The dark knight is returning back to our movie screens, and this time he has been imagined by filmmaker Matt Reeves. Reeves, who first gained notoriety as a screenwriter for Felicity garnered widespread recognition after his hit film Cloverfield came to theaters. Since then, he’s been responsible for the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy (one of the best reboots to date) and now he’s taking a crack at Bruce Wayne. Leading the cast of Reeves’ The Batman is Robert Pattinson as the eponymous Dark Knight, along with Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Paul Dano as Edward Nashton/Riddler, Jeffrey Wright as James Gordon, Andy Serkis as Alfred Pennyworth, Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin, and John Turturro as Carmine Falcone.
After a screening of the film, The Beat participated with other journalists in a Q&A with Reeves, Pattinson, Kravitz, and co-producer Dylan Clark about the film. The group discussed the inspirations for this year two Batman, the potential of future villains and stories, the creation of Reeves’ specific Batman, and more.
Bruce Wayne & Origins in Trauma
While Reeves was clear that this version of Batman was meant to be one that was free of an origin story, it became inevitable that throughout the runtime of The Batman the audience would revisit aspects of Bruce Wayne’s past. Pattinson explained, “Because the story is set over such a short period, it’s actually really difficult to shove in as much as you can, the emotional weight that just lies in your body language on your face.” Unlike Batman Begins there is no sequence where Bruce has a training sequence and that was a significant part of this new version of the superhero.
“He doesn’t go away and train and come back as a fully-mastered Batman at all. And he’s not the traditional kind of playboy persona as well. Something has happened to him – there’s too much trauma for him to deal with.” Pattinson noted that other versions of the character see a version of Batman who has mastered his trauma. “What I was interested in talking to [Reeves] about was when he’s Bruce, it’s still the day his parents died, he hasn’t gotten over it at all. And he’s become Batman almost in order to survive his present. Rather than to think, ‘Oh, I’m going to make a new future,’ it’s to protect himself as much as anything else. As soon as he takes [his suit] off, he just goes back to being a 10-year-old boy again, and the pain is still very much real.”
Pattinson went on to compare Bruce’s attachment to his suit more like an addiction than a calling. “He’s addicted to putting on the suit. Because as soon as he puts that suit on, you go into a kind of primal state where you can eliminate the baggage of your past and you can just have kind of super-heightened senses in the present. And it’s a relief as much as anything else. It’s a relief to be hurt and inflict that pain, which is inside your head, on others, and get it out of yourself when he’s had it for most of his entire life, like inside his own mind.”
Reeves agreed, also noting that while Batman’s actions might be noble to some, they are not selfless. He said, “I think the idea of being Batman, honestly, it’s not altruistic. It’s a desperate attempt to make meaning, right? That was the thing I think we always talked about was this idea of like, the faces of everyone you come up against, they’re the faces of the killers of your family. So [there’s] that idea of personalizing everything, and the idea that, as Bruce Wayne, he’s totally lost.”
Reeves continued that in order to find a fresh version of Batman on film, he wanted to connect the Waynes to a high-profile-like family. “I kept thinking, well, there’s another way to go, which is this idea of thinking of him almost as a member of the Kennedy family. Or, you know, one of the Royals. In the wake of this death, he’s never quite recovered. If you were to see him on the street, if you ever saw him, he became recluse. But if you saw him, he would look very pale, kind of bruised up, and you’d think, ‘Is this guy’s a drug addict? What is his problem?’ And you think he was a real screw up, but, and I guess in a certain way, maybe he is. But that drug that he’s addicted to is escaping himself and doing this thing. It’s this thing of trying to make meaning.”
Clark also praised dropping the story in Batman’s second year of being the vigilante. “[This is] early on in this Batman’s trajectory, year two, he’s thinking that he’s mastered this,” Clark said, in reference to Bruce’s fears. “He’s not afraid to die. But he does learn again, through the course of this movie, that he’s afraid to lose somebody again.”
A New Gotham, A New Killer
After Heath Ledger‘s stunning performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight, the clown prince of crime got somewhat of a renaissance in film and television. Versions of The Joker popped up everywhere from the Gotham tv show to getting his own movie by Todd Phillips. But The Batman takes a step in a new direction featuring the enigma, the criminal mastermind: Riddler. While The Batman leans away from exploring too much of the well-tread past of Bruce Wayne, it does offer a chance to introduce his rogues’ gallery while giving the narrative arc to the dark knight himself.
“What was important to me was that Batman have the arc of the story. Because a lot of times once he’s already Batman, he no longer has the arc per se, you might have rogues’ gallery characters come in, in that way, they have the grand story. Then Batman is going to battle them in some way. I want to do a Batman story where he was already Batman, but he still was in early days, and had to find a way to evolve,” explained Reeves. “I wanted to do a story that the investigation of this particular mystery would lead him back to something very personal and would rock him to his core.”
Reeves referenced looking to The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale and drawing inspiration from that story. The Long Halloween is known for its connection not only to the idea of a serial killer running rampant in Gotham but also plot points tied to the mob crime that exists in the city.
The killer in question in The Batman leaves letters to him, which Reeves explained, “I thought, well, we could do a thing where at these crimes this there’s correspondence left for the Batman and the whole idea of being Batman is your power’s in being anonymous. So the idea that suddenly someone is shining a light on you, that would be very unsettling to him.” He pulled inspiration from the real-life Zodiac killer, who sent ciphers to the local newspapers with alleged clues about his victims. This, Reeves explained, felt like a horrifying version of the Riddler. This then led him to reading books like Mindhunter by John Douglas and looking at how to profile serial killers.
Of course, another significant character in any Batman movie is the setting of the city of Gotham. Reeves said, “It was very important to me that Gotham not be New York, not be Chicago, not be any particular city. I want you to feel like, ‘Wow, this is a place we’ve never been before.’ But it feels absolutely like an iconic American city. A really corrupt messed up place, but I wanted it to be very much of our world.”
Creating Batman, Suit and Sound
One of the most crucial aspects of getting Batman right is making sure the suit, the gadgets, and the Batmobile are perfect. Who can forget the memes that spawned after Ben Affleck‘s suit was revealed? The look makes or breaks the vigilante. For Reeves, approaching this suit and Batman’s persona required a bit of logic and maybe even less focus on the suit alone.
“One of the things we tried to figure out was, why would someone put on a suit? Of course, some of that, from the comics, is about intimidation, you’re trying to create an image. Then the practicality of that is non-existent. It doesn’t make any sense. If you’re looking for crime and you’re walking around in that suit, you’ve got issues. Like how does that work? Like you’re going to go to a 7/11 and you’re worrying that they’re gonna go, ‘That’s that guy!’ That’s really weird. He’s gonna drive around in his Batmobile? That didn’t make any sense.”
“So I was like, Okay, we have to think about this. And Year One was very important for that for me, because there’s a moment when Bruce before he becomes Batman, he goes to the East End, and he actually meets that version of Selina Kyle for the first time and he’s there. And in the commemorative edition where you see Frank Miller‘s notes to David Mazzucchelli, and it says that Bruce looks like he’s just won the Travis Bickle look-a-like contest and he’s put a scar on his face. And I thought, ‘Oh, this is it. He can be a drifter. Okay, so there’s some practicality here.’ So when he’s looking for crime, he has to have an alter ego, because he can’t be Batman. And he can’t be Bruce because he’s Bruce Wayne, that guy’s like royalty. So that doesn’t work either.”
Reeves strove to find a ‘drifter’ identity that allowed the character to walk through the streets of Gotham without being recognized as either the Dark Knight or the infamous Bruce Wayne. Of course, when he was in his suit, Reeves soon realized a problem. When working with Greig Fraser, the cinematographer, they decided to keep the character in the shadows. “We’d be like, ‘You know what, when you put too much light on Batman doesn’t work. Put it on his face. He looks ridiculous.'” He then talked about the multiple takes that they had to shoot to make sure the lighting was right for the theatrical effect.
Another problem arose with filming with the Batman cowl on, especially when it came to filming emotional scenes that required Pattinson to emote with half of his face covered. “It’s a true testament to Rob as a performer,” Reeves praised. “And he’s so technical as well as incredibly emotional. Like I would watch Rob get himself into that state where he would be getting really raw before he would shoot. Then I would be saying like, ‘I think I need to see a little bit more through the cowl.’ That was definitely by design, and it was a huge challenge.”
One of the first scenes of the film with Batman shows off his intimidating entrance, and while the intention is for the character to be terrifying to criminals, the approach required a nuanced touch, according to Reeves. “We have these brilliant [sound] guys who have worked with me since Cloverfield, they did the Apes movies with me, and the first attempt, it was like he had metal boots on that were like lead. And I was like, ‘Those are too heavy.’ And they go, ‘Yeah, but he’s Batman!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but that’s crazy. He’s like Frankenstein coming out of the dark. That doesn’t work!'”
“And then it got to this place where we talked about Sergio Leone, and the idea of it being like a Western thing, like he’s gonna stalk out. It’s gonna be like the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West. And I said, ‘Could we have a spur sound with no spurs?’ And they go, ‘Well, there’s metal on those boots…’ So they did create kind of a kind of a spur-ish sound. Anyway, you spend endless time going through all these details, and it’s actually the joy of making a movie like this.”
Finally, to top it all off, Batman needs his Batman voice. Who can forget Christian Bale‘s iconic (and sometimes unintelligible) growl? For Pattinson, the process took time. “It was a lot of trial and error. I had a lot of time to think about it. I think I was cast about seven or eight months before we started shooting. And so I was experimenting with a lot of different things. I think the first two or three weeks, we’re kind of doing a variety of different voices, because there’s only a couple of lines in the first few scenes we shot. Me and Matt just settled on something… it started to sit in a very particular place. It felt like progression from other bat voices.”
Pattinson explained that the more time he spent in the suit and with the character, the more organically the voice came to him. “I was trying to think, he’s not putting on a voice. It seemed [like] he puts on the suit, and then the voice just starts happening for him as a person as well,” he said.
One thing that Pattinson realized was obvious, in retrospect, was the importance of the voice, especially given the difficulty of shooting with the cowl on. “The whole performance is your voice. And it’s how many different shapes you can do with your mouth. But yeah, you don’t realize until you’re doing it and you’re like, oh, there has to be subtle intonation changes and stuff.”
While other versions of Bruce Wayne employ Lucius Fox or even Alfred as a fellow inventor and creator of his gadgets, this version sees Bruce crafting them himself. “I think there’s something about the way because Bruce builds everything, he builds the Batmobile himself,” Pattinson said. “It never feels like he’s built something to be cool. It doesn’t come from a place of supreme confidence. It’s not like there’s an extreme amount of high technology. It kind of it feels like the suit, the Batmobile, and all these tools, they all seem like they’re just a guy obsessing in his basement.”
While Riddler has donned his mantle in someway in this film, Selina Kyle has not fully embraced the title of Catwoman. Zoë Kravitz explained that it was actually enjoyable to just play as Selina Kyle before she’s taken on the mantle. “I think with these iconic characters that we all love so much, it can be overwhelming in terms of, okay, now, here’s Catwoman. I have this wonderful opportunity to slowly develop her and the audience gets to come on that journey with me. But, obviously learning all the combat and the way she moves and finding ways to kind of hint at who she will become was a really fun process.”
Reeves praised Kravitz for putting a lot of thought into the process of creating her character and trying to incorporate elements from the comics. He said, “There were images literally from the comic books that [Zoë] was like, ‘God, if we could do this moment.’ There was stuff from Year One, and there was [Zoë asking,] ‘Can we do this image?’ And I was like, ‘Let me see if we can do this image.'”
Clark similarly praised Kravitz for her line delivery during the screen test. “I remember, during the screen test, there was a thing you did when you turned on Rob, and you said, ‘Whoever you are, you must have grown up rich.’ And the way you said that we were just like, ‘Whoa, God, that’s Selina Kyle.'”
Indeed one of the scenes that made it to the cut of the trailer and the film is a brief exchange between Selina and Batman that Kravitz came up with. In the clip, Batman comments on Selina’s multitude of pet cats and she tells him that she has a thing about strays. Kravitz wanted to connect the idea of Selina’s background as an orphan with her instinct to protect strays.
“This was literally how this happened,” Reeves described. “I said, ‘That is so great.’ And she goes, ‘So I could say that, right? Something about, you know, I have a thing about strays?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but how do we set that up?’ And she was, ‘Oh, that’s easy. He can just say you’ve got a lot of cats.’ And I was like, ‘That is great.'”
Kravitz added, “When I read the script, it says that she has all these cats and that I understood that that was to kind of tip off the audience [that] she’s Catwoman, but I really wanted to understand why.” The brief scene oozes chemistry between the two leads and adds a bit of flavor to Selina’s character.
Kravitz also talked about Selina’s vulnerability and her desire to lean into the femininity of the character and the power of that femininity. “I mean, I think for Selina, I think a lot of her power comes from her vulnerability,” she explained. “[There’s] this idea of what it is to be feminine, and what it is to be sexy, what it is to be strong. I didn’t want to have to imitate masculine strength or power. I really wanted to allow her to be soft and feminine and that be part of her power.” She praised the script for helping her create a grounded character, since she would often lean into the more Catwoman aspects of the character and the script and Reeves’ direction helped her keep the tone of the film clear.
For Reeves, the connection between Selina and Bruce is crucial to the film. “To me, that’s the heart of the movie – the push pull between the two of them – and the way that she’s going to evolve and where all of that will go.”
Reeves added, “[Batman] pretty much has been trying to eliminate all vulnerability. He doesn’t want any vulnerability whatsoever, which is why, of course, he’s drawn to Selina. And she’s drawn to him. But they can’t be together, and yet they want to be together. And yet they can’t be together. And they want to be together.”
Clark added that Reeves’ experience as a writer and director of the project allowed him to get inside the characters emotionally. “The vulnerability is what you’re experiencing, because everything comes from that place. We know that it’s a Batman movie, and it has to be epic and entertaining, and has to have a Batmobile chase and a wingsuit thing, but it always has to come from this place he’s writing,” Clark said. “So it’s a great thing. A lot of these big movies are directed by directors and they’re amazing, but they didn’t write the words. They didn’t know the characters all the way. They understand it, obviously, to a place of how they’re going to direct it, but Matt created those words and those emotions.”
The Future and the Fantastical
While The Batman is a decidedly grounded approach to the dark knight, Reeves did not rule out the potential of future portrayals of more fantastical characters. Although we might be a long way from characters like Manbat and Clayface, Reeves seemed enthused by the challenge of coming up with a grounded version of some of the less realistic characters.
“To me, it would be a challenge, in an interesting way, to try and figure out how that could happen,” he said. “Like even the idea of something like Mr. Freeze – that’s such such a great story, right? And I think there’s actually a grounded version of that story, which could be really powerful and could be really great. I love the fantastical side of Batman. But this iteration, obviously, I think it is very comics faithful, but I don’t think that this one doesn’t lean as hard into the fantastical, I guess. But I think, to me, it would be interesting to try and unwind the fantastical and see how could that make sense here?”
The Batman comes to theaters March 4, 2022.