No matter where he appears—comics, movies, television, Lego toys—Batman is a hit. Now, according to the latest reports from the production of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warners executives were so wowed by Ben Affleck’s performance that they’re planning to build the DC cinematic universe around him, too. So what’s the problem? A lot more than WB thinks.
Obviously, it’s no surprise the studio is eager to Batman up. In the past 10 years of DC superhero movies, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is the only unqualified success. 2013’s Man of Steel did solid box office but attracted lukewarm reviews and mixed fan response, while most other recent movies based on DC properties have been, to put it mildly, not the stuff of which franchises are made. (Sorry, Green Lantern.)
But Batman’s box office success does make him a team player. He tolerates other superheroes enough to be part of the Justice League, but making him the pivot around which they all turn is bound to get awkward. Will Batman’s role as the center of the DC movieverse extend to hanging out in space in the planned Green Lantern Corps movie? Chilling underwater in 2018’s Aquaman? Doing...whatever it is Batman would do hanging out with Captain Marvel in 2019’s Shazam? No matter how awesome Batman may be, sometimes it’s okay for him to stay home and play with his wonderful toys so other characters can do their not-remotely-Batman-ny thing.
Batman seems like the bacon of superheroes, able to make everything taste better. But he’s really more of the pit-smoked beef brisket: perfect on its own, wasted when mixed with a bunch of other flavors. (And yes, I have put thought into what meat product each member of the Justice League would be. Aquaman is a nice prosciutto.)
Let’s face it: Batman can kind of be a downer. All the recent DC movies have been on the gloomy side (with the possible exception of Green Lantern, which was too dopey to have a coherent mood). Even Superman, usually the sunny yin to Batman’s dark yang, got grim and gritty in Man of Steel. Batman works as the dark shadow of the DC universe. But as the center of that universe, he could make things too dark. Watching superheroes punch bad guys shouldn’t be a chore. DC needs to balance the Batman franchise with some fun stuff, lest its entire cinematic universe dissolve into a cloud of grey funk and Inception-y THOOOM music.
Finally, there’s the problem of oversaturation. If it’s possible for audiences to get sick of Batman, which admittedly it might not be, then we could be close to reaching that point. The last Nolan Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, grossed over $1 billion but scored lukewarm reviews compared to the first two. Fans are already skeptical of Affleck’s Batman, turning an early promotional image into the mocking Sad Batman meme.
There’s still time for Affleck to prove himself in the movies, but Batman is already everywhere. In addition to Batman V Superman, there’s a much-anticipated Lego Batman movie in the works. Gotham is into its second season. DC animation is working on a direct-to-DVD adaptation of The Killing Joke. And that’s not getting into the comics, the video games (regular and Lego), and other media fueling the new Batmania. When fans are more excited to see Lego Batman jamming at the Oscars than Why So Serious Batman brooding, maybe a slew of new live-action films isn’t the way to go.
Batman doesn’t need to be the center of the universe. He lives in the shadows. Time for him to step back and let some other DC characters into the sun.