A lot of people think Frank Miller is a crazy, ignorant asshole. The case is definitely there. You can also make a case for the steady, endlessly uncomfortable decline in Miller’s work. The first Sin City film was visually fun as hell. As derivative as his noir characters could be, the filter of Miller’s unique imagination allowed them to have personality, a badass exterior, and the blood-and-guts poetry of their hellish, black-and-white lives. That sounds like a backhanded compliment. It’s not. The early Sin City stories are unforgettable and enduringly cool. His storytelling, art, and characterizations gave us The Dark Knight Returns, some of the best Daredevil stories ever told, and more.
Miller’s influence on both Batman and Daredevil film/TV/etc properties makes is a profound accomplishment. The art is so appealing, filmmakers can’t help but imagine expressing it through their own medium. For those reasons, people ask him questions about the characters he is most often associated with.
And you know what? When it comes to the Batman movies, he’s right. His argument for both Batman movies in scope, as well as Batman’s relationship to Gotham, are absolutely on point.
Nolan’s trilogy had aspects of Miller’s opinion. They couldn’t completely escape Nolan’s ever-expanding appetites for epic, occasionally pretentious storytelling. In the DCEU, so far, we only know that Ben Affleck is pretty good as Batman. BvS and Suicide Squad aren’t solo Batman stories. When Affleck’s first standalone Batman movie comes out, we’ll have a tone for how future films are likely to go. We still don’t know a lot about this movie. However, the planned story of Batman fighting the somewhat-unknown Deathstroke sounds like something that could potentially get closer to what Miller’s talking about than anyone has so far. Quite possibly, since Warner Bros. actually gave Tim Burton the authority to make the freakish, beautiful Batman Returns.
A smaller, more intimate Batman movie would be a wonderful change of pace. It would probably still make a ton of money, as Batman films generally do. It’s just unlikely that for all the money being thrown into the new era of superhero films, anyone in charge would ever settle for anything less than an all-consuming epic. It’s too bad.
The silver-lining comes in the form of the animated Batman movies. If you want the kinds of Batman stories Miller is describing, that range of releases will have a lot to offer.
Just don’t bet on a lot with this unexpected moment of lucidity from Miller. In a way, the first Sin City celebrated the best of Frank Miller, including anything that wasn’t actually from the Sin City comics. This is in spite of The Dark Knight Strikes Again coming out a few years earlier. I would make the case that Miller’s creative decline started with that appallingly unnecessary sequel to Dark Knight Rises. I’ve talked to people who say it happened much earlier than that.
Regardless, Miller hasn’t done anything of even mocking interest in a very long time. We’re lucky that no one (except for Robert Rodriguez) has given him any serious creative control on a film set. Remember when he directed The Spirit? I’d like to think he wishes he didn’t have to.
Unfortunately, while we are relatively safe from a Spirit follow-up, Frank continues to work at his day job. He is rapidly turning the best parts of his once-impressive legacy into parody. He has also managed to make it absolutely impossible to overlook his numerous, occasionally monstrous, frequently hilarious views on social and political matters. We’re also starting to learn that Frank can only tell the same kind of story but so many times. His desperate splashes of attempts at edginess are sad. It’s hard not to laugh at him a little, even when he’s spewing vile rhetoric on his personal blog.