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So, maybe Joseph Gordon-Levitt isn’t going to be in either Man of Steel or Justice League after all, with representatives for the actor telling reporters that initial rumors of his appearance in next year’s Superman movie aren’t true. As much as the fanboy inside me is saddened by this turn of events, part of me does wonder if isn’t for the best…
My reasoning is pretty simple: Why would either DC Entertainment or Warner Bros. want to have a Batman in Justice League that wasn’t Bruce Wayne? If Gordon-Levitt appeared in the new Justice League cycle of movies, it would seem to indicate that those movies would follow Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight continuity, which feels like an own goal in a couple of important respects.
Firstly, it would mean that Justice League would forever be without the “real” Batman for however long the franchise lasted; not only is Batman-is-Bruce-Wayne the core concept of the character across all media except movies, but even if Christian Bale could be tempted back by large trucks full of money to reprise his role as Gotham’s former protector for a new movie, doing so would risk undoing the character arc of Nolan’s trilogy, which may be too great a risk for the stunt casting/shock value of a “But – But you’re Bruce Wayne!” reveal within a future movie. (It doesn’t help that JGL’s character in The Dark Knight Rises was essentially a cypher, without enough personality to truly feel like a worthy replacement for the complicated, haunted figure that we demand from our Batmen.
Secondly, it locks out the possibility for a Batman franchise reboot for however long the lifecycle of the Justice League franchise, something that seems particularly unlikely given how valuable Batman historically has been to Warner Bros. in general. Think about it; we’ve seen multiple Batman animated reboots in the last twenty or so years, and at least one movie reboot – I’d be willing to accept the idea of the Joel Schumacher movies as a mini-reboot, to be honest. Ignoring the value of Bruce Wayne, is Warners really willing to take the Joker, Ra’s Al Ghul and Catwoman off the movie table for the potentially decade-long (or more!) life of a Justice League movie cycle?
There’s a lot to be said for the idea of allowing Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman and the connected mythos to close with The Dark Knight Rises, and start with a clean slate moving forward with Justice League and everything that follows; we expect do-overs with Batman now, and this way, Nolan’s take can live on, “clean” of anything that Justice League will bring to muddy its ideological waters with super humans capable of amazing things who could have cleaned up Gotham and dealt with Bane in seconds, had they wanted to. Let Man of Steel mark a new beginning for DC’s movie franchises in total – Yes, forget Green Lantern, too – and let everyone involved make their own mistakes from that point on, freed of the expectations and restrictions that would otherwise threaten to overwhelm them.