With Henry Cavill Returning as Superman, Does DC Now Have a Batman Problem?

Ever since Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice underperformed relative to studio expectations at the box office, it has often seemed that Warner Bros. was lacking a coherent strategy with regard to its DC films. They were seemingly so desperate to compete with Marvel's Avengers franchise that they gave the Justice League film to Zack Snyder in order to give the franchise continuity and stick to a planned release date, but then they reportedly micromanaged and frustrated him even before the death of his daughter forced him to finally walk away from the project. Since then, things have gotten more confused, rather than less. The return of Henry Cavill as Superman might actually confuse things even more.

Marvel's The Avengers director Joss Whedon came in to rewrite and reshoot portions of Justice League ahead of its release. Whedon was reportedly friends with Snyder, but the pair have very different styles, both visually and in terms of storytelling, resulting in a movie that felt frankensteined together and without a clear sense of identity (likely not helped by copious studio notes).

The film's failure seemingly gave DC the idea that since their most profitable films had been Batman and Superman solo movies, they should focus more on stand-alone stories that theoretically took place in the same shared universe as the others, but did not interact as closely as the movies over at Marvel did. That's the model followed by Shazam! and Aquaman, and continued through Birds of Prey. Both Wonder Woman movies have that approach at their core, although since they are period pieces that take place before Man of Steel, it's a little bit different.

In any case, last night's announcement that Henry Cavill will return as Superman could create a "Batman problem" for the studio. Now that every member of the Justice League except for Batman (the film's principal character in some ways, as he was the one who put the team together) will have their actors return for follow-up movies, Ben Affleck's absence will be felt much more acutely than it would have if more people were moving on from the DC film universe.

While Joker took place in what seems to be explicitly an alternate universe, with Joaquin Phoenix's Joker having nothing to do with Jared Leto's take on the character from Suicide Squad, questions about The Batman have been hanging over the DC films for a while. It's a different universe, sure, but there had also been some speculation that if DC's other films got back on track and there was demand for more team-ups, Robert Pattinson's Batman might show up in those. The return of Cavill would make it especially weird to see Battinson standing shoulder to shoulder with someone who shared a ton of screen time with Affleck's Dark Knight over the course of two films.

One potential solution would to either allude to, or outright establish, the death of Ben Affleck's Batman. In Zack Snyder's original plans, he would have seen Batman die at the hands of Darkseid (as he supposedly did in Final Crisis) in the second of three planned Justice League films. It's unlikely bordering on impossible that Zack Snyder's Justice League would prove enough of a success to justify giving him two more installments (although at this point, never say never) -- but avoiding the Pattinson version altogether for future team-ups and allowing Affleck's Batman to be dead could work.

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Of course, you would get the same flexibility from just establishing that, with Superman returned and there to stand as an inspiration to the other heroes, there was no need for Batman to operate so publicly, and he could return to being a shadow in the night in Gotham, and perhaps secretly bankrolling the League.

A lot of the "problems" that are cropping up as a result of the Snyder Cut's release and other DC film announcement seem primarily to be problems only in the minds of people who want them to be, or at least want everything to be clean and linear. A little creative thinking and the idea of a "Batman problem" evaporates pretty quickly.

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