Gotham over a barrel: should Michael Keaton answer the call of Batman? | Ben Child

Reprising his role for The Flash would create a tantalising parallel universe that erases several batmen from history

Should Michael Keaton really be returning to the role of Gotham’s dark knight, 30 years on from originating the role for the modern era in 1989’s Batman and its 1992 sequel Batman Returns? If a new report from the Wrap is to be believed, this is the question the 68-year-old Oscar nominee might currently be pondering over his morning coffee. The Hollywood trade site reports he is in line to reprise his famous role in The Flash, a forthcoming solo outing for Ezra Miller’s take on the scarlet speedster.

This seems, at first glance, like the kind of desperate late career move Hollywood agents have nightmares about. Ageing star pulls on the famous old costume once again, only to find himself negatively compared to his own younger, more virile self from three decades in the past. Squint a little, and it could even be a cheeky alternative ending to Alejandro G Iñárritu’s Birdman, which featured Keaton as a has-been star of superhero movies whose inner voice wants him to ditch his current oh-so-serious play in favour of another avian outing.

Keaton in Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Ageing star pulls on famous avian-inspired costume once more? ... Keaton in Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Photograph: Fox Searchlight/Courtesy Evere

Fortunately for Keaton, the headline rarely tells the full story, and there is significant evidence that he has not taken leave of his senses after all. Rather than playing Batman again, he will be playing just one of many caped crusaders that have existed across a potentially infinite array of realities – it just happens to be that this particular crusader is the one we met in Tim Burton’s films.

That’s because Flashpoint, the comic book source material for the proposed new film, sees Barry Allen’s Flash plunged into an alternate reality where DC’s costumed titans have changed radically. Aquaman, Wonder Woman and their respective tribes, for instance, are in the midst of all-out global war, while Superman is a freaky-deaky weakling.

I can’t help thinking that DC has missed a trick somewhere. In the comic (warning, spoilers ahead!), one of the alternate reality’s revelations is that the dark knight patrolling the streets of Gotham is not Bruce Wayne at all, but his grizzled father Thomas. (Wait till you see who the Joker is …)

In this version of reality, young Bruce – not his parents – died on the fateful night in the alley that inspired Batman into existence. It is the guilt-racked father – a sort of Eastwood-esque avenger – who swoops down on criminals night after night.

Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck and Ezra Miller in Justice League.
Like it never happened ... Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck and Ezra Miller in Justice League. Photograph: Clay Enos/Warner Bros/AP

If the Wrap is to be believed, Warner Bros seems to have swapped out this plot element in favour of bringing back Keaton as an older version of the caped crusader, with the storyline filling us in on what has been happening to him in the intervening years. That’s a tantalising prospect, if only because we get to imagine that George Clooney, Val Kilmer and Ben Affleck never got to pull on the cape and cowl (though Christian Bale may have some reason to feel a little hard done by). Moreover, it will be fascinating to see if the studio can finally work out how to craft a costume for Keaton that actually allows him to turn his head.

And yet one of the comic’s greatest moments of pathos involves the final sacrifice made by Thomas Wayne that allows The Flash to return to his own reality and restore Bruce Wayne to the role of Batman. It is such an essential part of Flashpoint; the studio will need to have some pretty impressive ideas up its sleeve to match it.

Perhaps we can start a campaign for Keaton to appear as the grizzled elder Wayne, the toughest, wrinkliest dark knight since time began. But even if he doesn’t get the chance, the prospect of appearing in The Flash seems like a win-win. For this is the wonderful thing about alternate realities: if the movie’s great, Keaton gets to play Batman one last time. If the movie’s terrible, who knows if this version of the caped crusader really was the one we last saw three decades ago?


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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