After Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and certainly after Zack Snyder’s brief trial run, I felt like the Caped Crusader could benefit from an overdue sabbatical, and frankly so could we. There’s been a Batman film (or films featuring the Batman) roughly every 3 years since 2005. Even for a lifelong Batman fan that’s excessive.
When Matt Reeves was tapped to write and direct another reboot with Robert Pattinson queued as the next Bruce Wayne, I did my best to feign exasperation despite some excellent sneak peeks. “Darker” and “grittier” they said it would be, or “raw & unsanitized.” Up until DC’s FanDome event, I was all for Warner Bros. hanging up the cape and cowl. But after this weekend’s trailer, I am formally withdrawing my objections. Gimme raw and unsanitized Batman movies for as long as I live.
Who knew Nirvana could pair so well with a Batman teaser? Right off the bat (hehehe), The Batman seems decidedly less comic book-y and instead feels plucked right out of David Fincher’s Se7en (with a little bit of Mindhunter going on), or Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners. You could tell me Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are out there in the rain solving grisly murders, or that Jake Gyllenhaal is interrogating Paul Dano’s Riddler and either way I’d believe you.
The teaser effectively points to the alleys within the character yet to be explored, which is impressive considering how many film iterations there have been. We’ve seen Batman lifted from the comics and animated series via Tim Burton’s gothic vision. We’ve seen the dark & gritty take through Nolan’s real-world lens, followed by Snyder’s overtly masculine version that took the backseat in favor of jumpstarting a whole cinematic universe. And bottom line we’ve seen enough of Bruce Wayne’s parents getting killed, and this includes last year’s Joker.
But we have yet to see the Batman in full detective mode. There are hints of this in the Nolan films, but any investigative work serves as exposition or waypoints to the next major setpiece. (I would’ve killed to see the banter between Christian Bale and Michael Caine during a stakeout.) Nolan was more fascinated in the growing ensemble of his epic city saga, which is why I’m excited to see the lone and tortured soul of Pattinson’s Batman playing bad cop, worse cop on the grimy streets of Gotham.
We’ve been fooled by promising DC trailers before *cough, cough* Suicide Squad. But the reason I’m not so guarded here is because of the sheer confidence of mood on display. The Suicide Squad trailer used “Bohemian Rhapsody” set to hyper-edited shots to show off a “personality.” What we glean from The Batman is decidedly more mundane, less action-y and all about a dark and stormy mood. A consequence of a pandemic halting your production a third of the way through filming, yet this teaser conveys a noir-ish and dare I say emo take on the Batman I’ve always wanted. (A byproduct of growing up and worshipping Brandon Lee in The Crow.) I get way more chills from Pattinson’s eyeliner brooding than Affleck’s pronounced chin or ripped bod could’ve ever pulled off, respectfully. Hell, this Bruce Wayne looks like he’s been pissed off every single day of his life.
Prior to this superb teaser, I was of the belief that we didn’t need “darker,” “grittier,” or “more realistic” takes on the Caped Crusader anymore. This had nothing to do with writer-director Matt Reeves or star Robert Pattinson, but everything to do with variety. Why not give Superman and Wonder Woman their own trilogies first, or finally make good on a Flash or Cyborg movie before reintroducing Batman and seeing where he fits into this world full of veritable gods. Now I find myself eating crow (or bat) because I’ve been low-key excited about this reboot from the get-go.
Matt Reeves has been on my radar since 2008’s Cloverfield, followed by his terrific vampire remake, Let Me In. The man knows how to conduct the chaos of massive setpieces (which he’s since refined to operatic precision in his Planet of the Apes movies) and has a unique handle on world-building and atmosphere – things key to newer iterations of the Batman. How do you make the superhero crimefighting spectacle feel new again? And what does this Gotham look and feel like separate from what came before?
I find it reassuring that Warner Bros. is on board with Reeves’ uncompromising vision just as they were fully behind Nolan. It helps that Reeves struck gold with the studio prior, earning confidence through box office dollars with his pair of Apes movies. It wasn’t obvious before (like how WB would go on to hire Andy Muschietti to direct the long delayed Flash movie, hot off the success of It: Chapter 1 & 2) but it certainly is now as he’s been given free rein to do whatever he wants with WB’s biggest IP.
I don’t know what I was thinking in saying no more dark & gritty Batman sagas when Batman himself has no superpowers. His story arcs often contend with realism and everyday criminality apart from his superhero brethren. That’s long been the appeal of the Batman. While Superman was fighting cartoony Lex Luthors or speechifying General Zods, Batman wrestled with thieves, rapists, murderers. The vibe given off by the Riddler here conveys something closer to Se7en’s John Doe, or Francis Dolarhyde in the Hannibal Lecter novels. We don’t get a peek at Paul Dano’s Riddler, but his muffled yet sinister voice is a delicious tease hinting at the villain’s twisted game of murder and corruption. Perhaps The Batman will do for the Riddler what The Dark Knight did for the Joker. (Also, I’m 100% here for Colin Farrell’s coked-out Penguin, and I’m really digging the practical design of Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman.)
Robert Pattinson might be bemoaned in comments sections as “the Twilight guy,” but he’s carved out a robust body of independent work in the years since. The Rover, Lost City of Z, High Life, The Lighthouse; he’s SO utterly convincing as a lowly bank robber in Good Time that I’m legit intimidated by him the same way I am of Joaquin Phoenix. To further criticize Pattinson for playing a sparkly vampire is a keen self-own on the haters at this point. He may have started as a vampire, but the guy became a bona fide actor.
If the over-attention of the Twilight movies drove him away from commercial films, then Pattinson is in line for a mainstream comeback as a bankable leading man. Perhaps The Batman will herald Pattinson as the star that Hollywood never quite knew what to do with. With Tenet on the horizon and The Batman underway, it seems Warner Bros. knows exactly what to do now that his heartthrob days are over.
Pattinson and his co-stars are reportedly contracted for an entire trilogy. His age just might see to him becoming the longest-running actor to don the cape and cowl. But whether he’s poised to one day cross over in other DC movies feels beside the point despite all the big announcements over the past week. For once, I don’t care about the bigger picture. With Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Shazam, last year’s Joker and now this look at the Batman, it feels like Warner Bros. is finally making superhero movies that can exist on their own two feet.
“I’m vengeance,” the Batman says after beating a clown-faced goon to a pulp, fists only.
As for me, I’m all in.