There’s a lot of speculation on the direction of the DCEU moving forward. Warner Brothers seems to be floating a lot of ideas from changing the direction & tone of the cinematic universe to doing one-off unconnected films. A lot of speculation has been floating around Matt Reeve’s Batman film in particular. Will Ben Affleck stay on as Batman? Will it be connected to the DCEU? What villains will be the focus? Amazingly no one is asking the one question that needs to be asked: Will Batman be fighting alongside a Robin?
Now that’s not to say that people haven’t been wondering about Robins in this film. But most of that revolves around answer the issues between Dick Grayson and Bruce that led to the former becoming Nightwing or spelling out exactly what happened to Jason Todd. No one seems to be asking if the Boy Wonder will be in the movie as Batman’s partner or even more importantly, no one seems to realize why it’s essential that he is. So we at the MTR Network are going to tackle this head on and explain why Matt Reeve’s film NEEDS to include Robin.
So here are 5 reasons why Robin needs to be in the next Batman film.
A Proper Batman & Robin Film is Long Overdue
In 1997, Batman & Robin left a lot of scars. Warner Brothers made a poor choice in director when they selected Joel Schumacher to follow up Tim Burton’s initial two films. Schumacher had a poor understanding of Batman and decided he wanted to take the franchise back to the campy Adam West/Burt Ward days and it was a disaster. First off, it was an incredibly stupid plan to try to drastically change the tone and feel of the Batman franchise going from Tim Burton to Schumacher. I could point to other idiotic choices (nipples on the Batsuit, crotch shots of all the character, terrible one-liners with horrible delivery, etc). But the real problem wasn't the campy feel of the Schumacher films but rather that at its core, the films didn’t understand the characters. Adam West and Burt Ward still hold a place in our hearts when it comes to Batman and Robin yet Val Kilmer/Chris O’Donnell or George Clooney/Chris O’Donnell don’t. It’s not “camp” that was the problem. Sure, the West & Ward interpretation were campy and corny but at the core, it was still Bruce Wayne and his young ward, Dick Grayson. The core feeling and connection between the characters never emerged in the later films. In Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, Bruce Wayne always feels more annoyed by the presence of Dick Grayson than anything else. At no point do we ever get a sense of a Father/Son or Mentor/Mentee or equal Partners between Batman and Robin during Schumacher’s movies. In Batman & Robin Dick Grayson complains that Bruce doesn’t trust him enough and while that definitely is an arc for the character, it was completely unearned in the films. We never got the Boy Wonder years to really get a sense that Robin was right in asking for more responsibilities.
Warner Brothers is obsessed with making sure their DC characters are “different” from what we’ve become used to. They want “fresh” takes which honestly, I could write a whole dissertation on why that’s stupid. But in this case, putting Robin in the next Batman film would definitely be a fresh take since we’ve never seen a non-campy Batman/Robin relationship in live action and even the campy version hasn’t been done well since the 60’s. It’s far beyond time to do it. Plus…bringing in Robin brings in another element to the DCEU…
Robin Brings a Young Element to the DCEU
Before Spider-Man: Homecoming released there were a lot of questions about how it would be received even with the inclusion into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This would be the 3rd franchise reboot of Spider-Man in the last 15 years which to be honest, is staggering. Would audiences be sick and tired of seeing yet another Spider-Man? Well we have our answer. As of September 2017, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the highest grossing superhero film of 2017 and will probably stay that way until Justice League comes out (no, I do not think Thor Ragnorak beats Homecoming or Justice League). It’s also the second highest grossing Spider-Man film of all time. Sure the addition to the MCU helped as well as the direction of Kevin Feige but the biggest thing about Spider-Man: Homecoming is the age appropriate casting. Tom Holland is the youngest actor cast to play teenage Peter Parker and it adds authenticity to his portrayal. It also brought a new dynamic to Tony Stark’s character by putting him in a mentor role that was different from anything we've seen from him. Homecoming gave a fresh take on not only Spider-Man but Iron Man by just making Peter look and act the age of the character. Adding a young Robin could do the same for the tone of the DCEU and the character of Bruce Wayne. The last time we had a Robin in film, Warner Brothers cast a 25 year old to play “The Boy Wonder” and the interactions between the two characters were clearly framed that way because of the ages. That’s not going to work and at this point it’s unnecessary. Burt Ward was only 19 when he put on the tights. In 2017 there is no reason to cast older actors for roles that should belong to children. Stranger Things, It and other TV shows/films have proven that young actors can be just as good as older ones. The most memorable scenes from 2010’s Kick-Ass were the action scenes with 13 year old Chloe Grace Moretz's Hit-Girl. And if we’re going to be honest, Big Daddy & Hit Girl might be the closest thing we’ve seen to a proper Batman and Robin pairing in a live action movie. Remember the scene when Big Daddy was captured but gave instructions for Hit-Girl on how she could escape? Outside of the killing, everything about Big Daddy & Hit-Girl nailed the Batman and Robin relationship. So why hasn't Warner Brothers jumped on this?
It's also important to remember that part of Bruce Wayne’s story is how he takes in and adopts all these young boys. Sure it seems creepy, but where some fathers take their sons out fishing to bond, Bruce takes these young boys out to fight crime and to channel their anger and/or creativity. Contrary to some belief (even by other characters), Bruce isn't trying to turn these kids into younger versions of himself. He's training them so they don't become him (and they don't). It’s important to note that Bruce training Robins isn’t just an ends to the means for a lonely man who wants a partner. He truly loves each Robin like they’re his sons (and technically they are either through adoption or biological). Some of the most emotional Batman moments we’ve ever gotten have involved Robin. From how Batman mourns after the lost of Jason or how he tries to comfort Tim when Tim’s father is killed or the moment when Bruce relives some of the moments he had with Damien when Damien dies. And it’s not always about death. When Bruce tells Tim he needs to go and join the Teen Titans, it’s not because he thinks Tim needs more training it’s because “I just think you need to see your friends”.
This cuts to another important aspect of Batman that’s been missing…
Bruce’s Living Family Is Just As Important As His Dead Family
A common misconception is the idea of the loner brooding billionaire Bruce Wayne who dresses up as a Bat to take out his frustrations. Bruce is pretty well adjusted socially, or rather, he’s able to play that part well. In just about every live action version of Bruce though, he’s been portrayed as almost a recluse who barely interacts with anyone. In the Nolan films, the only time we see a softer side to Bruce is when he’s dealing with a love interest. Outside of his relationship with Alfred, Bruce always seems to have no one else he's close to in the films. But comic Batman is such a unique character in DC because he’s one of the few characters that has a large family/supporting cast. Not only is it fun watching/reading Bruce interact with them but the interactions between the Family, particularly the Robins is always great.
Just from a movie point of view, Batman offers the richest set of characters to pull from. Let’s look at the immediate Bat Family:
- Batgirl – This is already in the works apparently and I think it’s safe to assume they’re going with Barbara but there are plenty of other possibilities down the line with Cassandra Cane, Stephanie Brown and others.
- Robin – Three different Robins could each spinoff into their own films: Dick Grayson as Nightwing (already apparently in the works), Red Hood with Jason Todd and Red Robin with Tim Drake. Damian Wayne is also an option although I still don’t trust DC script writers for the proper set up and writing of Damian.
- Batwoman – Kate Kane has been finally getting her due thanks to Rebirth and gives Warner Brothers an LGBT icon to work with
- Duke Thomas – Newer but something DC has been working on and building up since New 52 and a future option
From a character point of view, the family is Bruce’s failsafe from going too far. In Batman v Superman Alfred repeatedly call Bruce out for his extreme behavior. If Warner Brothers is truly serious about moving away from the “Murderverse” label their films have received then this is a natural in-story way to help shift Bruce/Batman back to the light. With Bruce supposedly taking the death of Jason hard, this is the perfect time to introduce the other members of the Bat family, particularly Robin. They’re the ones that keep Bruce from crossing the line. The most recent issue of Detective Comics even lays it out bluntly: Batman needs a Robin.
Even when Bruce tells the family that he must “go it alone”, deep down inside he knows they won’t let him. And when he tries to shut them out, they don’t take it sitting down, they call him on it. The family is just that, it’s a family, it's who Bruce trusts the most. In Dark Knight Metal #2, Bruce depends on his family to run interference on the Justice League and keep them distracted while he continues his mission. Along with the loyalty of family also comes all the typical drama a family usually has. They get mad, they fight, they break up but in the end they always come back because that’s what family does. This will help break the character Bruce Wayne out of the pigeonholed “dark brooder” that he’s been in for the last few decades of live action films.
Batman and Robin Never Die
Yes Robins die. Hell, even Bruce has died or at least been taken out of action for a while. But the legacy of Batman and Robin never dies. There will always be a Batman and by his side will always be a Robin. One of my favorite runs of Batman is Grant Morrison’s run which features Dick Grayson as Batman and Damien Wayne as Robin. This run stands out to me for so many reasons but mainly because it shows what Batman and Robin mean to Gotham. First you have Dick Grayson filling in the shoes he never wanted to fill with Bruce presumed dead. He could have come back as Nightwing but he instead dons the cape and cowl and carries on. Then there’s Damian who fans weren’t exactly happy about to begin with. But Morrison’s run really shows the growth of Damian into earning the right to be Robin, not because it’s his birthright but because he understands what it means to be Robin. Batman and Robin. Together again for the first time.
By taking Bruce off the table and putting a character that wasn’t exactly loved as Robin, Morrison’s run really shows why its Batman AND Robin and why the dynamic duo can not only never die but is necessary together. If Warner Brothers wants audiences to care about yet another Batman film then they need to cut to the essence of why Batman is important and why he matters and to do that without Robin only tells half the story. Batman with no Robin is like eating a peanut butter sandwich with no jelly. Sure you love peanut butter (unless you're allergic) but the more you eat that sandwich, the more dry and bland it becomes and it's a struggle to finish.. That sums up what Warner Brothers has done to live action Batman with no Robin.
Robin represents a piece of Batman/Bruce
Every live action Batman film casts a young actor to be Bruce Wayne and shows their spin on “the death” scene (Bruce's parents being killed). Gotham has built up over 4 seasons of showing us how a young Bruce Wayne becomes The Batman. All of this is done to try to help us understand how a young rich kid like Bruce Wayne grows up to be a masked vigilante. But none of this was necessary. If the point is to give audiences glimpses of what a young Bruce Wayne was like, all they had to do was tell the story of Robin. Each Robin represents a piece of Bruce Wayne/Batman just in younger form.
- Dick Grayson – The orphan who is a natural athlete and natural leader. The first time Bruce came across a young child who fell victim to the same tragedy due to crime he did and decided he wasn’t going to let them go through it alone.
- Jason Todd – The rage that a young Bruce Wayne felt when his parents died. Jason also represents Bruce’s mistakes and guilt for not only what happened to Jason but Bruce's guilt for failing to protect his own parents.
- Tim Drake – The genius, detective, scientist that questions everything and can follow any clue given to him. Tim also represents Bruce/Batman’s sense of duty. Tim became Robin not because he wanted to but because he knew Batman needed a Robin, just like Bruce knows Gotham needs a Batman.
- Damian – Damian represents Bruce’s attempt at living up to the legacy of his father, Thomas Wayne. Damian’s early acting out can be reduced to nothing more than a son trying to make his larger-than-life father proud. He’s constantly seeking Bruce’s approval. This is something that Bruce has always struggled with since losing his own father.
Watching an adult Bruce Wayne interact with a Robin is to watch Bruce Wayne confront a piece of his younger self. In some instances when Bruce seems to be distant and refusing to help a Robin, the truth is he’s just giving them space to work through the issue on their own…because that’s how he had to deal with the same issues. But he’s always there for them when they need him.
Warner Brothers has to move forward with Robin. It's long overdue. And it will definitely freshen up the characters and the universe. We'll be back soon to discuss which Robin it should be (Tim Drake), why folks will want it to be Grayson and how if Warner Brothers does this they'll probably fuck up and jump right to Damian. Make sure you check out our latest Super Tuesday Recap for a quick discussion on this and a fall preview of the upcoming comic book TV show slate.