With the news that Ben Affleck’s solo “Batman” film is moving forward and the announcement that Margot Robbie will be reprising her role as Harley Quinn in “Gotham City Sirens,” comes the realization that for whatever reason, Warner Bros. just can’t get away from telling stories set in Gotham City.
When the studio launched its new DC Comics-based franchise with 2013’s “Man of Steel,” it seemed as though it was ready to move on from Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy.” This felt like a fresh direction for the studio, transitioning from Gotham and Wayne Enterprises to Metropolis and the Daily Planet. Instead, the studio quickly fell back into old patterns, green lighting “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” ahead of “Man of Steel 2,” and setting parts of both films back in Gotham. Now, we’re getting two more Gotham-set films which begs the question, why does Warner Bros. keep telling stories in Gotham City? Is Gotham too iconic for its own good? Has it become a crutch for Warner Bros? Is the studio afraid to venture into Star City, Central City, or even National City like the DC TV shows?
To date, Gotham City has been featured in nine “modern era” Warner Bros. films: “Batman,” “Batman Returns,” “Batman Forever,” “Batman and Robin,” “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad.” Comparatively, Coast City was featured only once, in “Green Lantern,” Metropolis was featured three times, in “Superman Returns,” “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman,” and Midway City was featured once, in “Suicide Squad.”
Normally, the setting of a film wouldn’t matter all that much, but cities in the DC Universe are essentially standalone characters. Central City is home to The Flash and the iconic Flash Museum. Coast City is home to Hal Jordan and Ferris Air. Metropolis is the home of Superman, Lois Lane and the Daily Planet. Detroit is home to the Hall of Justice. Keystone City, National City, Star City — these places all have a valid place in DC canon, and yet Warner Bros. can’t seem to break away from Gotham. Now that “Man of Steel 2” is off the table for the time being and “Batman” and “Gotham City Sirens” have been pushed ahead it seems like Warner Bros. is setting up a third Batman franchise.
Perhaps the simplest answer for the films coming back to Gotham is because so many writers understand how to write Gotham. While many critics disliked “Batman v Superman,” they did praise Affleck’s performance and the parts of the film that featured Batman in Gotham City. Does that mean Warner Bros. should stick to their “Dark Knight” formula and keep telling the same stories? Despite a low critical rating for “Suicide Squad” as well, critics praised both Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn and Will Smith’s portrayal of Deadshot, both Batman characters whose stories are tied to Gotham.
Maybe the studio’s love of Gotham is less about the city itself and more indicative of a love for Batman — but do we really need more Batman-led franchises? If you’ve seen “Batman v Superman” and the teaser for 2017’s “Justice League,” you know that Bruce Wayne (and not Superman) leads the charge to assemble a team. Batman seems to be stepping into that leadership position, despite the DCEU being spearheaded by Superman’s “Man of Steel.”
Outside of “Batman” and “Gotham City Sirens,” the studio is poised to break away from Gotham for some of its upcoming films. For instance, “Wonder Woman” will be set in Themyscira, London, and Paris. Themyscira is Diana’s home and London and Paris will be Diana’s entry point to World War I. “The Flash” and “Cyborg” could both be set in Central City, but there are no plot details on either film yet. “Aquaman” will likely be set almost entirely in Atlantis, but may feature other major cities, including wherever they house the Hall of Justice, if they establish that in 2017’s “Justice League.” While each film could showcase a different realm of the DCEU, it’s hard to say if any of them will stray far from Gotham, Batman or Wayne Enterprises, though odds are good that most, if not all, will include some sort of Gotham mention or layover visit. Even “Wonder Woman” will feature a Wayne Enterprises connection, as seen in this French set photo.
In contrast to Warner Bros. film slate, the DCTV shows avoid Gotham almost completely. Besides the actual show “Gotham,” which does not connect to The CW series, neither “The Flash,” nor “Arrow,” nor “Legends,” nor “Supergirl” have even mentioned Gotham City. If Warner Bros. is depending on that name for familiarity with movie audiences, the shows prove it certainly has;t been necessary in order to make its TV shows successful. “Arrow” is already into its fifth season, and it takes places in a city that’s almost unrecognizable to average viewers. “The Flash” has made Central City and S.T.A.R. Labs household names, and “Supergirl” is familiarizing viewers with National City and CatCo Media.
When these shows were first announced, there were questions about how their continuity would work alongside the film universe, and whether they might feature A-list heroes like Batman and Superman. And yet, five years into The CW’s DC heroes line up, the ratings are holding steady with some shows even growing in ratings every week. The recent four-show crossover boosted the network’s ratings to a six-year high, without a Bat in sight.
Warner Bros. can learn a lot from the development of the DCTV universe, and the shows’ lack of a Bat-reliance. Here’s hoping that at some point in the near future, the studio realizes that not every movie has to connect back to Batman, and not every film has to have a scene set in Gotham City.
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