Think back to 1999. Batman Beyond, or Batman of the Future as it was known in South Africa, had the weight of the world on its soldiers. Namely because it had to follow the universally praised and four-time Emmy Award-winning Batman: The Animated Series, arguably the greatest animated show of all time. Furthermore, the story was ambitious to say the least, as it would focus on a new protagonist and Batman (Terry McGinnis) and would only feature a handful of the classic characters from the original caped crusader’s folklore.
The film that never was
Yet, with Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett and Paul Dini – three of the masterminds behind BTAS – heavily involved, Batman Beyond proved to be another critical success and fan-favourite venture. While the cyberpunk styled show never quite reached BTAS levels of euphoria, it did become a lauded and cherished part of the DC universe – so much so that a live action film was announced by Warner Bros. in August 2000. However, the ghost of 1997’s Batman & Robin loomed over the Warner movie lot and the fear of another disastrous Batman project paralysed the studio execs’ cheque writing hands. In short, the project was canned by 2001, and an animated film, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, was optioned instead.
In an interview with filmmaker Kevin Smith, Dini explained how far the live action film was from being made. “It was fine…it wasn’t like [Return of the Joker]. It was set in Gotham future, but it didn’t quite have the fantastic, futuristic edge. It was sort of like an amalgam: there was a little bit of Dark Knight, there was a little bit of contemporary comics, and there was Terry and the suit and everything. It was old Bruce Wayne. So they were in it, but it was just a little bit…I dunno, for whatever reason, this [Return of the Joker] was a more successful film. The first draft went in and needed some work, and then basically everybody decided it was better…rather than spend a lot of time on this, and let’s just table it.”
The film might’ve been shelved, but a lot has happened since 2001. Most importantly, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy set the gold standard for superhero films, ensuring the world went absolutely comic book mad. Flash-forward to today and every comic book related project is being green-lit while studios cash in on the pandemonium – I mean, Sony even considered an Aunt May film for heaven’s sake! With many lesser characters and franchises receiving their own films, the question is begging to be asked: could a live action Batman Beyond film finally be on its way this time?
It’s possible. Let’s look at the evidence: First, Batman Beyond is thriving in the comic book world and Terry has played a central role in The New 52 storyline. Second, with Ben Affleck portraying an older Bruce Wayne/Batman in the current DC film universe, it would make perfect sense to have him hand over the mantle to a younger successor at some point (perhaps after the proposed Justice League films?). And finally, it just makes sense to explore new territories.
There’s no point in rebooting a Batman origin story for cinema every couple of years – he isn’t Spider-Man (sorry, Spidey, I know I took a swipe). There are many more incredible story arcs begging to be told and the cyberpunk world of Batman Beyond has epic sci-fi extravaganza written all over it.
In fact even Michael Uslan, best known as a producer of all the modern Batman films to date, seems to be a fan of the idea. In a 2013 panel discussion, Uslan stated, “Now if I could put my ‘fan boy hat’ on, not my ‘producer hat’. How cool would it be to see a Batman Beyond movie? Bruce Wayne in his 80s training a young Batman. And how cool would it be to see Clint Eastwood as Bruce Wayne in his 80s?”
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we also need to be aware of the biggest obstacle to a Batman Beyond film: the public itself. How do you convince the average cinema goer to watch a Batman film about a Batman he/she can’t relate to? Yes, the DC cinema universe is planning on tying everything together, but how do you introduce a complex derivative of an already complex character to someone who isn’t familiar with the series?
Liberties can – and probably would – be taken; however, where would you draw the line? Would former Batman villains have to be included purely because of audience familiarity? Would Dick Grayson take up the mantle since he’s more well-known than Terry McGinnis? In order to keep the character as close to the source material as possible, risks would need to be taken – something that Hollywood isn’t too fond of doing.
To Gotham and beyond!
2015 has been the year for futuristic and dystopian worlds in cinema – just ask the producers of Mad Max: Fury Road and Ex Machina who are currently making snow angels with all of the money these films have made them. Batman Beyond could be the key to taking superhero films to another plane and proving to the critics that there is much more substance to comic book films than meets the eye. The iron is hot and it’s time for Terry McGinnis and co to strike.