Fire up the Batsignal – Batman's back in action. We're not talking Ben Affleck's hulking take on the Caped Crusader, or Christian Bale's Dark Knight, or even Robert Pattinson's brooding Bruce Wayne. We're talking Michael Keaton's "I can't bend my neck" Batman from Tim Burton's still sensational duo of Batman movies.
Reports have begun circulating detailing how Keaton has entered talks to return again as Batman in the upcoming Flash movie. The plot will see Ezra Miller's Flash use his abilities to travel back in time 30 years to save his mother. From there, he returns to a universe where Keaton's Bats acts as an aged protector. The Hollywood Reporter also claims that the older Batman is being envisioned as someone akin to Nick Fury in the MCU, "something of a mentor or guide or even string-puller."
And how would the Flash movie pull off such a feat? Through the multiverse, of course! The upcoming flick will loosely adapt the Flashpoint comic series, which introduced multiple timelines, including one where Bruce Wayne was killed during that infamous incident down Crime Alley, and his father, Thomas Wayne, became Batman. The new movie seems to instead replace that idea with Bruce surviving – just a different Bruce altogether. To say this all sounds bat-shit would be an understatement.
Enter the multiverse
Since Justice League underperformed at the box-office, Warner Bros. has taken a very different approach to their cinematic universe. We've seen a Joker that's completely unrelated to the other movies; a Harley Quinn movie that manages to be a standalone story without being overly beholden to Suicide Squad; and Shazam!, which managed to feel almost completely separate from anything that came before. The emphasis appears to be on standalone stories rather than an overarching one that requires a Thanos-sized threat to bring everyone together.
However, this Michael Keaton news has thrown a batarang into the works. Yes, DC looks set to continue along the same trajectory – with The Suicide Squad and The Batman having loose, if zero, links to the other movies – but they now have a quirky way of bringing everyone together if they need to: the multiverse.
Should Pattinson's Batman be completely unrelated to Ben Affleck's one in Justice League, then all you need is for The Flash to prove there are multiple timelines, and the two could one day crossover. Maybe Joaquin Phoenix's Joker proves such a huge threat that that universe's Bruce Wayne needs a helping hand – and decides to bring in Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne. Actually, he needs more help than that, so they recruit Grant Gustin's Flash from the TV series – after all, Gustin's Flash has already appeared alongside Miller's Flash in the Arrowverse, thanks to the Crisis on Infinite Earths saga (which now looks like DC's way of testing how audiences would react to a mega-multiverse).
All of which is to say, the DC bringing forward a multiverse with multiple-timelines is hugely exciting and could lead to some incredible crossovers and thread a narrative through every DC-related movie and TV series ever released. And that's exactly where DC could trump Marvel.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is also about to introduce the multiverse – at least, if the title Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is anything to go by. With news that Sam Raimi is directing, fans are already holding out hope that Tobey Maquire will appear as Spider-Man. The multiverse could also act as a way to bring in Fox's X-Men characters, now owned by Disney. Yet, with Kevin Feige having strived for a singular narrative across all MCU-related material, the chances are we won't be seeing too many bizarre crossovers – certainly non that would lead to an older character (say Hugh Jackman's Wolverine) returning and becoming a key part of the MCU.
That approach has certainly worked for the MCU, and it will continue to work for the MCU. But the idea that DC are going to try something very different, and that Warner Bros. will use its cinematic legacy to usher in a new age of weird multiverses that could allow ridiculous scenarios to play out, could finally give DC the upper hand. Bring on Brandon Routh's Superman fighting Henry Cavill's Man of Steel!
For more on Robert Pattinson's take on the Caped Crusader, read everything we know about The Batman