Batman producer Michael Uslan on impact of Dark Knight trilogy, and why directors — not actors — define the films
"Stan Lee was my mentor, my ideal and he also became my friend. I met him first when I was 11 years old. We also had a chance to work together. Stan is my inspiration in so many different ways, like doing what you love and working right until you are 95, or like my Batman partner Ben, until you are 105. That is kind of magical," says Michael Uslan.
Best known for bringing the first Batman movie to the big screen, Uslan shares a passion for the Caped Crusader that is unmatched. He is also an avid comic book reader; he even worked at DC Comics. In the first part of our conversation on the superhero, we spoke about Hollywood studios, Tim Burton's vision for Batman and the decision to cast Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton.
In the second part, we chat about the upcoming films starring Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker and Robert Pattinson as the Batman, as well as Uslan's current projects.
What are your views on Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and the fact that it made Batman a global cultural phenomenon?
I believe Christopher Nolan made one Batman movie, and he made it in three acts – Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Structurally it is a beautiful story told over those three acts. Every setup has a payoff, every payoff has a setup, and every character has an arc. The battle between Batman and the Joker, which involved the performance of a lifetime by Heath Ledger, really made the world understand that Nolan can be considered a genius. He elevated the comic book movies. When you walk out of one of Chris Nolan’s Batman films, you no longer have to say 'oh, that was a great comic book movie'. You could say, that was a great film. His movies had a magic touch to them.
His movies also impacted people in the post-9/11 era where the world had turned from black and white to grey, where good-vs-evil had turned into order-vs-chaos. It is here that Chris Nolan came in with a mission to restore the dignity and darkness to Batman on screen. He was able to approach it with a point of view that was a stark contrast to that of Tim Burton in 1989. It was Chris’ objective to tell the world that his story and the characters in it can unfortunately be real today. Gotham City could be a real place. He also had to convince audiences that Bruce Wayne can be a real young man who is on a journey of self discovery, or that the Joker can be a modern-day terrorist. It was incredible that he was able to fully and successfully create all those roles.
What is your view on Joaquin Phoenix being cast as the Joker, and Robert Pattinson being cast as the new Batman?
You are talking about two wonderful actors.
The point I’d like to make is that before you see a movie, you don’t need to concentrate much on who this actor is, because in terms of Batman, the focal point is not so much the actor as opposed to who the filmmaker is.
The fact is that in every Batman movie, the star is the filmmaker. It’s not so much about whether Tom Cruise or Kevin Costner is playing Batman. That’s not the point. The question that you have to ask is, who is the filmmaker? Does this filmmaker know the character, understand the character, love the character and have a passion for the character? Does the filmmaker have a vision for the character? If so, then do you believe he or she can execute that vision? If you believe that the filmmaker has that sort of passion and vision, then what you need to do is wait and watch them execute. See the film and then judge the hell out of it. I have all the confidence in the world in both, the filmmaker personally and the filmmaker’s vision — for Todd Philips in Joker and Matt Reeves for The Batman.
Todd is delivering the most unique and different comic book movie anyone has ever seen. I believe we live in a world where the marketplace for comic books is a little over-saturated. To have anything that is different and unique is a very good thing. This movie is going to evoke the mood of film noir or a Martin Scorsese crime drama, rather than the traditional comic book film that we are used to.
In the case of Matt Reeves, we are going to see the Batman that I always long for, which is the focus on his humanity, focus on the fact that he is human and not just somebody in an Ironman costume selling toys. I think that is critical. Since I am a huge Batman fan and a comic geek, for me it couldn’t get more exciting than to see Batman or Bruce Wayne, who is also the world’s greatest detective, depicted with his detective abilities as well.
Which projects are you working on currently?
Right now, I am doing something very fun and exciting. Everyone in India will appreciate this because it’s based on Archie Comics which has the biggest market in India outside the US. Ten years ago, I wrote the comic book Archie Gets Married and it turned out to be the top selling Archie comic. My new comic book series and graphic novel commemorates the tenth anniversary of Archie Gets Married. We go back and take a look at Archie getting married to Veronica. They're all in their 30s and dealing with a new generation of kids that parents don’t understand, who are constantly on their cell phones and their devices. We are going to deal with issues like careers, jobs, ageing parents and all those things that married people, in their 30s in particular, have to deal with today all around the world.
The first issue goes on sale this August. We are very excited about it. Dan Parent is doing the artwork on this. With Archie gaining even more fans due to the TV series Riverdale, a lot of readers are looking forward to seeing what happens to everybody in Riverdale when Archie marries Veronica, and then taking another look to see what will happen to everybody’s lives when Archie marries Betty. It's the butterfly effect; everybody’s lives change based on the decisions made by Archie, Betty and Veronica when it comes to marriage.
Have you been influenced by the Hollywood culture?
I had no interest in Hollywood culture or playing that game. I am just doing what I love. I raised my kids around my parents and my family in New Jersey, far away from the madness of Hollywood. When they became adults, they chose to build careers on their own.
The author would like to thank Anshuman Jain for his support.
Rahul Gupta is a movie buff and entertainment blogger who worked briefly at The Gotham Group in Hollywood. He writes frequently on popular culture, comic books, world cinema, licensing, superheroes, OTT content and books. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated Date: Jul 18, 2019 10:02:40 IST