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Why The Batman universe doesn’t need the DCEU

Between DC Films still grappling with how to correct the course of a cinematic universe that stumbled almost as fast as it started and the new executive team from the Warner Bros. Discovery merger deciding to eviscerate HBO Max content, things aren’t that much clearer for the DCEU than they were two years ago. However, director Matt Reeves and actor Robert Pattinson seem to be locked down following the critical and commercial success of The Batman, as the director recently penned a new overall film deal — and a TV renewal.

This crime noir-heavy take on the World’s Greatest Detective finally showcased some of his other definitive traits, and it’s proven to be able to stand on its own feet apart from the wider, murkier cinematic universe. With a sequel in development and HBO Max spinoffs on the way, Reeves’ The Batman universe is more than capable enough to live and thrive without any connections to the mainline DCEU.

Avoiding the baggage of a massive cinematic universe

Split image of The Flash and Wonder Woman.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Amid a growing sense of burnout from a near-relentless output of superhero fanfare desperate to capitalize on the format, it’s clear that the obsession behind the “cinematic universe” formula has been diluting the individual quality of several of these projects. Both the MCU and DCEU have put out some solid movies (some more than others), but part of what made The Batman feel special and refreshing is that it was a movie that didn’t feel like it was churned out on an assembly line or made by a committee.

To be fair, DC has had some notable successes in more recent years with the likes of the first Wonder Woman and Aquaman, which are part of its interconnected mainline universe. But even still, it hasn’t achieved the consistency in its releases needed to structurally recover from the DCEU’s early panning when WB rushed it out the door in a half-baked measure to imitate the MCU.

Joker as a standalone effort — continuity-wise — may have had some special circumstances surrounding its phenomenal success, but it was certainly evidence that comic book adaptations outside of cinematic universes could still work.

Robert Pattinson as the Dark Knight in red promo art for The Batman.
Warner Bros.

What Reeves has in store with The Batmanuniverse will certainly be bigger than Joker’s in terms of scope, but if this first movie is any indication, it will almost assuredly have a unique identity among its genre contemporaries.

It might be understandably eye-rolling to hear something like this given how often and pretentiously words like these are thrown around in social media fandoms. Nonetheless, having an auteur director like Reeves at the helm of this world ensures his Batman, his Gotham City, and everyone else who populates it takes part in projects that focus on telling a complete and satisfying story first — and continuations second.

The best of both worlds in scale

Robert Pattinson as Batman in a dimly lit crime scene.
Warner Bros.

Perhaps in another timeline, audiences would have gotten a DC theatrical universe that took its time and care with each of its movies from the start, along with a Batman that ventured into the metaphysical alongside the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman. However, what Reeves and Pattinson put to screen under the current backdrop is tantalizing all on its own.

The Batman finally puts some live-action respect on the titular brooding vigilante’s World’s Greatest Detective moniker by showing a version of the hero building up to fulfill that title’s potential. Gotham City feels like a grimy, pulsating character similar to how Tim Burton accomplished the same feat in his own vision, and its grounded setting harks back to Christopher Nolan’s revered The Dark Knight trilogy without feeling like a cheap copy.

But what the director is poised to do could put together the best aspects of Nolan’s trilogy with the exciting world-building of a cinematic universe template. Batman is a character whose sandbox is so rich that he and his supporting cast could easily fill out its own contained world, and a fully realized trilogy along with the upcoming spinoffs could emphasize that.

Split image of Batman and Joker in Reeves' universe.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

That, in and of itself, is something grander in scale than Nolan’s trilogy, but tighter than something like the MCU or DCEU. Even in this trilogy opener, the world-building was already impressively on display through the background of the organized crime families reaching back decades, the turmoil surrounding Bruce Wayne’s parents and Arkham’s history, and a Batman/Joker dynamic that’s been developing for two years already.

A rogues’ gallery worth exploring

Barry Keoghan’s grim portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime in the movie’s cameo and deleted scene is a prime example of how, in canon, The Batman‘s universe is dense with mythos both in and out of the movie itself.

The Batman - Arkham Deleted Scene (2022) Robert Pattinson, Barry Keoghan

The future is bright for The Batman theatrically, as the same level of creativity taken with Paul Dano’s iteration of the Riddler could be extended to the more larger-than-life members of the Dark Knight’s rogues’ gallery without feeling out of place. Even beyond that, though, are the aforementioned spinoffs in the works for HBO Max.

The Penguin is set to start filming early next year to give Colin Farrell’s transformative — figuratively and literally — rendition of the villain a Scarface-like spotlight. And as strange as a Penguin series sounds on paper, that angle could make for a substantive expansion of Gotham City’s on-screen seedy underbelly. Characters like Black Mask or Two-Face could be seamlessly introduced through a concept like this, for instance.

Paul Dano as The Riddler in The Batman
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Meanwhile, the reported Arkham Asylum spinoff could give The Batman universe an enticing dose of horror undertones, as well as put Keoghan’s Joker front and center without stealing the limelight from other prospective villains in theatrical movies. And there would be no reason Dano’s Riddler couldn’t return, which would be particularly exciting since fans are used to antagonists being one-offs in the same movie they debut.

That’s not even mentioning the potential fleshing out of the greater Bat family with a long-awaited redemption of the Boy Wonder. Suffice it to say, the way Pattinson throws his weight around a room in the Batsuit and the near-limitless narrative potential of the Gotham City around him should be ample assurance that this world can more than carry its own weight.

DC Films’ The Batman is available to stream now on HBO Max.

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Guillermo Kurten
Freelance Writer, Entertainment
A University of Houston graduate in Print Media Journalism, Guillermo has covered sports entertainment and practically all…
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