If there’s one DC superhero that has withstood the test of time more than any other, it’s certainly Batman. Gotham’s Dark Knight has had many remakes over the years, gradually becoming darker and grittier as the versions progress. After all, the crime-ridden and corrupt city of Gotham needs a solemn hero to match. With so many dark storylines and plenty of action and violence, Batman cleans the streets of Gotham one criminal at a time.
One thing that plenty of the live-action Batman films (Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, and even the Justice League director Zach Snyder) have in common is the gritty atmosphere. Batman has gone from refusing to use guns and refusing to kill, to taking out the bad guy by any means necessary. While these modern Batman movies are doubtlessly successful and well-crafted stories, they tend to draw a pattern of showcasing Gotham’s most brutal parts. Especially in the stand-alone Todd Phillips film Joker, Gotham’s darkness and corruption seems to know no bounds. And Batman needs to be ready to combat it.
Another noticeable commonality between Batman films in recent memory, however, is the unfortunate exclusion of one key character. Just as Batman isn’t quite complete without his vast array of villains, the caped crusader needs his sidekick. And yet, the other half of the dynamic duo, Robin, is often nowhere to be found in recent Batman films, with the exception of quick references or easter eggs. The closest Robin has ever come to appearing in a film in the last 20 years has been the mention of his off-screen death in Zach Snyder’s Batman V. Superman and the revelation that John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a character in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, is actually Robin John Blake. And while the references are a fun addition, Robin never gets to grow into his role as a vigilante on-screen in either franchise.
Why has Batman had to continue his legacy without Robin by his side? The answer can arguably be traced back to the evolution of Batman as a pop culture icon. Batman’s history has been a roller coaster in terms of tone, beginning with the era of Adam West, when Batman’s appearance on camera has arguably been at its campiest – and Robin played a big role in that silly tone.
Over the years, Batman’s aesthetic, at least in recent film franchises, has gradually become a dark and brooding vigilante who remains tortured by his family trauma and fights villains who are equally tragic. Robin himself is a young and brightly-clad ray of sunshine: his one-liners and excited personality just wouldn’t fit well with the tone of most modern Batman films.
Pairing a solemn character like Batman with a sunny character like Robin in a highly dramatic story can be a difficult task – and if done poorly, the entire tone of the film could be ruined. The strange tone is clearly seen in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin (the latter is well-known for being especially goofy), both of which embrace the campy side of their source material. With the focus having shifted to more action-packed and dramatic storylines, it’s difficult to wedge a silly sidekick into the mix.
This is why Matt Reeves’ The Batman is such an interesting case. Reeves presents a Batman story that keeps the dark gloom and action-packed vigilantism but focuses more on Batman’s (Robert Pattinson) detective skills, essentially turning The Batman into a thoughtful mystery. What’s more, the hopeful tone of the story contrasts with its theme of corruption, ultimately ending in a way that encourages the renewal of faith – in oneself and in humanity. Batman himself sums it up perfectly: Vengeance won’t change the past. But hope is something much stronger. While vengeance and violence can only destroy, hope and the renewal of faith and trust can rebuild.
Genuine change and hope for the future is ultimately what Robin represents. The cycle of violence and corruption that plagues Gotham at every turn causes Batman and Robin to meet, but while Batman continues to be driven by his scars, he creates a situation in which Robin doesn’t have to be defined by the tragedies of his past. By taking in a fellow orphan, Batman is doing all he can to end the cycle of vengeance and violence. This act of empathy and care fits perfectly into Reeves’ message in The Batman.
Bruce Wayne already empathizes with the mayor’s son, a young boy who found his father murdered in cold blood. This, paired with Batman’s newfound commitment, not to vengeance but to hope and the renewal of faith, sets up the perfect environment for the inclusion of a character who embodies such hope for the future: the next generation of crime-fighters. With Bruce’s already strong connection to young ones who lose their parents, the film already sets up this potential storyline.
With Warner Bros. already confirming that a sequel to The Batman will be made, and that Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson will both return to the production, the rise of a new Batman franchise is a very real (and exciting) possibility. And Reeves’ Batman universe can greatly benefit from the addition of Robin, an inclusion that The Batman has, at some level, already laid the groundwork for. Including the Boy Wonder in this new style of Batman film would still be a difficult undertaking, considering that The Batman’s tone is still dark – but the amounts of quiet storytelling and strong hope that is conveyed in the film create the perfect storm.
Countless Batman films have previously either failed at including Robin successfully or never even attempted to do so. Now that Reeves’ Batman is introducing new storytelling styles for the caped crusader (the quiet story crafting that isn’t afraid to take its time or take some liberties with characters who are already well-established and well-known), Robin would be welcome in this atmosphere. And Gotham could definitely use some levity by the time The Batman’s credits roll.
With luck, we may yet see a brand-new Boy Wonder fighting alongside Batman on the big screen once again – this time, as a character who fits right into place.