With Michael Keaton's Batman appearing in the forthcoming movie The Flash, it occurs to us to ask: could this movie, and the newly-official DC multiverse, be used to explain away the differences between Keaton's Batman and the one played by Val Kilmer and George Clooney in subsequent films later in the '90s? Following the massive success of Batman in 1989, the franchise had four films before it stalled out and was soon thereafter rebooted...but fans have long debated whether Batman Forever and Batman & Robin are actually part of the same canon as Batman and Batman Returns. Michael Gough's portrayal of Alfred and other token references to the Burton films seem to suggest the answer is yes, but the huge differences in the world, the look and feel of Gotham, and the tone of the movies makes it a lot less clear.
When Batman came out in 1989, Tim Burton rebelled against the camp and silliness that most non-comics audiences associated with the character as a result of the wildly popular 1966 Batman TV series. Burton went darker still with Batman Returns, and when Warner Bros. wanted to try something else for the third movie, Schumacher presented a neon-technicolor film, saturated with camp and bringing the spirit of the '60s show to the big screen.
Ezra Miller's Flash has already met Ben Affleck's Batman, having starred together in Justice League, but this movie will see him meeting up with Keaton's take on the character. During DC FanDome last month, concept art from The Flash was released online, showing what the team-up will look like:
In the same way that the Keaton Batman served as the default setting for the Dark Knight when the franchise first became a global box office juggernaut, The Flash director And Muschietti will bring back Ben Affleck to serve as the baseline for Ezra Miller's Flash.
"He’s the baseline. He’s part of that unaltered state before we jump into Barry’s adventure. There's a familiarity there," Muschietti said. "This movie is a bit of a hinge in the sense that it presents a story that implies a unified universe where all the cinematic iterations that we've seen before are valid. It's inclusive in the sense that it is saying all that you've seen exists, and everything that you will see exists, in the same unified multiverse."
The question, then, becomes whether that multiverse might address the changes made to Batman between not just Justice League and The Flash, but between Batman Returns and Batman Forever. If nothing else, doing so could explain how Harvey Dent, played by Billy Dee Williams in the 1989 film, would morph into Tommy Lee Jones by the time Batman Forever happened.