Comics on Film: Analyzing Matt Reeves' Approach to Adapting Batman

Comics on Film: Analyzing Matt Reeves' Approach to Adapting Batman

Aug 03, 2018

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

For a while now, Comics on Film has urged patience when it comes to solid news concerning the next cinematic adventure for the Dark Knight, and DC Comics’ most popular hero, Batman. We’ve known for a while that WB has enlisted director Matt Reeves to develop the next Batman film after Ben Affleck decided not to take the director’s chair for it, and since then there’s been little more than rumor or speculation to go off of in trying to determine at least a partial idea of what the film might look like.

That just changed. As we recently detailed on Movies.com, Reeves recently broke some of his silence concerning his work on the upcoming Dark Knight-centric project – largely referred to in the fan community as The Batman in lieu of an actual, confirmed title – at a Television Critics Association (TCA) panel (via SlashFilm), and we finally have a greater idea of what the film will be aiming to do under Reeves’ stewardship.

Reeves himself explained he wanted the film to be very “noir-driven,” with a point-of-view approach that arises out of his own love for the character’s best stories, which will “inform by osmosis,” that way he’s not continuing any story we’ve seen before either in comics or on-screen, but it will still feel like a natural extension and exploration of Batman’s world as it’s been depicted in its best works. So, what kinds of conclusions can Batman “scholars” and comics fans draw from the minimal detail divulged by Reeves?

Well, nothing bad, that’s for sure.

 

“Inform by Osmosis”

The Dark Knight Rises

That phrase is probably one of the most important ones that Reeves used in characterizing his approach to adapting the Batman and his larger world of supporting allies and adversaries, as well as the city of Gotham itself. This kind of philosophy in indirectly adapting the source material is likely the best way to go and was basically the same kind of approach employed by Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, and Jonathan Nolan in creating the stories that make up The Dark Knight Trilogy.

While that trilogy adapted some familiar single moments and/or characters from different eras of the comics (Henri Ducard and “The Man Who Falls” in Batman Begins from the 1980s, the Joker posing as a cop in The Dark Knight from the 40s, or Bane breaking Batman’s back in The Dark Knight Rises from the 90s, for instance), the stories themselves combined both familiar and original elements into wholly unique stories that still felt overridingly truthful to Batman and his world, even though none of those movies are direct adaptations from single stories of the comics.

The Dark Knight

This is especially true when comparing those films to the previous film series, where neither Tim Burton nor Joel Schumacher were particularly interested in staying true to the ways in which Batman has been depicted in the comics since his darker reformation in the 1970s at the hands of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams. By immersing himself in the kinds of Batman stories that are meaningful to him, as Reeves said, “It’s very much trying to find a way to do this as something that for me is going to be definitively Batman and new and cool.”

Even for comics fans, it’s never been about adapting one particular story from the comics and simply turning that into a movie. When creating movies about beloved comics characters, it’s about getting the spirit and tone correct in an adaptation, making the characters feel familiar and truthful to the source without needing to rely on a beat-by-beat retelling of a story in another medium. It sounds like that’s exactly what Reeves is aiming to bring to the forefront in his effort with Batman.

 

Will It Be Connected to the Larger DC Universe?

Justice League

It’s hard to make a definitive conclusion at this point, but the smart money would be on the larger idea that The Batman will be a part of the same cinematic world that began in Man of Steel, and which will absolutely be continuing into upcoming films like Aquaman, Shazam!, and Wonder Woman 1984. In terms of connective tissue, Reeves himself said this: “There are ways in which all of this connects to DC, to the DC universe as well. We’re one piece of many pieces so I don’t want to comment on that except to say that I’m focused very specifically on this aspect of the DC world.”

As we’ve alluded to before in this very column, as messy as Justice League was in its construction, it actually puts all the pieces and characters in very satisfactory places for their future exploitations. This was recently expounded upon by this writer on Quora, which details exactly where all of the major players stand now that the preliminaries of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League are now in the rearview mirror. Suffice it to say that when looking at Batman himself, there are still plenty of stories to tell with the version of the character we first met in March of 2016, while also having the potential to go in a more truthful direction to the source material than previous franchise stewards may have been concerned with.

Justice League

Reeves’ statement about his focus being on Batman’s world specifically is in an absolutely correct spirit: when picking up multiple DC Comics titles, for instance, you could very well read an issue of Aquaman followed quickly thereafter by an issue of Detective Comics. They need not concern themselves with referring to each other, but readers still know that both of those very different books operate within the same shared universe. DC already seems to make clear that the universe itself can move forward with its upcoming sequels and aren’t exactly committed to throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water which, in our estimation, is the right way to go.

Being a part of the larger connected world does nothing to diminish Reeves’ ability to tell a solid, isolated Batman story, which may just so happen to be a continuation of the world we’ve seen in prior movies. As long as he’s not mandated to make that shared world a focus, then he can basically make exactly the kind of movie he wants to make, especially considering that there is very little that’s firmly established about this version of Batman and his larger history of operation over an expansive 20-year crimefighting career.

What do you think? Are you encouraged by the recent news concerning The Batman? Sound off below, and we’ll see you with an all-new Comics on Film next week!


Chris Clow is a comics expert/former retailer, and pop culture critic/commentator. He hosts two podcasts: Discovery Debrief: A Star Trek Podcast and Comics on Consoles. Find his column "Comics on Film" weekly at Movies.com, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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