Batman: Why Michael Keaton Chose to Return for The Flash

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Spider-Man: No Way Home‘s big cameos may be fresh in the mind, and worth over $1 billion at the box office, but some would argue the return of Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe still isn’t as surprising as Michael Keaton’s DC comeback. The legendary actor who first brought the Dark Knight to the big screen in 1989, and last wore the cape and cowl in ’92, is set to reprise his role in The Flash and Batgirl. This is a bit unexpected, to say the least.

After all, Keaton, who went on to star in many other classics, including Birdman, in which he arguably played a character partly based on his own post-Batman life, spent decades dodging questions about the Caped Crusader — or flat out saying he wasn’t interested in ever revisiting the character. But times, and feelings, change.

But still, the question lingers: why did Keaton decide now was the right time to return to the Batcave he abandoned 30 years ago? On The Jess Cagle Podcast With Julia Cunningham, Keaton finally explained what convinced him to come back.

It sounds like Keaton started thinking about what playing a much older Batman would be like even before WB gave him a call: “I thought, ‘Boy, what would that be like?’ And then, coincidentally, there were murmurs, and I got a call from Warner Bros. They wanted to talk to me about something and there were hints of Batman.”

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But Keaton said that it was ultimately the script, which was penned by Birds of Prey and Batgirl scribe Christina Hodson, that truly convinced him.

“It has to be good,” Keaton said of the script. “There’s no reason to do it if it’s not good. It’s not gonna really change anything. And I just jumped in and had fun. And why would you not? You know, I mean, director Andy Muschietti is fantastic, and it’s really creative. I don’t know. It’s fun.”

“Creative” would be one word for what looks like a DC multiverse-shattering adventure that will see The Flash (Ezra Miller) team up with Keaton’s Batman, Ben Affleck’s Batman, Supergirl (Sasha Calle), and a Barry Allen from an alternate timeline to stop an unknown threat. Along the way, the movie will also revisit the Gotham City of the Tim Burton era and all the easter eggs that likely come with that blast from the past.

At the very least, it sounds very different from what Keaton was doing with the role in the ’90s when, after just two movies, he decided to exit the franchise to pursue other things.

“It was a job,” Keaton said of his first stint as Batman. “And then the next one was a job, and I enjoyed it. But then over time — and then the third one, I just couldn’t do. I just thought, ‘Well, this is not good. This is not good. I just can’t do it. I’ll blow my brains out. Just can’t live with myself.’ And so I walked away.”

Indeed, Keaton was originally set to reprise his role for a third film after Batman Returns, but he chose to move on after Joel Schumacher was brought on to replace Burton as director. Let’s just say Keaton and Schumacher didn’t see eye to eye regarding where Bruce’s story should go next.

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“I remember one of the things that I walked away going, ‘Oh boy, I can’t do this’. [Joel Schumacher] asked me, ‘I don’t understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,’ and I went, ‘Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read… I mean, it’s pretty simple.’”

We know the story: Schumacher went on to make two of his own Batman movies, 1995’s Batman Forever and 1997’s Batman & Robin, which…aren’t remembered quite as fondly as the Burton films these days.

Of course, Keaton has been vocal in the past about what he’d hoped to do with the character had he done “Batman III,” and it sounds a lot like what Christopher Nolan did with the Dark Knight Trilogy.

“[Star Christian Bale] is so talented. It’s so good…. You look at where he went, which is exactly what I wanted to do when I was having meetings about the third one,” Keaton revealed on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast in 2013. “I said, ‘You want to see how this guy started. We’ve got a chance here to fix whatever we kind of maybe went off. This could be brilliant!’”

But Scumacher’s ideas for Batman III weren’t the only reasons he backed out of Gotham City. Keaton explained to The Jess Cagle Podcast that he also disliked some of the mandatory publicity that came with the role.

“At some point, you’re a jerk if you don’t go [to conventions]. This is a legitimate world. You’re no better or worse than this, but I’m naïve,” he said.

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Does his return in The Flash and Batgirl mean Keaton’s back for the long term or just long enough to close the book on the world Burton created in ’89? Well, one step at a time.

The Flash hits theaters on Nov. 4. Batgirl is slated for a 2022-2023 release on HBO Max.

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