hit theaters. This time, it was an off-shoot from the popular Batman television series that debuted in 1966. The film, starring Adam West as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Burt Ward as Robin/Dick Grayson, was originally intended to be the pilot for the series, but was delayed. It was instead shot and released between seasons 1 and 2 of the series, at the height of the show’s popularity. The story centers on a team-up by all of Batman’s core villains: The Joker (Caesar Romero), Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, taking over for Julie Newmar who played the character in the series) and their plan to prevent world peace by using a device that extracts all the water from the human body on the United World Security Council. They also want several billion dollars from each of the countries on the Security Council for their return (yes, that’s billion with a B, Dr. Evil). The film could have been a three-parter from the series, but director Leslie H. Martinson and writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. made it into one cohesive story, and it was obviously intended to be a film as there are no fade-outs for commercials. Despite that, the film has all of the campy glory and ridiculousness of the series and is the source of the infamous Bat-Shark-Repellant Spray.
Following the demise of the show, Batman saw a sharp drop in popularity, as did all comic book properties. It wasn’t until the late ‘70s that Superman saw a resurgence, only to have the series fall apart in the ‘80s. it was in the wake of the disastrous Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987 that it was announced that there would be a new Batman film directed by Tim Burton, the animator-turned-feature director who had to that point only made two films: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. Burton cast comedy actor and Beetlejuice star Michael Keaton to play Bruce Wayne/Batman and fans were not happy. “How can Mr. Mom play Batman?” was the sentiment and it was feared that the campy version of the character that had died out in the books during the ‘70s thanks to writer Dennis O’Neal and artist Neal Adams, would be the default for the new incarnation. Fears were abated when, in the summer of 1989, Batman burst forth as a dark, gritty version of the character in the vein of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Year One books. Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren’s screenplay focused on Batman as the detective as much as Batman the enforcer, setting the story early in Batman’s crime-fighting career and pitting him against the GCPD as much as he was against The Joker (brilliantly and malevolently played by Jack Nicholson). Burton’s decision to make Gotham the perpetually dark city that it is in the comics only helped to play up how riddled with crime the city is. Making the city look like it was in New Jersey, where it is supposed to be, and not in Southern California was a huge step in the right direction as well. This was also the first time an all-black Bat-suit had ever been seen. In prior incarnations and in the books, Batman wore grey tights with a blue cape and cowl, blue boots and blue…underpants...with a yellow utility belt. Obviously a practical and aesthetic decision, it also ushered in the idea that Batman was prepared against getting shot and cut, something that had never really been considered (later in the comics, he kept his same uniform but it was revealed to be armor plated and have a malleable Kevlar-weave so he could still look the same but be more protected). While this severely limited Keaton’s (and his stunt double’s) movement, it went a long way in creating a screen version of the intimidating figure Batman is supposed to be. The other excellent choice was to make The Joker the murderous psychopath he is. Nicholson has been accused of over-acting and scene-chewing in this performance, but this character demands it more than most. The Joker is a dangerous man who revels in his psychosis and is more about murdering as many people as he can than he is about theft. Nicholson personifies this terrifying persona expertly and many thought it could never be topped (until Heath Ledger took the role in 2008). Despite the film taking a lot of liberties with the character and supporting cast and focusing too much on a love story between Bruce and Vicky, Batman helped to change and modernize the character away from the Adam West version that had been the default for a generation.
Burton followed the massive success of Batman with Batman Returns in 1992. Bringing back Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Burton expanded the villain roster to include Penguin (Danny DiVito, in a role he seems born to play), Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Max Schreck (Christopher Walken), an evil entrepreneur created for the film. Penguin, we are shown, was born with flippers and a long nose (a Thalidomide baby?) and despised as a monster by his rich, socialite parents (played by Paul ‘Pee-Wee Herman’ Reubins and Diane Salinger). They dump his baby carriage into the river that runs through Gotham Zoo and he’s carried into the sewers and then (inexplicably) into the penguin area where he is raised and eventually comes to control the Triangle Circus Gang. Catwoman is born by Schreck pushing skittish secretary assistant Selina Kyle out of a window because she knew too much about a nefarious plot. She goes crazy and manages to make a full-length leather (read: vinyl) cat-suit, mask, gloves and knee-high boots out of a single leather jacket. Batman, meanwhile, is openly working with Commissioner Gordon (again played by Pat Hingle, as he would throughout the series from Batman through Batman and Robin, like Alfred actor Michael Gough), speaking and collaborating with him while in the middle of a large-scale attack from the Triangle Circus Gang. Schreck is kidnapped by Penguin, but he soon turns the tables and starts to control Penguin. Schreck wants to run Penguin as mayor in a recall election so he can have someone in office that will do what he wants. Penguin has other plans, which include kidnapping all of the first-born sons in Gotham and killing them in some sort of revenge against his parents for abandoning him. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the story. Catwoman teams up with him because she tussled with Batman and wants him dead, as does Penguin. After another love story between Bruce and Selina and Bruce (sort of) telling her his secret identity (taking over for Alfred’s indiscretion when he let Vicky Vale into the Batcave in Batman), Batman saves the day again, though Penguin is now dead and Catwoman may or may not be. Burton goes for some really dark humor in this one, bordering on camp and sometimes crossing the border. He makes Penguin truly grotesque and vile but in a disgusting way that he may have thought would elicit some kind of laughter, instead he’s just repulsive. Catwoman doesn’t make much sense in being involved other than to get her into a movie and Schreck is a decent villain and honestly could have carried the whole thing himself with the power plant that siphons off energy instead of creating it. Keaton’s Batman is similar to his characterization in the first film, but he grows significantly into the role of Bruce Wayne, getting more screentime out of the rubber than in. Batman Returns keeps the gothic tone and dark mood, but edges it closer to parody.
A year later saw the release of the only animated Batman film, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. The film was in conjunction with Batman: The Animated Series which debuted in 1992, which still stands as the greatest expression of the character to ever be represented off-page. The film sees Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy, who became iconic in the role and would remain the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne for over 20 years for most projects involving the character) squaring off against a new villain, The Phantasm (voiced by screen legend Stacy Keach), who is murdering mob bosses. Bruce is also reconnected with Andrea Beaumont, the woman he almost married years before and who nearly made him give up trying to become Batman in the first place. The action ramps up when The Phantasm tries to kill The Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill, who also became the go-to voice for the character and was so frequently called upon to do him that Hamill ‘retired’ from the character so he could have a break from him. He has come back multiple times since his ‘retirement’). The stories are told in parallel, with flashbacks to when Bruce was actually happy, creating an exciting and emotional journey for The Dark Knight. This is the only DC animated film to be released theatrically, but they have continued making them, regularly releasing either a Batman or Justice League film every six months or so, all of them top notch because they utilize the talent from this animated series (who also worked on the two Justice League series, Superman: The Animated Series, Young Justice and more). They could have used more like this in the theaters, considering where the live-action franchise went after this.
Which brings us to Batman Forever, Joel Schumacher’s first take on Batman two years later. While this third installment isn’t terrible, it does have some significantly cringe-worthy moments, touches and decisions that drag down what could have been a pretty good Batman movie. Here we have Val Kilmer stepping into the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Tommy Lee Jones in the role of Two-Face/Harvey Dent (Dent was played in Batman by Billy Dee Williams, but apparently the world wasn’t ready for a suave, sophisticated black Two-Face), Jim Carry as Edward Nigma/The Riddler and Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian, a psychiatrist specializing in dual personalities whom Commissioner Gordon calls in to assist on the Two-Face case. Nigma works for Bruce at Wayne Enterprises and goes crazy after Bruce shuts down his project. This hits Nigma hard because he idolizes Bruce. He cracks, murders his boss and starts his own company selling his device, which beams TV signals directly into the brain and also allows him to syphon off the brainwaves of anyone connected to The Box. He teams up with Two-Face and it’s up to Batman to stop him, but he’s got problems of his own. While attending a charity circus event with Dr. Meridian, Bruce witnesses the death of The Flying Graysons at the hands of Two-Face, leaving only Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) alive. He takes Dick in (despite the fact that he’s obviously over 18 and does not need a guardian under the law) and Dick of course discovers the Batcave. A contentious relationship between Dick and Bruce and they are off to do battle with Two-Face and The Riddler. Schumacher plunges the series into full camp, retooling Gotham from dark and gloomy to dark with lots of neon and skyscraper-sized stone statutes. He undermines some great fight sequences (the best in the series in terms of pure physicality) with cartoon sound-effects, introduces sub-par early computer graphics and put nipples and butts on the Batsuit and Robin-suit, further turning this into a fetish parade (which is only intensified by Meridian’s obsession with Batman). About 65% of the film works well, the rest of it is just terrible.
Then, in 1997, Schumacher came back to the franchise to put the final nail in the coffin for this series of Batman films with Batman and Robin, widely considered to be one of the worst comic book adaptations ever made standing right alongside Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man 3, Van Helsing, Jonah Hex and X-Men: The Last Stand. Schumacher goes so far off the rails into camp that he may as well have recast Adam West and Burt Ward instead of keeping Chris O’Donnell as Robin and casting George Clooney as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Introducing Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman, alternating erratically between perfectly cast, awkwardly interpreting and scene-chewing sometimes within the same line) and Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger, practically speaking only in ice-puns and relishing every single word) as the main villains and making Bane (Jeep Swensen) Ivy’s brainless lackey instead of the highly intelligent man who broke Batman in the comics four years prior, Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (whose work is generally terrible) managed to take all of the goodwill generated by Tim Burton’s original, ball it up, pee on it then throw it at the audience and expected us to enjoy it. The nearly non-existent plot centers on Freeze wanting to freeze Gotham and Ivy wanting Mother Earth to reassert herself and kill all humans. Ivy has a pheromone compound that makes men do what she wants, so this pits Bruce and Dick against each other. Enter Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) to fight Ivy, so we don’t need to see Batman hitting a woman (one of the few mercies this film allows us). This time around, Gotham is nearly completely populated by enormous stone statutes (one even holds up the planetarium dome and telescope, like Atlas but with less to do), providing opportunities for the heroes and villains to drive on them and more opportunities for Schumacher to employ terrible CGI to get that feat accomplished. Terrible writing, more cartoon sounds during fights, atrocious green-screen compositions and a total contempt for the character make this film utterly unredeemable. What’s worse is that Schumacher said that before he goes into planning a Batman film, he buys stacks and stacks of Batman comics and immerses himself in the world. That’s worse because either he can’t read or he just didn’t understand the character at all despite reading the books, though Schumacher claims it was studio pressure that made him create the film in a more ‘family/toy friendly’ manner and he has since apologized for the film. Clooney has taken that one step further by actually refunding people who tell him they saw the film in the theaters. Warner Brothers planned a fifth film in the franchise, Batman Triumphant, but due to the poor performance of this film, it never happened.
In fact, because of Batman and Robin, the character of Batman himself lingered in development limbo for nearly a decade. Many different scripts were passed around and several actually made it into pre-production, most notably Darren Arronfsky’s attempt to adapt Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (an idea apparently pitched by Schumacher after Batman and Robin to make up for the film) which was cast and ready to roll before WB put the brakes on it. it took Christopher Nolan, a then up-and-coming director with a solidifying younger fan base thanks to his 2000 cult hit Memento and the strength of his adaptation of the Swedish mystery/thriller Insomnia to get Batman back on the big screen.
By 2005, the public was ready for another Batman film. The comic book movie had taken off after the first two X-Men films and the first two Spider-Man films and Sin City released that same year. Director Christopher Nolan tapped David S. Goyer (fresh off completing the Blade trilogy, for better or worse) and his brother Christopher Nolan to write the screenplay for Batman Begins The film borrows heavily from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween as well as inventing some things along the way. Nolan did a bold thing when he didn’t reveal the new Batman costume until an hour into the 140 film, focusing instead on Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale)’s early history and training before debuting as Batman. While traveling the world living as a criminal to understand their psychology, Bruce is rescued from a Chinese prison by Ducard (Liam Neeson), who acts as sort of majordomo for the League of Shadows (an ancient organization dedicated to extreme measures to keep balance in the world and destroy the global criminal element). When Bruce refuses to kill, he’s forced to make a dynamic escape, burning the compound and he thinks destroying the League of Shadows and Ra’s Al Ghul (credited to Ken Watanabe, but well…that’s not the case. Also, the Ra’s should be said with a long a, like race). With his training complete, his symbol picked and someone to supply him gear (Lucius Fox, played by Morgan Freeman), Bruce and Alfred (Michael Caine) assemble the suit in a particularly funny sequence and then Batman is born and off to fight the mob and Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy). He tries to reconnect with his childhood friend, Rachael Dawes (Katie Holmes) who rejects any kind of life with Bruce as long as he’s Batman. Nolan did a lot of things right here, infusing a dark and realistic (as realistic as Batman can be, anyway) tone to the film, populating the film with veteran actors that clearly enjoyed being a part of the film (a lot of whom went on to work with Nolan on his non-Batman films as well) and treating the character and the subject matter with respect. Sure, Bale’s gravely Batman voice has drawn a lot of criticism over the years, but at least he tried to mask his voice like Batman does in the comics (it’s referred to on numerous occasions) and it made him the first live-action actor to distinctively change his voice when in the Batman costume (Kevin Conroy was the first actor to differentiate between Bruce Wayne and Batman in any media for Batman: The Animated Series). Nolan finally returned Batman to his roots, much in the way that Burton did in 1989, and gave use a Batman we could believe and believe in.
Then, in 2008, Christopher Nolan did what few other filmmakers who make sequels do: top the original. The Dark Knight not only surpasses Batman Begins (which is tough because Batman Begins is an excellent film), it is one of the greatest comic book hero movies ever made, right next to Superman: The Movie, Spider-Man 2, Iron Man (released the same year) and The Avengers. Nolan went even darker for this film, borrowing even more heavily from the Jeph Loeb penned The Long Halloween graphic novel along with elements of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and bringing in an even more murderous and insane Joker (Heath Ledger, who not only won a rare posthumous Oscar© for the role but became the first person to win an Oscar© for a film based on a comic book) than Jack Nicholson’s. Nolan brought back everyone from the first film (except the villains and Katie Holmes. Rachael is now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) and added Ledger and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face (thus avoiding the awkward race change seen between Batman and Batman Forever). The story is that now, a year after Batman Begins, Batman (again played by Christian Bale) is working alongside Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman, as in the first film) to bring down the Gotham mob families. Feeling the squeeze, their financial adviser takes all of their money and absconds to Hong Kong, where as a Chinese national he is exempt from extradition to the U.S. The Joker, who has been making a name for himself by robbing mob banks, proposes they need to kill Batman in order to return to business as usual (knowing that even without Batman the city has changed enough to never allow that). This sets Joker free to run amok to draw out Batman while Bruce Wayne is thinking that with the election of Harvey Dent, a brash and bold DA who is committed to cleaning up Gotham, he can hang up his cape and cowl and settle down with Rachael. Joker causes a tragedy that disfigures Harvey and through some prodding, helps bring about Two-Face, furthering Joker’s theory (first presented in The Killing Joke) that one bad day can make you as crazy and malevolent as him. Nolan, who shares screenplay credit with his brother Christopher, ups the ante here in a huge way, expanding the terror from a neighborhood in Gotham to the whole city while they are gripped in the madness that is The Joker. Nolan understood and played out the nature of Batman’s relationship to Joker, different sides of the same coin, perfectly and uses it to constantly ratchet up the suspense and conflict. The praise for this film usually goes to Ledger’s dynamic performance as The Joker, and rightfully so as he does steal the show and further because it was his last completed role before he accidentally overdosed on sleeping pills shortly after the film’s completion. What is often overlooked is how the film perfectly captures the evolution of Batman and the deepening loss of Bruce Wayne to his alter ego. The longer Bruce is Batman, the more Batman and less Bruce he becomes, especially at this early stage in his tenure. Bale portrays a man who is tortured by thoughts of a normal life but that life slips from his mind the deeper into the rabbit hole he chases Joker and the more he feels the need to be Batman. It also shows how far Batman is willing to go to take down Joker and criminals in general by his bending and breaking of some U.S. laws and some international ones as well. In The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan gives us what may be the perfect representation of Batman yet put to screen in live action.
When Christopher Nolan came back to the character in 2012 to complete The Dark Knight Trilogy, he became the first director to make three Batman films (as well as making Christian Bale the first actor to portray Batman/Bruce Wayne in three films). The Dark Knight Rises re-teams the principles again and adds Tom Hardy as Bane, a League of Shadows exile who comes to Gotham to destroy the city as Ra’s Al Ghul failed to do in Batman Begins. Bruce has retired Batman after the events of The Dark Knight and has not taken up the mantle in 8 years. In those 8 years, the Dent Act was passed that gave more freedom to the police to make arrests stick and Gotham’s crime rate has fallen drastically. Bane arrives and disrupts the calm, forcing Batman out of retirement. Bane defeats Batman in grand fashion, both by wiping out Bruce’s fortune and by breaking Batman’s back and shipping him off to a large underground prison somewhere (India? Pakistan?) that only one person has ever escaped from. Bruce mends and comes back to retake the city, which Bane has held captive and rules promising to detonate a nuclear weapon in the city if the military comes into the city. With the help of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman again), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Catwoman/Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) (who is not who she says she is) and Detective Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt). The story, for the most part, is lifted from Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns with elements of writer Chuck Dixon’s Knightfall, a massive 14-month long story arc from 1993/94 which depicts Bane’s triumph over Batman and taking control of the city while a new Batman slowly goes crazy during Bruce’s convalescence. Nolan, again sharing screenplay credit with his brother Christopher, also invent elements to connect this film with the previous two, actively referencing both. The film came under fire for falling below the quality bar set by the prior two films, and while it struggles a little under the weight of its runtime, it is still a fantastic picture that is a satisfying ending to a great trilogy of films.
With The Dark Knight Rises capping off what many consider to be the greatest Batman film series ever made, it’s easy to understand reticence to bring the character back to the screen any time soon after. That attitude changed when 2013’s attempt to give Superman the same gritty approach largely failed with Man of Steel in 2013. The planned sequel was scuttled in favor of a pseudo-sequel, pseudo-prequel in 2016. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (my full review here) is a follow-up to Man of Steel, directly referencing and reacting to the events of that film while also serving as a set-up to Justice League due out in 2017. Ben Affleck steps into the cape and cowl the first veteran Batman, having been the crime fighter for 20 years by the time the story starts. He’s convinced that Superman (Henry Cavil, reprising his role from Man of Steel) is a threat to humanity because he has the power to become ruler of the world, so Batman sets his mind to destroying Superman. As the film progresses and Batman learns he’s been manipulated by Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg), he teams with Superman and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, the first person to represent Wonder Woman on film ever…just let that sink in for a minute…) to defeat Doomsday (who in the comics kills Superman in a storyline that ran parallel to Batman’s Knightfall series). This sets up the foundation of the Justice League, along with Batman’s discovery of ‘meta humans’ Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Moma) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and his intent to recruit them for an impending battle that Batman just suspects will be happening (combined with a vague warning from an increasingly crazy Lex Luthor). Zack Snyder’s film does a lot for the representation of Batman in the movies. He introduces the brutal, paranoid version that became the standard in the more recent Justice League animated features and comic books. He also took the time to show the detective, something that even Nolan’s films didn’t spend too much time on in favor of action scenes. Affleck brought the perfect blend of playboy and vigilante to the role, spending as much time as Bruce Wayne as he did Batman, giving a more accurate representation of the character than Nolan and Bale’s version, who mainly avoided social interactions (which Bruce would like to do, but he recognizes that he’s a social figure that needs to be seen, something that Bale’s Bruce did everything he could to avoid unless it was impossible, only really socializing in The Dark Knight). Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is embittered by the death of a Robin (killed years before the film by The Joker, an allusion to the Jim Starlin storyline A Death in the Family where Joker kills Jason Todd, the second Robin) who may or may not have turned into a murderer during his time as Batman. He appropriately spends much of his time brooding in his Batcave while concocting ways to kill Superman and possibly trying to find reasons not to. While the film itself is far from great, it does offer a great representation of Batman, equal to that in The Dark Knight trilogy.
This isn’t the end of Batman on screen, in fact there are two Justice League films planned, one in production already, in addition to an appearance in Suicide Squad due out in August of 2016 and at least one solo film to be written and directed by Affleck, who has proven himself to be a remarkable writer/director already so that is cause for excitement in and of itself.
Batman is an essential part of the DC Universe (probably the most essential part) and it is refreshing to see him in capable hands going forward. Batman’s been around for 77 years and in film off and on film for 73 years, for better or worse, and thankfully shows no signs of disappearing, which is good considering his penchant for doing so mid-conversation.