Forget sequels. Forget reboots. Forget requels. A new challenger has entered the arena. We're gonna call it... SIMULQUELS. Or Si-quels?
According to Indiewire and The New York Times, DC Films and WarnerMedia are going to literally double down on Batman, making multiple Batman movies at once with different actors and claiming they exist in different timelines. There will also be spinoffs and other characters getting the same treatment.
This makes total sense. It is the lowest risk and highest reward move for a media conglomerate that owns a movie studio. Churn out a popular property... over and over again. How many Spider-Man movies can we have? Sony says, "tons."
Warners looks at Batman and says to Sony, "Hold my beer"
What gets weird... and almost a little insulting to audiences... is the verbal gymnastics being done to make this seem creatively necessary. From the New York Times profile on DC Films Exec Walter Hamada:
"Boiled down, it means that some characters (Wonder Woman as portrayed by Ms. Gadot, for instance) will continue their adventures on Earth 1, while new incarnations (Mr. Pattinson as ‘The Batman’) will populate Earth ... ‘The Flash,’ a film set for release in theaters in 2022, will link the two universes and feature two Batmans, with Mr. Affleck returning as one and Michael Keaton returning as the other. Mr. Keaton played Batman in 1989 and 1992."
This isn't a new idea. Comic books have long established 'multiverses' and Sony has already told us they're releasing a new Spider-Man movie that will co-star all the prior Spider-Man actors. That move is clearly inspired by Into the Spiderverse which was a hugely successful animated entry into the franchise. Hamada added:
“I don’t think anyone else has ever attempted this... But audiences are sophisticated enough to understand it. If we make good movies, they will go with it.”
Well, someone... has attempted it. And audiences are sophisticated enough to understand that you're just going to the same well as many times as is humanly possible. Can we drop the false pretense? The familiar refrain "tell good stories" and "make good movies" is intellectually dishonest. "We go where the dollars are, we aren't in a position to take expensive risks. We have shareholders..." Just be honest. Audiences are not stupid. Don't insult them.
If you love Batman and love the comics, this is great news. You will get all kinds of Batmen. If you wish major studios invested in other properties or if you dreamed of working on the studio lot on something not related to men and women in tights and capes... well... this is less thrilling.
Of course, part of the plan is to release the riskier comic book properties on HBO Max. So if you want to get creative in this space you just have to work with an off-brand person in tights and a cape.
Warners has had a weird month. First they had an ugly fallout with AMC when they pushed every release to HBO Max, then there was the ensuing alienation of major talent that has partnered with the studio (Christopher Nolan for example). Then there was the angry letter written by Denis Villeneuve over the fate of his epic Dune.
Now most recently, the direct-to-streaming release of Wonder Woman 1984, which has earned many less than kind reviews.
But let's set aside the rough recent news cycles for Warner and focus on this new Batman multiplicity because that's the thing that could impact our collective creative future.
Here is the thing...
It's not THAT crazy...
If you go way back in even Warner's own history you can see many precedents for this.
A star, for example, James Cagney, could be famous for being good in gangster films. If one of those movies did well, you'd see another "gangster picture" starring Cagney again as a slightly different gangster.
Warner Bros also became known for the Errol Flynn swashbuckler. In the late 1930's Flynn starred with many of the same exact co-stars in many similar Swashbucklers. It may be on a boat, in Sherwood forest, or even Dodge City. But the template was clear. Same leading lady, same villain, same sidekick.
It worked once so let's go back to the well.
The counterpoint to the eye-roll about having all these Batman movies is that this is what movie studios have always done.
However, there is this new wrinkle of doing multiple Batman movies in multiple universes that are being released at the same time. It starts to turn into a mind-bending word salad. And it sure feels like overkill.
How will we even talk about this? I just saw Batman Earth 1: part 3? It was better than Batman Earth 2 part 4 but not quite up to Batman Jr Earth 2 part 1?
The short answer is: it doesn't matter. The industry is just making Batman "again but a little different" to quote the abused screenwriting template 'Save the Cat'. This is what the industry has always done. The question is where does the filmmaker go to be creative and how creative can they be? 20-30 years ago there was room in the theatrical slate for dramas aimed at adults, about stories that didn't involve superheroes. That space has shrunk to practically nothing.
Then again... in 1941 Warner Bros released The Maltese Falcon, a lower budget adaptation of the 11-year-old book by Dashiell Hammet about popular character Sam Spade. The property had been adapted into a feature twice already that decade alone. Once in 1931, and then again under a different title as Satan Met a Lady. But it was this third take from a young writer named John Huston that blew open the doors on the character and defined the detective noir genre. Huston was looking for a directorial debut, he used the popular familiar property, and he became one of the great writer-directors of all time.
So... you can certainly innovate and make a name for yourself within the context of adapting a familiar property. Then again, by 1941 Sam Spade only had his story told on-screen twice in the still-young feature film format.
Is there a creative stone still left unturned in the property of Batman?