DC’s Batman Universe Teases Risk Repeating 1 Spider-Man Mistake
The Batman director Matt Reeves is reportedly developing a The Batman movie universe focused on “obscure » Batman villains (via THR), and while the idea may seem exciting at first, it risks repeating Sony’s Spider-Man mistake. Considering how The Batman was one of the most well-received DC movies in years, both in terms of reviews and box office, it was safe to say that the Matt Reeves film would lead not only to The Batman 2 but also to spinoffs. These reported Batman villain movies would join the Penguin and Arkham Asylum HBO Max shows in the list of The Batman’s spinoffs, which goes to show how confident Warner Bros. Discovery is in Matt Reeves’ Batman franchise.
The world set up in The Batman does ask for spinoffs. Still, creating a movie franchise centered on B-list Batman villains like Clayface and Professor Pyg, both of which were specifically mentioned in THR’s report, may not be the right strategy. The Batman mythos is large enough to sustain a cinematic universe by itself, with no need for other Justice League heroes to appear, but only if involves widely known characters like Robin, Batgirl, Batwoman, and the rest of the Bat-Family. Ignoring those legacy characters in order to focus on the villains is exactly what Sony has done with its Spider-Man universe, a flawed plan considering the Venom movies’ critical reception and Morbius’ box office failure.
When Sony first revealed its plans to create a cinematic universe centered on Spider-Man, not many people would have guessed that villains like Morbius and Kraven would be at the center of it. The idea of having a Spider-Man cinematic universe without Spider-Man necessarily involved in all of the movies was already risky by itself, but there were enough legacy characters in the Spider-Man lore to sustain a series of movies. Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Woman, Spider-Man 2099, and Ben Reilly are just some examples of Spider-Man legacy characters who could have been at the center of Sony’s Spider-Man universe, yet the studio decide to focus on Spider-Man villains instead.
Considering how Batman’s lore is also full of Batman legacy characters – many of which have never appeared in a DC movie – having The Batman universe center around villains very much repeats what Sony is doing with the Spider-Man franchise. The popularity of the box office potential of the Batman and assorted Spider-Man villains in question is obviously different, and it’s not easy to compare Scarecrow with Venom. Still, making a Batman villain movie would ask for that villain to be reframed as an anti-hero, or at the very least, as a tragic character – which is also something the “Venomverse” movies have done. Though both Venom movies were solid box office hits, Morbius’ box office proves how risky that approach is.
Of all DC characters, Batman is by far the one with the most potential to sustain a cinematic universe by itself. With Matt Reeves’ The Batman existing outside of the DCEU, any plans to make The Batman into a franchise will have to rely on Batman-related characters only. The most obvious candidates to be at the center of a Batman cinematic universe are Batman’s sidekicks and other legacy Bat-Heroes such as the many versions of Robin, the many different characters who have been Batgirl, Batwoman, Batwing, and other Batfamily heroes. Most of those Batman legacy characters have starred in their own solo comic books or animated movies, and they could easily sustain their own live-action movies as well.
While unique takes on Batman villains can make for interesting stories, a series of movies about Batman’s rogues gallery can become repetitive and uninspired very quickly. Most of Batman’s villains are defined by either Batman or Bruce Wayne, and separating them from Batman may not work. Essentially, Robin or Batgirl have much more box office potential than Hugo Strange or Clayface. Those Batman legacy heroes can work in their own separated stories, and the same cannot be said for most of Batman’s rogues gallery.
The idea of having several movies about different Batman villains seems to try to replicate Joker (2019)’s success. However, not every Batman villain has the same box office potential as the Joker. In fact, not many DC or Marvel characters are as popular as the Joker. Even if nailing a Joker story without Batman is difficult, Joker as a character is big enough to sustain its own movie or series of movies. Every DC movie featuring the Joker was a success on some level, whether it received good reviews or not. Essentially, it was no major surprise that Joker crossed the billion-dollar mark.
That is not to say Clayface or Scarecrow movies cannot be as good as Joker was, only that matching Joker’s success is not easy. Perhaps a better way to explore Batman’s rogues gallery would be through HBO Max shows. Colin Farrel’s The Penguin and Arkham Asylum, the former of which is close to starting shooting, are great examples of how to expand The Batman’s shared universe beyond the big screen. Not every Batman villain or piece of Gotham’s mythos asks for a theatrical movie. In fact, the serialized format of a TV show is arguably more suitable for characters like Scarecrow and Clayface.
The problem with creating a The Batman cinematic universe already is that Robert Pattinson’s Batman is only two years into his vigilante career. Batman has only now discovered what his mission in Gotham should be, meaning that is still too soon to introduce Robin, Batgirl, and all the many other legacy Batman heroes. A fully formed, comic-accurate Bat-Family, which would be perfect for a cinematic universe, only works for a Batman who is already years into his career. However, with the very first installment in The Batman franchise already a success, it makes sense that the studio will not wait several years to expand the series.
A Batman cinematic universe is a great idea and has never been done, but it would work much better at a later point in the franchise. The reactions to the DCEU’s Batgirl cancellation prove that audiences are interested in DC movies centered on Batman’s sidekicks, and there is really no limitation as to how many movies or shows the Bat-Family characters could generate. The villains’ spinoff approach, on the other hand, is very limited. None of the Batman villains mentioned in THR’s report is as recognizable as Robin or Batgirl, meaning that films centered around them might be financial risks depending on the budget.
It’s safe to say that Batman’s most important villains will be saved for The Batman 2 and other sequels – another reason why making several villain spinoffs is not a good idea. A few The Batman spinoffs centered on Batman’s rogues gallery can make a great addition to a larger Batman cinematic universe, but the franchise cannot rely on that approach only without risking repeating the Spider-Man Sonyverse issues. It remains to be seen how this planned The Batman cinematic universe will play out, and if the Bat-Family will ever be a part of it.