The Dark Knight (2008)
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The Dark Knight (2017) via IMDB

Batman producer gives his take on Joaquin Phoenix's Joker and Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne

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Mar 28, 2019

While it's speculated that Matt Reeves new Batman film could focus a younger Bruce Wayne as the world's greatest detective, not much is truly known about the film, including who will play the Dark Knight. Recently, Reeves confirmed that filming will start later this year, but as of last week, the role of Batman had not been cast and rumored Bruce Wayne lead Oscar Isaac said he wasn't in the running.

The heat is on for the film rumored to be called The Batman. After the unexpected success of the Aquaman movie, great buzz for Shazam!, and building anticipation for the Birds of Prey movie and Wonder Woman 1984, Batman would be next on the slate for release in June of 2021. According to reports, the film could also feature a rogue's gallery of villains and take place in the 1990s. But, it's also been in development since 2015 and gone through several scripts, so suddenly, the company's most sturdy character is its biggest question mark.

The good news is that the franchise is still guided in part by a steady hand that has been there from the start, through many ups and downs in Gotham. Having bought the film rights to Batman in 1979, Michael Uslan helped kickstarted the movie franchise and has served as an executive producer on every Batman movie since 1989. While he's bound by the same Warner Bros. policy that forbids anyone working on or privy to upcoming Batman movies to not talk specifics, Uslan opened up about all other things Batman this week.

On the Dark Knight's 80th anniversary, Uslan explained why Batman producers should be looking for the perfect Bruce Wayne and not the best Batman for Reeves' film. He also spoke about Todd Phillips' Joker and what can be done to refocus the DCEU movies.

Batman (1989) Courtesy: Warner Bros.

Batman (1989) Courtesy: Warner Bros. via IMDB

If The Batman movie does focus on Bruce Wayne as the world's greatest detective, Uslan said he would support the move. Additionally, he'd like to see DC Comics dip into a few villians that have been underused in the DCEU.

"I've been an advocate of this since 1979. He was born in a comic book called Detective Comics for a reason," he said. "Considering the scary times we are all living in, this may be the right era to see The Reaper. I have been a fan of Man-Bat and Hugo Strange since I was a kid. I do not think the world necessarily needs Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum."

Let's talk about the Joker film coming out in October.

We're in a world right now where the major studios, networks, and cable companies are on the brink of over-saturating the market and potentially killing the goose that laid the golden egg. I'm a great believer that different is good. Creating something unique is good.

To take a comic book movie and character and make what in essence is a stylish, film noir, crime drama is pretty amazing, as weird as it may be. I'm very, very happy to see what Todd Phillips has hatched here. He's a fantastic director and person and executed his vision of what this film could be.

What do you think of Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role?

I always allow the fans to judge things like these because I'm a fanboy myself. Like them, I want someone to come at a character with heart and soul, from a point of passion. I was on the receiving end of fandom back in 1988 when fandom went apes*** crazy when they thought a comedian was to play Batman and play him for laughs (once upon a time Michael Keaton was a stand-up comedian). I heard the same kind of uproar when Christopher Nolan decided to hire Heath Ledger as the Joker.

My message to my fellow fans is to just have some faith in the filmmaker and the actors. Don't prejudge. Go see it then make your judgment. For me, there have been at least three great Jokers up to now, Jack Nicholson in Batman, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight and Mark Hamill. I think there's room for more. Joaquin Phoenix is an absolutely amazing actor!

What has your experience been making these movies over the decades?

You have to remember whoever puts up the money at the end of the day has the final say on films. You do everything you can do, using your passion to convince, orchestrate, strategize, beg, plead, cajole, debate, or cry, to convey your strong conviction.

But what's so great is when you have someone like Chris Nolan, Tim Burton or the brilliant people behind the animation films, (everyone from Bruce Timm to Sam Register, Kevin Conroy, Eric Radomski, Paul, Dini, Alan Burnett, Andrea Romano, and the list goes on and on), I become their biggest cheerleader. These are the people who deserve all the accolades and credit these past 30 years for bringing their passion and skills to the Batman mythos in the media.

But at the start it was hard. I bought the film rights to Batman on October 3, 1979, with my partner Ben Melniker, and it took 10 years before that first Batman movie was made, having been rejected by every studio in Hollywood initially. For the longest time, we were told that it wasn't possible to do serious comic book movies or dark superheroes. It was an endurance contest and this year we're celebrating 30 years of the film's release.

Batman in 1989 was a game changer and revolutionary in that it spawned what you see now. It changed Hollywood and the comic book industry. Yes, it had great economic success, but the impact it had was much greater than merely that. I'll never forget after Batman came out in 1989, President and Vice President of Marvel asked me to lunch. We met at this pricey restaurant in New York City, sat down and I asked, "So what's up, fellas?" They told me that this was my "Thank You" lunch. It turns out that because of the movie, their sales had taken a jump of 20 percent.

I think my favorite Batman movie is both the 1989 Tim Burton film which, for me, was a lifelong dream come true AND the Christopher Nolan trilogy, which is really just one film in three acts. It's beautifully structured and every set-up planted in the first two films has a payoff in The Dark Knight Rises. Those films have an amazing thematic heft to them in addition to an emotional impact — for example, the scene when the passengers are given a choice to blow up the other boat in order to save their own lives — what happens when you have to make a moral choice between something bad and something worse. When you see a Christopher Nolan Batman movie, you no longer are limited to call it a great comic book movie. You can now say, "This is a great film!"

batman-ben-affleck.jpg

Ben Affleck as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Courtesy: Warner Bros.) via IMDB

Are you disappointed to see Ben Affleck depart from the role of Batman? What would you like to see in a new Batman?

I think Ben was a fantastic Bruce Wayne. I'm going to take you back to back to 1989 again. When we were just getting started, Tim Burton explained his vision to me and he said if we're making the first-ever dark and serious superhero movie, it won't be about Batman. I became white as a sheet and my jaw dropped.

He continued, saying that if we're going to convince adults around the world who have never read a comic book that this is a serious movie, it has to be about Bruce Wayne. It was an epiphany moment for me. The real question to ask when looking at all the Batman movies is, "Who's your favorite Bruce Wayne... and why?"

If you look at all of the actors in the role and their interpretations of Batman they've been within 25 percent of each other. But each of the Bruce Waynes have been totally different. Affleck was the Bruce Wayne in his 40s who didn't want to do it anymore, who's bitter and dragged kicking and screaming back into it. Each actor has brought a different Bruce Wayne to the table.

Aquaman Jason Momoa and Patrick Wilson

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Entertainment

Where do you think the DCEU goes after this?

The biggest difference between DC and Marvel was that the Marvel Universe, for the most part, was created by one writer who was also the one editor and legendary artists like Kirby and Ditko. When he was writing these stories, Stan and Jack/Steve provided a unified look and tone. You knew what was going on when you read a Marvel comic. You knew who was based in New York at any particular moment, what was under the ocean, what was in outer space, and the tone was consistent. The MCU has been a natural extension of that. They've been able to convey what Stan, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko created all those years ago.

DC was completely different. They had upwards of eight editors with tight control over a specific character. In that atmosphere, it was like a series of castles, surrounded by moats with alligators. Each editor had his own writers and artists and control over his character. Except for World's Finest with Batman and Superman, for many years there were very few team-ups.

I remember reading a Superman comic in which he went to Atlantis and fell in love with a mermaid. Everyone there was a merman or mermaid. I was 10 years old and I remember reading an Aquaman comic book on the same day. In that comic, Aquaman was the King of Atlantis and there were no mermaids. The same company was putting out these comics and it's indicative of how DC operated way back when.

To me, having a unified world around Gotham, and one around Metropolis, one around Paradise Island and one around Atlantis allows each of these characters to exist in their own space and time.


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