Why the new Batman movie may be doomed

With Wonder Woman and Justice League set to hit the big screen this year, Warner Bros. is barreling along with its DC Expanded Universe (DCEU) despite the fact that critics aren't really digging it.

One of the biggest projects on the calendar? A new Batman solo film, tentatively titled The Batman, which is set to star Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight. Affleck's Batman was one of the best things about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and there's every chance an Affleck-led Batman movie could be fantastic—but the thing's not even in pre-production yet, and the cracks are already showing. From creative turnover to general turmoil, here's why we fear the new Batman movie might be doomed.

Ben Affleck gave up directorial duties

When Warner Bros. signed Ben Affleck to play Batman, they didn't just get an A-list actor for the part—they also brought in an Oscar-winning director. Affleck has shown his skill behind the camera with projects like Argo and The Town, and a big selling point for The Batman was that he'd be directing as well as starring. But all that changed when Affleck released the reins to focus on his onscreen role without the distraction of actually running the show. In a statement, Affleck said playing Batman "demands focus, passion and the very best performance [he] can give," so he wanted to "partner" with a director to take some of that workload. For what it's worth, Affleck said he remains committed to the DCEU and his vision for Batman. But it isn't like the dude hasn't directed and starred in big movies before.

Matt Reeves played hard to get

When Affleck left the movie, director Matt Reeves was reportedly at the top of the short list to take over—which probably would've been great. Reeves is a talented guy, and brought some real nuance to War for the Planet of the Apes. Give him something meaty like Batman, and it stands to reason he'd knock it out of the park. For a few days, it looked like Reeves was pretty much a done deal to tackle The Batman. But negotiations fell through, and the search for a director started all over again—only to circle back to Reeves a few days later, when he signed a deal to produce and direct. We don't know exactly why Reeves played hard to get, but bumpy contract talks with an A-list guy aren't the best look for DC's next tentpole.

The script is getting a total rewrite

One of the big reasons this movie hasn't entered production yet is that fact that Affleck was taking his sweet time writing the script, and he's said numerous times that he doesn't want to just make any old Batman movie—he wants to make a really good Batman movie. But that script Affleck has been toiling away on? He worked with DC's Geoff Johns on the first draft, and that was already rewritten by Argo writer Chris Terrio (who also did a rewrite on the bloated Batman v Superman script, for whatever that's worth). Now, Warner Bros. is looking to get it rewritten again, which will likely happen with some input from the yet-to-be-hired new director. Sure, it's not uncommon for Hollywood films to go through several drafts before hitting the screen, but that's a whole lot of cooks in the kitchen, all making seemingly substantial changes to the narrative. It may not be a good sign.

The DCEU isn't doing so great

There's no denying that Warner Bros. is making some solid money from its slate of DCEU movies, with Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad both performing well at the box office. But critically, this cinematic universe has yet to come anywhere near hitting its stride. Reviews for both of those films were pretty much terrible, and there are a bunch of (hopefully untrue) rumblings suggesting the Wonder Woman movie is a mess.

These characters have so much built-in brand equity that their films are almost guaranteed to make money, and of course critics and fans don't always agree—especially when it comes to blockbuster genre fare like this. On the other hand, it isn't like the fans have been bowled over; while Man of Steel boasted a 75 percent audience score at Rotten Tomatoes, Batman v Superman's plummeted to 64 percent, and Suicide Squad's was a point lower. If the DCEU doesn't turn things around on the creative front, people are eventually going to stop turning out in sufficient numbers to justify its ambitious production slate.

Some of the best stories are behind this Batman

With the DCEU version of Batman, Snyder cast Affleck as a seasoned veteran version of the Dark Knight. Which is fine! We've seen more than a few Batman origin stories over the years, so picking up with an older Batman is a fine idea. We can skip the intro, and get right to the butt-kicking. But the more we learn about this Batman, the more it seems like some of his most memorable adventures have already… you know… happened. The defaced suit in the Batcave shows that in this world, the Joker has already murdered a former Robin, which is a story that could be great to see on the big screen. Affleck's Wayne also alludes to some previous problems with freaks dressed as clowns in Gotham, meaning he's obviously tangled with the Joker a time or two. There are still some great Batman stories to tell, but setting the character at this stage in his career has taken some of the best ones off the table.

The Dark Knight trilogy is hard to top

If you really want to see a fantastic version of Batman, you don't have to look very far. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, which starred Christian Bale in the lead role, was positively fantastic. It also just ended a few years ago, so those movies are still in the zeitgeist and beloved by modern fans. It also set a very high bar that any new Batman movie will be measured against, which means the pressure is on to get it right. Whatever they do next with Batman, it will have to match or surpass Nolan's vision, which is no easy task.

They already botched the Joker

We haven't even gotten a straight-up Batman movie in the DCEU, and they're already starting a few spots behind the eight ball. The Joker is easily one of the greatest, if not the greatest, villains in Batman lore. We met the new version in Suicide Squad, played by a frantic Jared Leto, and it left many fans … underwhelmed. To say the least. Leto has been tentative about returning to the role, after having a lot of his performance wind up on the cutting room floor in Suicide Squad. It's hard to imagine Affleck's hulking Batman not just beating Leto's Joker into a pulp if they ever do face off on the big screen (that brief Suicide Squad cameo notwithstanding).

Rumor has it Affleck wants out as Batman

Take it with a grain of salt for now, but there's a rumor making the rounds that Affleck is looking to get out of his contract in regards to a new Batman movie. If it's true, and he manages to cut the deal, his turn in Justice League could potentially be his last time in the cowl. Of course, this is all just speculation at this point (and reports have also come out that counter those claims), but there's no denying it casts a certain amount of doubt on the future of the franchise. If Affleck really is trying to get out of his DC deal, it could kill this movie before it even begins. Period.

How to fix it

But hey, it's not all doom and gloom! There are still plenty of ways the next Batman movie could be great. There's certainly a chance that Warner Bros. could bring in a dynamite director and writer to whip the project into shape (and the studio is actively courting some A-listers now). We've seen superhero projects lose directors and still turn out great (e.g. Ant-Man). A mess along the lines of X-3: The Last Stand is more common, but still. It could happen.

There's also the chance that DC could potentially scrap the entire DCEU and start over, potentially giving Affleck & Co. (or whoever tackles the character next) the flexibility to do whatever the hell they want with the franchise without being beholden to the universe Zack Snyder has created. It might sound crazy, but if Justice League and Wonder Woman don't light the box office on fire, there's every chance Warner Bros. will do something drastic. Resetting the DC universe into something a bit lighter, similar to what Marvel's doing with the MCU, wouldn't be the craziest thing. They're already retooling the universe on the fly to lighten it up a bit with Justice League, and an even harder course correction could be on the table if the box office totals dip.

We definitely haven't given up on Batman. We just want him to be the hero we need—and deserve.