The Flash trailer dropped recently, and we got our first proper look at the return of Michael Keaton as Batman. There were surprises, too. We saw Ben Affleck (as both Batman and Bruce Wayne); a new Supergirl flew over the horizon; and General Zod made a – hold on. Wait, was that…? It can’t have been. Let me rewind.
Yes, I think that’s Christian Bale’s Batman vroom-vroom-ing along the streets of some besieged city. You can’t be certain, but amid all the video game movie cut-scene looking mush is something that stands out: a Batman on a motorbike, racing through an explosion.
Not to be too generous, but it even looks vaguely like a Christopher Nolan movie shot – wide and low – which instantly stands out. But it’s that bike, most of all, that invokes Bale’s Batman, and that can’t have been unintentional. Undoubtedly there are cameos still left hidden within the latest multiverse superhero movie, waiting to be unearthed, and Bale could be one of them.
The last time we saw Christian Bale’s Batman, he might have been dead. Nolan left it to the audience to decide whether or not Alfred was indulging in a fantasy, or if Bruce really had managed to secure a life of peace for himself. It was a good ending, and an ambiguous-but-satisfying conclusion to the three-movie-long internal struggle that Bale’s Bruce had been battling with. To bring him back just to scratch some nostalgia-driven itch would fundamentally undermine that conclusion.
There is a sanctity to good endings. It’s why, for example, everything subsequent to the finale of the Star Trek series The Next Generation has felt not-quite-right. The show’s finale, ‘All Good Things…’ could not have been a more perfect end to the story, and stands as one of the greatest conclusions ever delivered by a TV series. Bringing Picard back to say goodbye, again, has always felt superfluous and always will, no matter how much it pokes the part of my brain that likes seeing things it’s seen before.
While the conclusion to The Dark Knight Batman movie trilogy might not have been on quite the same level, it’s still definitive. There is closure to the story of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. His time was done, hence why there weren’t any further DC movies from Bale and Nolan. Forcing him to return, in some desperate act of cinematic necromancy like with Logan returning in Deadpool 3, wouldn’t just be disrespectful to the authorial intention of Nolan; but to the audience.
The very worst thing about the glut of multiverse content right now (which is only really an opaque attempt to cash in on nostalgia) is that they are made not to serve the internal progression of the stories, but to delight the external audience. When you create something for your audience, rather than for the act of creation itself, you end up with a Star Wars movie like The Rise of Skywalker. And nobody wants another The Rise of Skywalker.
Multiverse stories that bring back characters whose stories are done are inherently destructive. They fiddle with and unpick endings that have been carefully crafted with love and care. And for what? So that, in one transitory moment, the audience can gasp with delight at seeing something they recognise, and by extension, return to the past? Can that really justify the unwinding of a complete and fulfilling emotional journey, as with The Dark Knight trilogy?
Strong conclusions are rare, so in the instances where they rear their heads they deserve to be preserved. To do otherwise is to show that you view cinema as – in Martin Scorsese’s words – a rollercoaster rather than an art form.
Mark Twain said, “There is no such thing as a new idea.” But bringing back Bale’s Bruce Wayne really would be scraping the bottom of the barrel, and a new low for nostalgia-content.
For more on the DCU, check out our guide to Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters, which includes the Superman: Legacy release date. Or, take a look at the Aquaman 2 release date, and our guide to the Joker 2 release date. Alternatively, check out our ranking of the Batman actors.