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We Finally Know Why Michael Keaton Didn't Return For Batman Forever

There's no question that the superhero movie genre changed forever in 1989 with the release of director Tim Burton's "Batman," which, compared to the colorful and cartoonish world of the 1960s TV series, presented a darker tale of the Caped Crusader. Yes, Burton's "Batman" had the Batcave, Batmobile, and all the cool gadgets associated with the famed DC character, but dramatically different was the tone of the narrative. In addition to Batman, the film examined the psyche of the superhero's alter-ego, Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), as he faced off against his archenemy The Joker (Jack Nicholson), the ruthless criminal who murdered Bruce's parents when he was just a boy.

Unfortunately for fans, Burton's take on the superhero came to an end after "Batman Returns" in 1992. The reins of the franchise were given to director Joel Schumacher, and Keaton stepped away from the role, opening the door for Val Kilmer and George Clooney to don the cape and cowl.

However, the multiverse concept has given Keaton a window to return as Batman for the upcoming DCEU movie "The Flash," as well as HBO Max's "Batgirl." As it turns out, Keaton had the opportunity to continue playing the character in 1995's "Batman Forever," but he passed on the role for a very specific reason. 

Michael Keaton revealed that he disagreed with Joel Schumacher's vision for Batman

In an interview with Backstage magazine's podcast "In the Envelope" (via The Wrap), Keaton said his decision to leave the Batman role behind came down to one simple reason: he couldn't reconcile the proposed change in tone from Burton's first two "Batman" movies. Keaton said he met with Joel Schumacher to discuss the role, and it was clear to him that the darkness that loomed over his first two turns as Batman was about to lighten up.

"I remember one of the things that I walked away going, 'Oh boy, I can't do this,'" Keaton told Backstage. "[Schumacher] asked me, 'I don't understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,' and I went, 'Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read ... I mean, it's pretty simple.'"

During the podcast interview, Keaton said it was clear to him that Schumacher wasn't going to change his mind. This, ultimately, was one of the things that led to the actor's departure from the franchise. Keaton explained, "One of the reasons I couldn't do ['Batman Forever'] was — and you know, he's a nice enough man, he's passed away, so I wouldn't speak ill of him even if he were alive — he, at one point, after more than a couple of meetings where I kept trying to rationalize doing it and hopefully talking him into saying 'I think we don't want to go in this direction, I think we should go in this direction.' And he wasn't going to budge." 

Fans will finally get to experience Keaton's long-awaited return to the character when "The Flash" — starring Ezra Miller in the title role — hits theaters on November 4, 2022.