McFarlane Talking About Spawn 2.0 Again

Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid you hear the ‘news’?  Todd McFarlane, Spawn creator, is said to be working on a reboot/sequel of Spawn (as he has been for the past decade or so).  It will be lower budget (for the creative freedom, ie more gore and swearing) and focus on horror/thriller rather than the wham bam ‘you can have what’s left of the Empire State Building back’ fighty shenanigans of your more typical comic book movie.

He’s been banging on about this for years, but now he’s totally serious dagnabbit.  Even if he has to do it himself, in stop-motion with mannequins on his iPhone and cut with Instagram-level filters.  That actually sounds like it might be a pretty good shout for an evening down the cinema.

Spawn

Al Simmons is a public sector black ops assassin who has a change of heart when he realises that the government isn’t all roses.  One would have thought that the fact one is employed to kill people furtively without a proper legal footing would’ve been a red flag.

He gets there eventually.

It’s not a line of work that offers much in the way of retirement benefits, so he’s himself brutally murdered by his own employers.   In Hell he makes a deal to sell his soul in exchange for one last glimpse of his wife.

Again, one would’ve thought that when dealing with a horned, fanged and fiery demon of Hell, one would at least skim the fine print, or get a lawyer (it’s Hell – there’s not exactly a shortage of the buggers).  But Al’s not that smart.

So he wakes up 5 years later as a hellspawn charged with leading Hell’s armies against Heaven.  And finds that his wife has hooked up with his best friend.  They have a kid old enough that they definitely got it on at the wake (in the last movie at least).  Al/Spawn, becomes an anti-hero fighting the denizens of Heaven and Hell alike, plus human scumbags etc etc.

There’s also a clown/demon called The Clown.

Re-Spawning

It was corralled onto the silver screen back in ’97.  You’d be forgiven for giving it a wide berth, because not to put too fine a point on it the movie blows in every way.  Plot, direction, acting, special effects – you name it, it’s…not good.   Considering the cast included Martin Sheen and John Leguizamo (and Gambol from The Dark Knight!), that’s pretty baffling.

But McFarlane reckons he can do the character justice and exorcise those demons, pun very much intended.  And as long as you don’t mind a hero with an IQ lower than a very low thing indeed, he’s a pretty interesting character.

A literal monster seeking to reclaim the humanity he arguably never had in the first place is a helluva’ character arc.  Or at least a variation on the standard:

“loser-loner-outsider gets special powers, loses someone important, learns a lesson, beats down a tennis ball on a stick that in the final edit looks like everything else does in the final edit of every other film for the past 7 years (pixels, teeth, claws, sigh).  In 3D, unless we’re finally done with that.”

McFarlane wants to write, direct and produce, to which the response must surely be ‘sweetheart…no.’  After all, long-gestating pet projects driven exclusively by 1 ego vision that become excellent, not-at-all self-indulgent/impenetrable messes can be counted on the fingers of no hands.

Also, our Todd doesn’t have behind-the-camera experience.

Hardcore Spawn

But that’s just the voice of concern breaking out – after all, all directors have to start somewhere, and idiosyncratic control freak voices gave us the works of Kubrick, Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.  That’s overegging the pudding a bit.

Although come to think of it, Rodriguez would be a damn fine choice for director, especially if it aims for a mature rating.

As for acting talent, Oscar winner Jamie Foxx is alleged to be aggressively pursuing it – that’s like running AND shouting at the same time.  So you know he’s serious.

With a core audience nailed on for tickets and merchandise, a promise of a low-ish budget to minimise risk (and allow for some genuine creativity) and a heavyweight actor heading things up, this one might go the distance and actually, y’know, happen.  Whisper it; it might even be distinctive, perhaps even interesting cinema.

And as for the subject matter – former government agent with an attack of conscience blowing the lid on alleged nefarious government activities committed in an equally alleged moral vacuum in the name of the people – it’s about as hot button topical as you can get.  Hopefully they’ll allow for some nuance in place of the binary hero/traitor debate currently serving as a source of some embarrassment for certain governments.

Spawn of The Dead

The box office takings of the movie Dredd (more on that another time), might disagree, but the market can stand a different category of comic book movie.  They don’t all have to be child-friendly megabudget monsters – there’s room for something cheaper and more adult (violent), adult (grown-up) or adult (…they don’t really have those kinds of cinemas anymore since the internet).

After all, the movie The Crow did all the above and was still a reasonable success.  That’s logic, yo.

It won’t be nominated for Best Film Oscar – Spawn on The Fourth of July, if you like – but there’s clearly some potential in all this.   After all, all they have to do is the exact opposite of what the film-makers did back in the 90s.  That’s also logic.  Yes it is.

Or maybe we’ll be here in another 10 years’ time wondering what’s happening with that damned Spawn remake.

My Pitch For Man Of Steel 2: Superman vs Batman

By now the coffee bean of news has percolated through the interweb so y’all will be aware that Superman 2 will feature Batman, probably in some sort of face-off-then-team-up-against-a-common-foe storyline.

Some of you may have met said news with weary resignation.  Of course ‘they’ did, even though it’s probably advisable to keep ideas under wraps at least until one has explored the feasibility of actually making them work.  And it’ll tie into the Justice League movie too no doubt.

Because Kal-El does journalism (it’s a make-believe world in which journalists can still make a living) and Batman is the world’s greatest detective.  So they can pool their resources and find the one who runs really, really fast, the camp one with the green jewellery and the one without a Y chromosome.

Conventional wisdom has it that in a fight betwixt the grumpy one and the underpanted one, the winner would be the one who gets the drop – if Batman can prepare and choose the venue he might well best Superman because he’s a) more intelligent and b) he fights dirty.

But otherwise…it’s over Bats.

Of course in movie terms they’ll have to end on some kind of draw in case they upset fans of either franchise.  Like in the Avengers.

Rather than get into the ‘merits’ of the mooted sequel, here’s my pitch for it:

“You know, I just hold her and think ‘I made this; I! Made! This!”

“Yeah, babe, you, a fifth of rum and that guy you met when your husband was out of town on business.  Am I right? World’s greatest detective, of course I am.”

Superman sighed – Batman always got this way after a successful patrol.  “I’m sorry, ma’am, my friend didn’t mean to cause any offence.  May I say she’s a beautiful little baby girl.”

She sniffed and turned back to her friend.  The superheroes joined the line for coffee.  Batman seemed to fumble with his utility belt, ‘every time,’ thought Superman.  He said “Couldn’t we just wait in line this one time like responsible citizens?”

Batman pulled a face beneath his mask.  He nodded to Superman but threw down a small smoke bomb anyway.  

By the time the smoke had cleared Batman was smirking at the front of the line.  He ordered a black coffee for himself and asked Superman what he wanted.  The question was redundant, for Kal-El was a creature of routine and habit.  “May I have a regular cup of joe, which is good enough for the good citizens, and therefore myself, and in keeping with my socially conscious roots in the 1930s.  With a little milk but no sugar, please? Sugar gives you cavities.”  Superman liked his little homilies; he felt they put others at ease.

Batman reached into his utility belt to pay – Superman had nowhere to keep change.  On the rare occasions he did have money it was always refused, even though he insisted. 

“Sorry, I haven’t quite got enough.  But y’know, we keep your streets clear of garbage, so…” he trailed off.  Superman felt a stab of annoyance.  This happened every single night – Bruce was easily the most tight-fisted person he’d ever met.

They took their customary booth by the window – after Batman had used a taser on the couple already sitting there.  Superman had tried to intervene but he knew that if he did Batman would sulk.  And he was unbearable when he was moody. 

“Tell me, Batman, why do you have to be such an A-hole all the time?”

“It’s more fun to be an asshole.  You should try it some time.”

Batman took a long swig of his coffee.  He pulled a face – being billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne on his time off meant that he had developed a taste for finer coffee grounds. 

“So that Lois is a tight piece, you hit that yet? Man I’d love me a slice of that action.”

“That’s a very derogatory way to speak about women, Batman.  And no.  Lois understands that she’s too fragile for me to risk it.  Besides, we’re unmarried.”

“You’re such a fu…” Batman was interrupted by a coughing fit (‘he should speak less when in costume,’ thought Superman).  Wordlessly Superman passed him a throat lozenge from the packet he kept in his boot. 

“Thanks.” The heroes sipped their coffee in silence.  Superman was impressed – this was a great cup of coffee, and they were always so consistent with it too.  He smiled with an easy homespun charm at the waitress toting a refill jug.  She immediately came over and filled his cup.  “Why thank you ma’am.” He said.  She turned to Batman who grimaced at her. 

Some unruly teenagers wandered in.  ‘It’s far too late for them to be in here,’ thought Superman ‘they should be at home in bed – young people need their rest.’  He looked back at Batman but Batman wasn’t there.

Superman looked back up to see Batman with the crowd of teenagers.  He flirted with the girls and made like he was playing nice.  Suddenly without warning the smile fell away – the boys were in for a beating, which took a few seconds.

Batman sauntered back. “Man I hate kids.  Goddam Robin always whining in my ear.” He affected a whining, effeminate tone, “Batman why can’t I have a car, why can’t I go out alone, why won’t you let me bring any girls home? Little bastard never shuts up.  Of course there’s that other one, whatshername.  I tell you Superman – when she’s 18…” 

Superman shook his head sadly – Batman had gone easy on the kids tonight. For once. Even so, they’d done nothing wrong – they were just in high spirits.  But they’d had that argument too many times before: it was one of the reasons that Batman always kept kryptonite studs encased in lead in his utility belt.  Just in case – flip a switch and bye-bye Superman.

They finished their coffee and left.  Batman said “I gotta’ use the can – don’t worry about the tip: I’ll deal.”

Superman thanked the proprietor and the waitress profusely for their service.  He stood outside in the fresh city air.  Batman wouldn’t leave a tip, he knew that much. ‘Just get through it, Kal-El,’ he told himself, ‘Just say goodnight, then you don’t have to see him until the next patrol.’

It was the only way he could keep calm.

“Here’s a tip – next time make better coffee – I got enough explosives here to level this entire block,” Batman shouted on his way out.  He turned to Superman “By the way, Kal, you’ll hear about it at work, but I thought I’d give you advance notice.  I bought the Planet.  Things are gonna’ be a little different – don’t worry, your 401K is safe, but maybe we’ll need to streamline.  Anyway, we’re gonna be work buddies for a time while I work out who to fire.”

Superman felt his fists begin to bunch of their own accord. 

“Oh, and the Ritz down there is a complete rip, so I’m gonna’ need a place to stay.  I was thinking we could be roomies.”  Batman put his arm around Superman’s shoulder, “I’m gonna’ teach you how to live – the casino, get some cigars, maybe some hookers.  Then after we can arrest them for solicitation – the looks on their faces when you do that.  Gets me every time.”

Superman made a decision.

“It’s go time.”

In the end it took no time at all.  And as Superman looked down at the pathetic, bleeding strip on the ground he thought ‘he’s right – it is better to be an asshole.’

Justice League vs Avengers: My Superhero Club’s Better Than Your Superhero Club

When I was smaller than I am today, there was an advertising campaign for a range of chocolate bars featuring obnoxious stage school brats singing “IF you looooiiiiikkke a lot of chocolate on yer biscuit…Join our CLUB!!!”

If you didn’t have a Club bar in your packed lunch you weren’t worth nuffin’ in my playground.

Double negatives aside, from one playground squabble to the next: DC/Warner Bros’ Justice League movie.  The movie was green-lit approximately 30 seconds after the Avengers (Marvel/Disney) numbers started rolling in.  Oh go on then, I’ll reuse an old favourite of mine: it was Green-Lanterned.

How the long winter nights fly by.

And then it was off again, like Ross and Rachel from Friends but with more spandex and self-doubting movie executives.

But before it was quietly shelved, or at least delayed, there was more to JL than money envy.  It represented the latest skirmish in the war between DC and Marvel.  DC may own (I won’t even say ‘arguably’) the world’s most recognisable superheroes in Superman and Batman, but it’s conspicuously failed to wrangle the rest of its stable onto the silver screen with anything like the success enjoyed by its rival.

And given the near-constant fiscal uncertainty surrounding the comics industry, dis be a problem, ya dig.

But there’s also a hint of one upmanship.  Justice League of America debuted around 1960, the Avengers following in 1963.  In fact Stan Lee is said to have created Marvel’s Fantastic Four as a slightly panicked interim reaction to the JLA’s team up schtick.

And while the likes of Captain America and Iron Man are all well and good, Batman plus Superman is a hell of trump card.  At this point one wonders whether Marvel regrets flogging the rights to its bigger hitters like Spiderman to rival studios.

It’s all very exciting, anyway, for those who love this golden age of superpowered blockbusters.

Except that the alarm klaxons only ceased when the mooted JL movie was stood down.  And here’s why…

The One Where No-one Knows The Heroes

Two examples: DC’s Green Lantern and Marvel’s Thor.  Both are about a juvenile man-child given responsibility and magical accessories (a ring and a hammer respectively) and having to grow up.  Neither character was particularly famous.

And with respect to people who do know and love either character, both represented a pretty hard sell to the general public.

Green Lantern barely scraped back its budget and marketing costs.  The filmmakers didn’t appear to know what kind of film they wanted to make and consequently the film shifted tone abruptly between campy space opera, action spectacle, glib one-liners and half-assed stabs at gravitas.  It may have been available in a 3D format, but the script and characterisation remained firmly rooted in a 2D world.  Or as Roger Ebert put it in his pretty ambivalent defence “if you want a sound and light show, that’s what you get”.  By contrast The Telegraph put it on the list of its 10 worst films of 2011.

But at least Green Lantern got his flick.  Other DC characters who could qualify for the JL movie include Hawkman/girl: has wings, might fly.  Martian Manhunter: like Superman but green and Martian.  Because the last film to feature large green Martians, John Carter, was a roaring success.

Green Arrow.  If Batman had a love child with Robin Hood (s)he still wouldn’t be as derivative as this character.  But at least he has a TV show, unlike, say, Wonder Woman, the third prong in DC’s superbod troika, who couldn’t make it past a pilot a few years back and whose latest vehicle remains stalled.

Cramming a load of expository backstory for relatively unknown characters into a JL movie doesn’t sound much like entertainment, especially as the movie will likely itself be an origin story – the tale of how the JL came to be.

The One Where No-one’s Ready

But even the ones the public can probably be relied on to recognise pose their own problems.  First up, Wonder Woman.  Unlike the chaps above, people tend to remember Wonder Woman – she wears a basque and hot pants and looks like Lynda Carter.

She’s got killer accessories but is lumbered with a challenging story involving the gods of Ancient Greece.  That and varying characterisations which veer between aggressive matriarchy, vague feminism and the sexism inherent in much of comic book tradition.

Likewise The Flash – dude runs really fast, wears a red outfit.  The public might wonder when Daredevil got his sight back, stopped being Ben Affleck and learned to run really, really fast.  But even if they don’t, the name Barry Allen will mean nothing to many, let alone his character and motivations.

Both of these characters could do with being introduced in their own story before being inducted into the JL, but the next character has the opposite problem.

The One Where Batman Needs A Lie Down

There was a rumour that Joseph Gordon-Levitt cameos in Man Of Steel, and ‘maybe’ someone else from Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.  At the time it felt like a transparent attempt to tie Nolan’s name to Zack Snyder’s sombre Superman, landing soon at a multiplex near you.  To be fair to Sad Supes, Russell Crowe’s his dad, and that’s probably a fairly challenging shadow from which to emerge.

The temptation to big up the Nolan connection is understandable for two reasons.  First because his Batman trilogy was hugely successful critically and commercially and second because unlike everyone else linked to it, he’s ready for a JL movie.  Batman needs no introduction and poses no commercial risk – even Joel Schumacher’s films-that-shan’t-be-named couldn’t kill the franchise.

Except that he’s not really ready for a JL movie.

The Nolan trilogy is self-contained – even Zorro doesn’t exist (same as zombie movies tend not to exist in zombie movies).  Going from an ‘almost real’ setting to an almost real setting that says by the way here’s flying alien Jesus, Zeus’ little girl and a couple others, now let’s smack down an equally credibility-stretching mega threat….well it’s a toughie.  There’s also the small, potentially a spoiler matter that Nolan resolved the Batman story in The Dark Knight Rises.

Last but not least, the character’s been in 7 live action movies since 1989.  Dude needs a holiday.

The One Where We Get To The Actual Insurmountable Problem

But maybe I’m wrong on all this.  MAYBE recognition is the same thing as affection, obviating the need for standalone movies for The Flash, Wonder Woman und zo weiter.

But back to Green Lantern and Thor.  Thor benefitted from the in-house approach Marvel took to its characters pre-Avengers.  It tied into a wider fictional universe.  But more importantly for our purposes it tied into a wider cinematic universe – when Thor shares a screen with Iron Man there’s no need to reconcile wild differences in tone, colour palette and cinematography. Their movies aren’t identical of course, but they’re recognisably similar – brightly lit, more primary coloured than muted hues.

On the other hand taking a day-glo, wisecracking Green Lantern out of a CGI-fantastical reality and plonking him next to growly Batman in shades of brown and light rain does seem like a serious problem.

In blackest night picked out by the unnatural glow of streetlights if you will.

What is needed, and what Warner Bros appear to have belatedly accepted, is a consistency of approach.  Marvel may have begun its ascent to the top of the tentpole with Iron Man because it lacked the movie rights to X Men etc, but it wasn’t until the sequel started setting up a wider universe that it publicly announced an Avengers movie.  Thereafter it was able to tailor each new release to match a particular style.

The One Where We Finally Get To The End And Even Say Something Nice

A JL movie isn’t an inherently bad idea but Warner Bros probably do need to lay the groundwork – establish the look, feel and tone of the DC universe.  All of which depends on the Man of Steel, but then if he’s miserable and Batman’s moody, well a film about grumpy introverts might not be that much fun.

And it would already have been done in Watchmen, ironically enough directed by Zack Snyder.  There’s the gritty, psychotic one, the one with all the gadgets who can’t get it up unless he’s fighting crime because Freud.  Superman’s alienated (yes I did); the good guys are actually the bad guys and vice versa.

But as a take on the superhero club it might be good to make it as different from the Avengers as possible.

There are some interesting dynamics to explore – for all the character’s faults, Green Lantern belongs to a sort of police force and thus has authority where the others have power.  His area of responsibility is considerably wider than anyone else’s.  Both give room for his character to affect a supercilious attitude to the rest of the team barring possibly Wonder Woman.

Batman and Superman are often played for tension.  In fact compared to the others Batman is totally out of his depth physically (unless he’s wearing a yellow suit with a kryptonite brass knuckle of course), which could be tricky for his character to cope with.  Especially if fear-hating space cop Green Lantern gets all uppity.

Wonder Woman is, of course, female.  This provides a fantastic opportunity to play with precisely the sort of casual sexism that permeates both Hollywood films and comic books.  If it were up to me I’d have another superhero express undue concern for her safety because she’s, y’know, a chick, and have her lay the guy out with one punch.  I imagine it’s the sort of thing Joss Whedon might do.

Finally there is one more character who could/should be up for consideration: Aquaman.  But after all the Family Guy jokes I don’t anyone could be persuaded to take him seriously.

Celebrity Mash-Up

So the Avengers movie happened and made a packet.  And sure as night follows a once-glittering career, mildly tedious internet rumour has it that the ‘they’ who says stuff and controls world affairs is talking to Ben Affleck about directing a Justice League film.  Said Justice League film has, sadly, apparently been green-lit.  Or Green-Lanterned if you prefer.

The ‘they’ referred to above is clearly a collective noun.  Suck it up.

Is another shouty, pouty spandex-clad ensemble piece strictly necessary?  Does anyone actually want another outing for the Green Lantern, let alone see a character with wings named ‘Hawkman’ (see what they did there?) on the silver screen?

Frankly, who cares what you tell other people you want to see?  Not Hollywood – ‘they’ just check the box-office receipts.

But Hollywood has a problem that it doesn’t like to talk about.  Not that kind of problem.  Essentially, computer technology has advanced to such a state that more or less anything that can be imagined can be realised in photorealistic perfection, or at least that’s the public perception.  Familiarity, so the saying goes, breeds contempt – we’ve seen it all before.  In some cases, like the blowing up of famous, largely American, landmarks we’ve seen ‘it’ perhaps too many times.

Computer technology has also given rise to another, heavily publicised problem: Hollywood has to medicate itself against the disease of internet-borne piracy, with pirated clips available more easily and in better quality than ever before.  You could say that there’s a torrent of filesharing, five finger-discounted downloadable content.  Sadly that’s not even in the top fifty of the weakest puns what I’ve done.

Finally, as technology establishes itself it tends to become more affordable for the masses, which will eventually threaten Hollywood hegemony via uppity start-up production companies.

So, the reasoning goes, in order to keep packin’ ‘em into the cinema each new spectacle must be more spectacular than the last – and if we’re no longer to be Amazed by Spiderman then what about Spiderman and a pile of other Marvel superdudes?  Not Spiderman, obviously, because Sony owns the Spiderman movie rights.  And spectacle costs the sort of dosh that uppity wannabees don’t have, which restricts the market.

At this point one might reasonably ask the powers-that-be why they don’t try and do something for the mainstream that doesn’t involve a superhero or other easily franchise-able property.  One would be silly to ask – franchises have established audiences that can be relied upon to shell out for 3D-format tickets and merchandise, innit.  And you can’t say that for Terrence Malick’s latest.  

In all likelihood we’ll have some species of hologramatic madness thrust upon us in a few short years, but until then Hollywood needs to woo the masses and keep the money moving around, and they can’t rely on Marvel alone.

Luckily, the way ahead has been shown us by Dead Presidents Killing Supernatural Bods, or whatever the series will eventually be packaged in a deluxe Blu-Ray Boxset as (heard it here first – Abe Lincoln was just the first assuming it overcomes the marketing costs). 

If Avengers represents the apogee of the comic book franchise, the intellectual property mash-up is its logical evolution.  Given that we’re not going to get away from the flood of superhero films any time soon, here’s what I’d like to see:

Batman vs Bain:  We embrace Rush Limbaugh’s paranoid ramblings about The Dark Knight Rises and make the Shit Romney-baiting Batman film that Limbaugh saw at the cinema.  Bain, a Wall Street Supervillain, breaks Batman by engineering a corporate vulture-style hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises and then starts cutting staff numbers and benefits packages before targeting the unions and selling off assets.  Batman has to fight back by changing his company’s constitution to reclassify shares into A and B categories before forcing through an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange.  Batman must gain control of the B shares, which have ten times the voting rights of the A shares, in order to protect his company’s core business from Bain’s diabolical asset-stripping plan. 

Captain Team America:  Exactly the same film as the Captain America one, but made using marionettes and Alec Baldwin instead of Tommy Lee-Jones.

Just For X-Men: Even with his mutant recuperative powers, at his age, Wolverine needs a little help looking fresh.  The film follows his attempts to buy exactly the right shade of chestnut brown hair dye, only to find that his local Boots has run out of stock.  Trading hours are nearly over – will Wolverine be able to hide his roots or will he have to wait until 9:30am tomorrow morning, or 10:00am on Sundays?

The Totes Amazeballs Spiderman: A mash-up of Made in Chelsea and Amazing Spiderman.  Peter Hillington-Parker is a super-powered, monied cretin with a no mark job given to him by Daddy which gives him an obscene annual income in return for doing nothing much.  The tagline is “With Great Wealth Comes No Responsibility”.  Our hero is targeted by Supervillain Saskia and other under-sized and over made-up Sloanes with predatory eyes, expensive taste and zero work ethic.  Hillington-Parker’s costume hangs in his wardrobe: the only moment in which he considers putting it on is when he is forced, heroically, to decide whether to wear it for the Kings Road pub crawl.  Luckily his class-bequeathed better judgement kicks in and he goes dressed as a Nazi instead.

Irn-Bru Man:  Heroin-addicted Anthony McStark likes nothing more than getting smacked up.  But when he’s kidnapped by a politically incorrect racial stereotype named Mandarin, he’s forced to rely on large quantities of Irn Bru in order to survive the hellish reality of coming off ‘the other’ treacly brown elixir while living with Robert Carlyle as a scene-stealing supporting actor.  Directed by Danny Boyle.

Green Lantern: Ryan Reynolds is a fighter pilot given a power ring by a dying alien policeman and…no, it’s too ludicrous; they’ll never make that one.

The Dark Knight Rises Again

According to stand-up comedian Karl Marx – not of the Marx brothers – history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.

And so it was that a comic book…hero isn’t quite the right word… who shared some of the same roots as film noir except with a cape n’ cowl in place of a nifty trenchcoat-fedora-drinking problem combo, turned into Adam West, he of the paunch, the dancing and the bat shark repellent spray.

Decades later Burton’s gothic fairytales of grotesques and mad men begat Val Kilmer’s backside and George Clooney’s nipples.  And Schwarzenegger as a scientist.  Everything freezes indeed.  History repeated as tragedy, the Batman franchise was put on ice.

There were rumours of course, but nothing concrete: Schumacher feels guilty enough about Clooney to make the Batman film the fans actually want instead of the Batman film the toy company wants.  They’re doing a Batman: Beyond film, probably a sort of neon-nightmare techno noir.  No they’re not – they’ve cast frickin’ Dirty Harry to do Frank Miller’s paranoid fascist take on Batman as an egomaniacal retiree. No, it’s gonna’ be a Justice League movie because Wonder Woman isn’t an embarrassing anachronism and they haven’t already done enough to kill Superman’s cinematic reputation.  I have no idea whether Wonder Woman is an anachronism, but the hotpants and basque don’t inspire hope.  Let’s ignore Green Lantern for the time being.

Anyhoo, Batman slumbered on until films like Xmen and Spiderman proved that the public adores spandex.  Green lights were lit and several years and two films later Nolan had shepherded The Batman into a box-office smashing behemoth, like a fiscal Incredible Hulk.  Or the DC Comics equivalent if you prefer.

After The Dark Knight, the stakes were high and the knives were drawn even while the collective audience drooled in anticipation.  After all, as Nolan himself remarked, how many good third films can you name?

Plus there were persistent rumours about the studio wanting Leo DiCaprio as the Riddler, or Eddie Murphy whenever they fancied trolling the denizens of the internet.

When I heard the news that Anne Hathaway had been cast as Catwoman, sorry, Selina Kyle, I thought “oh dear, Nolan, you’ve clearly lost your mind.”  Maybe the pressure had caused him to crack – I pictured a crazed Howard Hughes figure clinging to an Imax camera while dementedly wrecking his own production with stunt casting, silly flying vehicles and improbable gadgets before demanding more Ewoks.

Because teddy bears with sticks would definitely bring down an evil galactic empire.  Obviously.

Anne Hathaway, star of the Princess Diaries and lazy fluff such as One Day, or that one where Steve Carrell’s a spy and Dwayne Johnson…also happens.  Anne Hathaway, probably a decent actor, typically appears in mediocre films, like a Sandra Bullock mk II.

That being said, my first reaction to Nolan’s Batmobile was one of utter bemusement, my reaction to the news that the ‘star’ of the appalling A Knight’s Tale was playing the Joker one of whole-hearted contempt.  Hindsight is a lovely thing, and Miss Hathaway’s Selina hits all the femme fatale notes, because that’s essentially what Catwoman is, with aplomb.  Several ‘plombs’ even.

The Dark Knight Rises is too long, there is no Heath Ledger performance, there is a race against time cliché, there is a silly flying vehicle; it is a typical sequel – the villainy more villainous, the danger more dangerous.  A flawed masterpiece, then, but a masterpiece nonetheless.  The Dark Knight was a tough act to follow, its own significant flaws notwithstanding, but Rises finishes what Nolan started with self-assurance, style and even a little gravitas.  No mean feat for a series of films based on an irredeemably silly premise.  I liked it anyway.

Which brings us neatly to Karl Marx.  The rumbling post-Avengers and pre-Rises was that Nolan’s darker take on Batman was, whisper it, a touch out of date, old hat (and therefore financially risky).  Why so serious, Nolan? Avengers represents the future-elect of comic books on film – lighter and less alienating, funny if you like corny one liners and featuring a pouting woman in a sexy outfit.  Hell, you can even take your kids to see it without feeling on some level like maybe you’re a bad parent.  And Scarlett Johansson’s bum is in it.  In 3D.

Now it all rests on The Man Of Steel.  If that does well, which it almost inevitably will, we’ll probably get the day-glo Justice League inflicted on us, Green Lantern’s shonky catchphrase and all.  With Wonder Woman’s bum in it.  And boobs.  In 3D.

What if Man Of Steel isn’t so good, and with Zack Snyder at the helm I’m not exactly holding my breath, what if people don’t like sombre Superman, what if it underperforms – what then for the Bat?  There are rumours, of course, but nothing concrete.  And there’s no reason pessimistically to assume that we’ll get Clooney camp rather than Keaton crazy, except for the weight of comic book celluloid history, but my money’s on ‘The Kitsch Knight Re-rises’: history repeated as farce.

With Leo DiCaprio as the Riddler.