What If… is a self-indulgent look at how things could have been. I take an event or a rumour and let my imagination run wild. It’s rarely based on fact and completely based on guess-work and conjecture.
So to start…
What If… Tim Burton had directed Batman 3?
The reality – Tim Burton delivers an iconic Batman film. It stars Michael Keaton as a moody, dark version of the Caped Crusader who finds himself pitted against Jack Nicholson’s unforgettable Joker. It’s got a cool soundtrack and the right amount of tongue-in-cheek to work. The follow-up is less successful but still a decent version of the hero. Danny Devito’s Penguin is more of a grotesque monster while Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is overshadowed by her costume rather than her actual performance.
It does decent numbers and leaves the door open for a potentially decent sequel. From what I’ve read, Warner Bros. get an idea of the darker direction Burton wants to take the movies and decide to go for a more mainstream action movie, replacing the director with Joel Schumacher, Keaton with Val Kilmer and the serious, darker approach to a more camp, colourful one… which eventually leads to Batman and Robin (and nipples).
What if? – The Tim Burton movie gave us the template for what was to become Batman Forever. It had the Riddler, it had Robin and it at least had Harvey Dent, if not Two-Face. It was also supposedly going to have Catwoman too, depending on what you read.
You have to imagine it was to be a darker movie. The Riddler wouldn’t have been a gurning, camp and energetic Jim Carrey but, if rumours are to be believed, Robin Williams. Already we have a character who is less slapstick but more in line with what Burton’s previous villains had done. I’d guess that riddles were much more prominent and we would lose the more silly, mind-reading storyline that went through Batman Forever. Williams was even supposed to have had a question mark shaved into his head, adding to the striking visual nature of Burton’s villains. (If other rumours are to be believed, Micky Dolenz was also offered the job.. yeah, the guy who was a Monkee).
The second aspect gets slightly more “out there.” Robin would be included but not played by Chris O’ Donnell but instead Marlon Wayans, who supposedly did a costume test for the movie. You have to think that Burton would take a darker approach with his “origins” as well and may have had Riddler play a part in his parent’s death rather than the one we got in “Forever.” I can’t see a Marlon Wayans Robin but it would have to be better than the whiney “teenager” that Chris O Donnell became.
Burton would also have had a second villain but that would have been Catwoman. Michelle Pfieffer would return, probably playing the love interest for both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Of course, Burton would also bring Michael Keaton back, one of the best Batman actors so far, meaning we wouldn’t have to sit through Kilmer (who was ok) and Clooney (who wasn’t).
Returning characters would also have seen the beginning of Billy Dee Williams’ version of Harvey Dent and Two Face. Whether he became a third villain in this movie or was set-up to take on the role in the fourth (like Catwoman’s tease at the end of Batman Returns) what is in no doubt is we’d have much less of a camp, crazy, manic performance than the one Tommy Lee Jones gave us. A fourth Batman movie would also open the door for Burton’s version of villains like Scarecrow or Poison Ivy, villains who would really benefit from a darker, much less camp approach.
Of course, a third Batman movie would have longer lasting ramifications too. First of all, no Schumacher, no camp, no Bat-nipples or Freeze-puns. This would also mean that in a time when reboots were just for computers, this series could continue to grow. It means that, if it was as successful as its predecessor, Batman 3 could have led to Burton’s fourth Batman movie and then beyond. This would then make Nolan’s versions redundant.
It would also change careers. Burton would be tied up with the Batman movies, leading him to give up or delay Mars Attacks and maybe even Sleepy Hollow, if the fourth movie tempted him as well. It would also mean Keaton would gain some staying power, probably becoming much more of a star than the first two films made him, not to mention the impact on Marlon Wayans.
That being said, if the Batman franchise was successful early on, that would mean that DC would have a viable lead-in for the Superman franchise too. Burton wouldn’t be involved in the Superman Lives movie that got ultimately abandoned and we may have had an actual, early-nineties version of the Man of Steel, making Cavill’s version just as redundant.
Batman and Robin all but killed off the superhero genre until X-Men and such would restart it again. Burton could have kept that alive, bringing the superhero-movie-mania we have now forward. I doubt that Marvel would have launched their Avengers series any sooner but it may have led them to keep hold of some of their franchises or at least given us Spiderman and Fantastic Four movies earlier, with different stars, directors and movies altogether!
Overall, Burton’s version of Batman 3 would almost definitely have been better than what we got. Although I don’t hate Batman Forever, the prospect of a less silly, more threatening Riddler, coupled with the return of a decent Catwoman and a strange choice for Robin, could well have led to a series that had the lasting power to change things much sooner, not just for the Batman franchise but all the superhero movies. That’s my guess… What do you think?