Batgirl: It Shouldn't Matter Which Version of Batman Appears

The world of DC films has gone through some significant evolutions over the past few years, with projects going through a wide array of incarnations just within the past half-decade. One project that has managed to endure is Batgirl, which went from first being announced as a Joss Whedon-spearheaded project in 2017, to gaining a completely different creative team in the form of writer Christina Hodson and directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, to gaining a star in Leslie Grace and beginning production earlier this year. As elements of the Batgirl film have begun to come together, fans have been curious to see exactly how it fits into the ever-evolving DC Extended Universe, and on Wednesday, we got an answer that some might not have been expecting. An official listing from Warner Bros. revealed that Michael Keaton will be portraying Bruce Wayne / Batman in Batgirl, a role he originated in Tim Burton's Batman film and is set to reprise in the upcoming The Flash movie.

Essentially from the jump, this news was met with a wide array of reactions: some are happy to see Keaton put on the cowl once again, while others are upset that the film's incarnation of Batman isn't being played by Ben Affleck, who has been the main DCEU's Batman since 2016's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Although we're still a long ways away from even getting context about Batman's role in Batgirl in the form of a trailer, one thing has already become clear — it ultimately shouldn't make a difference which incarnation of the character appears in the film.

Prior to the Keaton news, it had never been explicitly said which incarnation of Batman would be appearing in Batgirl, outside of the film's directors revealing in an interview that it would be "the real Batman." Given the fact that three actors are set to play the Dark Knight on film just within the next year: Keaton and Affleck in The Flash, and Robert Pattinson in The Batman, it was anyone's guess as to what that could mean. Still, context clues — mainly the return of J.K. Simmons' Commissioner James Gordon, who was last seen working directly alongside Affleck's Batman in Justice League, as well as rumors that the film could tie to the canon of Birds of Prey and the upcoming Black Canary film — made some assume that it would be Affleck's incarnation of the character.

Still, that has to be reconciled with rumors and reports surrounding Keaton's role in the DC Films world post-The Flash, with some indicating that he could be playing a Nick Fury-like mentor role crossing over with other characters in the main universe. Given the momentum that has concurrently ramped up around Batgirl, fans had already begun to wonder if he could be connected to the film in some capacity. After all, we know the events of The Flash are expected to shake up the DC multiverse going forward, and that Affleck also might be done acting in franchise and IP movies for the foreseeable future. If The Flash shifts the main DCEU universe to make Keaton the primary Batman instead of Affleck, it stands to reason that would impact Batgirl in some way, both with regards to Gordon and Batgirl's storylines.

Is it disappointing that, over the years since Affleck was first cast as Batman, we haven't gotten to see him interact with any other members of the "Batfamily"? Yes — but that fact, and Affleck seemingly not being involved with Batgirl, shouldn't taint some fans' expectations towards the film, especially months and months before it's even released. That's especially the case when you consider the potential context for Keaton's Batman appearance — at the most, he could play a supporting role as her mentor; at the very least, he could appear in a few key flashback scenes, setting up Barbara's childhood admiration of the Caped Crusader or even the controversial events of The Killing Joke.

Anyone expecting a significant arc for either Affleck or Keaton's Batman across the Batgirl movie, as if Barbara's own storyline isn't enough to carry the film on its own, is most likely going to be disappointed, just like fans who were upset that Batman didn't show up in Birds of PreyDoctor Strange was cut from WandaVision, and an Iron Man scene was cut from Black Widow. It just so happens that those stories all focused on female characters coming into their own in the often-patriarchal world of superheroes, an idea that is only just beginning to be reckoned with in superhero adaptations, and that certainly doesn't need a prominent appearance from a more well-known male superhero to drive its point. It's also a theme that we can safely expect to carry over into Batgirl, given Barbara's comic history and the fact that Hodson also wrote Birds of Prey.

If decades upon decades of comic canon have proved anything, it's that Barbara Gordon's story — whether as Batgirl, Oracle, or a civilian — can exist beautifully when outside of Batman's shadow. While it's understandable that a version of the Caped Crusader would factor into Barbara's cinematic journey in Batgirl, the specifics of who is wearing that cape and cowl shouldn't matter, especially when Barbara's story is at the forefront. Either way, audiences are going to get to see the proper cinematic debut of a character who has had a long and winding road to the big screen, and no cameo from any version of Batman should overshadow that.

Batgirl is set to be released at a later date exclusively on HBO Max.