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Notes from a Darkened Theater: The Future of Batman and a Jester in King Arthur's Court

Recently, the Sun – the London-based tabloid that seems to pride itself on movie-related misinformation – reported that Eddie Murphy and Shia LaBeouf would be joining Christian Bale and rumored Catwoman Rachel Weisz in Christopher Nolan’s next Batman sequel, tentatively titled Gotham.

Though the rumor has been categorically (and convincingly) denied, I believe Murphy could make a fine Riddler, provided he muted his act to suit the dark tone of the material, as Robin Williams did for another Nolan production, Insomnia. But LaBeouf as Robin? Spare us.

We’ve already seen LaBeouf superfluously inserted into another revered franchise – thank you, Mr. Jones – and besides, didn’t Bale promise to bail if the Caped Crusader got saddled anew with his diminutive sidekick? That alone should put the kibosh on any thoughts of re-introducing the Boy Wonder, much less in the person of a blandish young star whose history of box-office success owes more to proven brand names (Indiana Jones, Transformers) than to any contribution of his. (Even the kid’s surprise hit Disturbia had a built-in hook, as a modern-day, teen-friendly update of the Hitchcock classic Rear Window.)

If Steven Spielberg and George Lucas shoved the latest Indy update down the throats of indifferent moviegoers, as Bruce Campbell suggested in a recent interview, Hollywood seems to be doing the same with LaBeouf. Fair enough. He’s not untalented, and in the absence of a young Tom Cruise or John Cusack, he’s the closest thing to a hot young star, like him or not. But if he’s going to be the new marketing tool in town, apply him where he’s needed, not in franchises that ain’t broke and don’t require fixing.

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Speaking of dreadful ideas, the Hollywood Reporter has revealed that Russell Brand, he of the desperately outrageous pranks and subsequent public apologies – and, it should be noted, just one memorable movie role to his name, as a sex-obsessed rock star in the Judd Apatow-produced Forgetting Sarah Marshall – is planning a remake of 1981’s Arthur.

The logic goes something like this: Dudley Moore, a supremely gifted British comedian eager to establish himself in America, starred in the original Arthur, a sharp-witted comedy about an alcoholic playboy searching for love and finding it in the arms of a working-class waitress. The film was a massive hit both critically and commercially, earning Moore instant name recognition in the U.S. and an Oscar nomination to boot. Now, Brand, another British comedian eager to establish himself in America, is looking to follow in his footsteps.

Two problems here: Brand, whose routine seems to consist of deliberately offensive publicity stunts and “shocking” reflections on his addictions to sex and drugs, lacks even an ounce of Moore’s wit and talent for deft physical comedy. Beyond that, why remake Arthur in the first place? Yes, it’s nearly 30 years old (and therefore ancient history in the eyes of Hollywood hitmakers) but it stands up just as well today as it did in 1981. Does Brand have some special insight into the character? Something that eluded Moore and director Steve Gordon? Or is this just another shameless marketing ploy? Stay tuned.