Prepare to meet Bruce Wayne, P.I.
By: Kuni .G. Isaac
While fighting crime has been ingrained in the DNA of all Caped Crusader stories from the outset — comics, movies or otherwise — Matt Reeves’s upcoming reboot The Batman focuses on the crime-solving abilities of its tortured hero, now played by Robert Pattinson.
“I didn’t want to do an origin story,” Reeves (Cloverfied, War for the Planet of the Apes) explained during a post-screening Q&A at the Warner Bros. lot last week, where he was joined by Pattinson, co-star Zoë Kravitz and producer Dylan Clark. “I knew that I wanted to do a story that would lean into the detective side of Batman because we hadn’t seen [a film] where it was really in the forefront of the story.”
After all, longtime fans know that Batman debuted in issue 27 of Detective Comics, and aside from being known as the Caped Crusader, another one of his common comic-book nicknames is the World’s Greatest Detective.
As for The Batman, the film is set two years into the vigilante-moonlighting adventures of a young Bruce Wayne — more reclusive, less playboy than we’ve ever seen him, and still deeply haunted by the deaths of his parents. The story begins with the slaying of Gotham’s mayor, the first in a murder spree targeting Gotham’s elite. Each corpse is accompanied with a note containing a puzzle for “The Batman” to solve, courtesy of the killer, the Riddler (Paul Dano).
As Batman gets his sleuthing on alongside GCPD lieutenant and friend James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), it’s as much about figuring out the why as it is the who.
“What was important to me was that Batman have the arc of the story,” Reeves continued. “Because once he’s already Batman, he no longer has the arc, per se. “You might have rogues gallery characters who come in [and] have the grand story and then Batman is gonna battle them in some way. I wanted to do a Batman [movie] where he was already Batman, but he still was in his early days, and had to find a way to really evolve. I wanted to do a story [where] the investigation of this particular mystery would lead him back to something very personal and would rock him to his core.”
Reeves looked into Batman stories like The Long Halloween, the villain Calendar Man, and other serial killers in the canon. “And then this idea came to me and I thought, this there’s correspondence left for the Batman. And the whole idea of being Batman is your power is in being anonymous. So the idea that suddenly someone is shining a light on you, that would be very unsettling to him.”
Given the film’s unsettlingly dark tone and seedy crime scenes, The Batman will no doubt draw comparisons to the works of mayhem master David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac). In fact, Reeves acknowledges two real-life influences on the film that Fincher previously brought to the screen.
“I thought about the Zodiac,” he says in reference to the Bay Area slayer who was never identified after killing five people between 1968 and 1969. “I thought about how the Zodiac [killer], in this horrific way, left all of these disturbing ciphers and these communications to the police and to the newspapers, and how unsettling that was. And I thought, ‘Wow, that actually sounds like a horrifying version of the Riddler because he was leaving all these puzzles.’”
Reeves said he also read Mind Hunter, John Douglas and Mark Olshaker’s seminal 1995 true-crime novel about the FBI’s pursuit of serial killers and mass murderers, which was adapted into a Netflix series in 2017 with Fincher as executive producer.
Even though The Batman, unlike most reboots, isn’t an origin story, Pattinson admitted he and Reeves still discussed at length where this particular Batman came from, and his experiences leading up to the events of the film.
“It’s a new version of the character, [but] you’re so aware of the origins, you end up trying to sort of play it in the subtext and in little moments and because the story is set over such a short period as well,” Pattinson said. And despite the film’s three-hour runtime, “It’s actually really difficult to kind of shove in as much as you can, the kind of emotional weight that just kind of lies in your body language and on your face. … [But it’s] different to the traditional origin story. I mean, 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. … There’s too much trauma for him to deal with … the residue of the trauma [from his parents’ murders] is still there, but he’s basically kind of mastered it and turned into Batman. [But] especially when he’s bruised, it’s still the day his parents died.”
Reeves does consider The Batman to contain DCEU origin stories for Selina Kyle (Kravitz) and Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell). While the former does own a few felines and as a cat burglar may know how to scale down a balcony in a tight black suit, she’s not yet Catwoman; and while Farrell is utterly unrecognizable in the role of mobster, he bears no resemblance to Danny DeVito as the Penguin.
“I think a lot of her power comes from her vulnerability,” Kravitz said of Selina. “I think I really wanted to [explore] this idea of what it is to be feminine and what it is to be sexy, what it is to be strong. And 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.”
The Batman opens March 4.