Despite his immense popularity, most of Batman’s live-action movies have limited themselves to a small portion of Gotham’s mythology, but why? Batman movies have dominated the superhero movie landscape since Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Although some iterations have been better received than others, the Caped Crusader is still a big-screen icon to this day. However, all Batman movies have focused on a very restrained part of the hero’s overall story.
Batman isn’t only an aggressive millionaire in a bat costume. In the comics, video games, shows, and animated movies, Bruce Wayne is also known for his detective abilities, his battles inside Arkham Asylum, and the extensive Bat-Family with whom he has shared so many adventures. Surprisingly, few of these iconic elements have been utilized in the live-action Batman films. The live-action movies have mostly leaned toward the hero’s physical battles rather than his status as “The World’s Greatest Detective,” Arkham Asylum has remained an afterthought while famous characters like Nightwing, Red Hood, or Tim Drake have even never appeared in on the big-screen despite their importance in the mythos.
The main reason these elements have been ignored for so long is that almost all of the Batman movies have focused on his early adventures or first encounter with each villain. For instance, no DC movie yet has depicted Joker as Batman’s true archenemy as the Caped Crusader is always facing the “Clown Prince of Crown” for the first time. Ironically, while the characters share a dark past in the DCEU, Ben Affleck’s Batman and Jared Leto’s Joker have yet to share screentime – though the upcoming Snyder Cut of Justice League will remedy that. Similarly, the “troubled parent figure” side of Bruce hasn’t really been explored because he has never trained Robin for long. And regarding Arkham Asylum, the exciting villain team-ups from the comics or games have been nothing short of impossible because each movie’s antagonist has only started to become a villain.
Batman movies have kept Gotham from growing into the grim dystopia its comic book counterpart is known as because the moment the city starts developing beyond a mere setting, the next adaptation tends to bring everything back to square one. Each reboot deals with Bruce Wayne struggling to come to terms with his job as a vigilante and the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne is practically played on a loop. The most notable exception to most of this – barring the death of the Waynes – is Affleck’s Batman in the DCEU. Even though this weathered, cynical hero felt like a breath of fresh air, the DCEU still missed the opportunity to define Gotham as a complex city and instead focused on Batman’s role in the creation of the Justice League.
Other pieces of media have proved that even Batman’s most absurd aspects can work. For instance, comic series Batman R.I.P. cleverly utilized the silly Bat-Mite as the voice of Batman’s consciousness when he had a mental breakdown, while Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth showed how a breakout at the institution forced Batman to confront his greatest foes without the story feel convoluted. Gotham is brimming with many of DC’s most interesting storylines and it’s time for DC movies to take a look beyond Batman’s initial adventures. Matt Reeves’ The Batman is taking the first step by showing the hero not in his first year, but his second. This could be a sign viewers will finally get to see the heroes, villains, and famed comic book storylines other media has been adapting for years while breaking the formula the live-action movies have fallen into.