Zack Snyder certainly pulled off a shock with his completely transformed, outlandishly extended cut of Justice League, a genuine lockdown treat that managed to prove DC ensemble movies can be easily as beguiling as those made by Marvel – provided film-makers are given the time and space. The problem is, Warner Bros-owned DC has already moved on from the “Snyderverse”, and Snyder’s plans for further crossover movies are dead in the water.
On the other hand, DC’s introduction of the multiverse concept in the upcoming Flash movie means all bets are off. Sure, Robert Pattinson is now the “official” Batman in a proposed Matt Reeves-directed trilogy of films. But both Batfleck and the Michael Keaton version of the dark knight have been tipped to return in next year’s Andy Muschietti-led The Flash, which will see the scarlet speedster entering at least one alternate dimension. Perhaps inevitably, some DC fans are now calling for a revival of plans for a solo Batfleck movie, from which Affleck stepped down after the failure of the Joss Whedon-led version of Justice League to wow critics or triumph at the box office.
This leaves Warner Bros in a difficult position. It has effectively bet all its chips on Pattinson restoring Batman to big-screen glory, on the basis that nobody liked the brutish, myopic version of Gotham’s saviour played by Affleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But that movie now seems a long time ago – back when Snyder was a purveyor of ill-conceived cinema designed for multiplexes, rather than the deliverer of arty and deliciously overblown four-hour streaming near-masterpieces – and there is certainly renewed interest in seeing what Batfleck does next, post-Justice League.
Including Affleck in The Flash could be just the stalling tactic the studio needs while it waits to see what the reaction is to Reeves’s The Batman, currently set for March 2022. If Pattinson turns out to be a decent caped crusader, Affleck could find himself reduced to cameos in ensemble movies – the odd appearance in Aquaman 2, or Wonder Woman 3, perhaps. By the time Reeves’s new Batman trilogy is complete we will be at least a decade down the line, by which time Affleck would be in his late 50s. The perfect timing for an adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, some might argue – though we’ve already see a large part of that storyline in Dawn of Justice.
On the other hand, Reeves’s Batman was always conceived as a standalone venture, allowing the caped crusader to return to the gritty and realistic mode that proved so popular in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, rather than the alien-battling leader of heroes seen in the Justice League comics. Might we end up with one Batman who appears in the interconnected DC superhero movies, and another who operates as a lone wolf? It is far from the Marvel model, where there is usually only ever one actor for each superhero role, and stars often retire only when their character is killed off. But Warner Bros has always seemed determined to operate differently, whether by fault or design.
The picture is complicated further by the continuing refusal of Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg in both Justice League iterations (with far more screen time in the Snyder cut) to quietly accept that he is unlikely to play the role again after speaking out against both Whedon and a number of Warners execs over their behaviour during the making of the film. A new interview with Empire sees Fisher signalling that there might be hope yet for him to appear Muschietti’s The Flash, even though he is currently not scheduled to star in any future DC movies, and plans for a solo Cyborg flick have been quietly sidelined.
“Andy seems to have his head on straight and understood these characters by making it about the relationship more than just a display of superpowers,” Fisher said. “We were on the same page about that, and it’ll be a bummer if there is no way to resolve the issue.”
“If all I’m blessed to do is what I’ve been able to do in this business, I’d rather go ahead and speak my piece now than have these stories lost to the world,” he added. “I know where my power is.”
It is hard to imagine Warners recasting Fisher’s role in the near future – the PR fallout alone would be catastrophic, given the actor’s allegations. And so, it seems we are heading for a strange DC universe where there are as many as three Batmans (if Keaton, who recently suggested he is not 100% committed, stays in the picture) but not a single Cyborg. Given Fisher’s wonderfully human performance in Snyder’s Justice League, a movie in which Affleck was perfectly fine but hardly outstanding, that’s something of a tragedy.
It should be noted that this once again smacks of incredibly bad planning by the studio. Moreover, it’s not the first time that an inability to predict the future has turned out to be DC’s kryptonite. At least we’ll always have the Snyder cut of Justice League to remind us there’s an alternate reality out there somewhere where it all worked out very differently.