DUBAI: There has never been a Batman film quite like “The Batman.” Something has always been missing. 1966’s “Batman” was too campy to take seriously. Tim Burton’s films relegated Batman to a supporting character. Even Christopher Nolan’s much-lauded Dark Knight trilogy was about Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne first and foremost, with Batman always feeling like a costume he wears rather than a character in the film. And, in all of them, there was a boy overcoming the tragic death of his parents by becoming a hero — with that part of the story ending there.
“From the first time I read the script, it was clear that this was a drastic departure from the traditional way that Bruce Wayne and Batman are portrayed,” Robert Pattinson, who plays the title role in the new movie, tells Arab News.
Let’s be clear: The much-anticipated latest film from writer-director Matt Reeves (“War of the Planet of the Apes,” “Cloverfield”) is not another origin story. The film picks up with Batman a year into his journey as the caped crusader, and while he’s established as Gotham’s dark knight, he has not processed the traumas of his youth. He has forgotten how to be Bruce — his truest face is Batman’s.
“Bruce Wayne is traditionally portrayed as a society playboy. He’s very much in control of the three aspects of his personality — the silly public face, the serious Bruce at home watching old movies, and Batman. In this one, he’s let Bruce wither away since his parents’ death. The only way he can survive is creating this alter ego which he wants to live in more and more,” Pattinson explains.
“I think he doesn’t have an enormous amount of control over what’s happening to him when he puts that suit on. He genuinely believes he’s another person when he puts it on. And he’s addicted to it. And so when the red light comes on, and calls him out, it’s almost like he’s more afraid of his identity being revealed than dying. For him, it’s almost worse than death,” he continues. “Don’t ask me to explain that.”
For Reeves, that was a conscious decision. While the other Batman films are often about the villains more than the hero, that was out of necessity, as there was no room for Batman himself to grow. But “The Batman” is about the journey of the hero himself, ultimately leading to him the best version of that hero.
“I’ve seen lots of origin stories,” says Reeves. “I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to do an origin story. I want to come right into (the life of) a young Batman.’ I wanted to position him along an arc of becoming. This is a guy who has room to improve. He’s still pushing. He can become better. I wanted to take that Batman and have him solve a mystery, something that would not be an origin tale, but would refer to his origins and shake him to his core.”
While the film is not an origin story for Batman, it does show how a cast of characters that have traditionally surrounded him — including Penguin (Colin Farrell), Selina Kyle — aka Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), and Riddler (Paul Dano), came to be who they are. Each of them is more grounded than ever before, without the over-the-top villainy or hint at the supernatural that was found in previous iterations.
“That’s how this world was designed,” says Jeffrey Wright, who plays Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon. “What’s wonderful about Batman as an idea is that they’re all human. They all exist in a city fashioned after New York City back in 1939. It’s a grounded thing. They have their flaws and their strengths.
“What really excited me about this script and Matt’s vision was that he was making a Batman for now, honoring the history of the franchise starting in 1939, and infusing this film with a relevance to 21st century Gotham that I think is really exciting,” Wright continues. “I think it’s going to be thrilling for fans because it is modern, but it’s also based in the origins of the characters, which is around mystery, detective work and all of that good stuff.”
That rooted humanity was exactly why Reeves wanted Pattinson in the role.
“What excited me about Robert is that he has this intensity,” says Reeve. “We all know that he will push himself to any place. I wanted a Batman who was exceedingly human. His scars are his strength. What happened to him made him perfectly suited to be the person who will push himself to any length, because it’s the only way he can find meaning in his life. This Batman is a human being, and his superpower is his willingness to endure.”
For the cast, it was often a huge challenge to forget some of the franchise’s history and see the humanity buried beneath the iconography; to fashion a real person who was not just an imitation of another performance, and to silo their understanding of those characters. Although not all of them tried to sever that tie fully.
“I will say that Jim Carrey (who played Riddler in 1995’s “Batman Forever”) was one of my favorite actors growing up. I was obsessed with Jim Carrey in late elementary school. And coincidently Jack Nicholson (who played Joker in 1989’s “Batman”) was my other favorite actor when I was young,” says Dano.
“Luckily, Matt gave us the keys with the script to take the energy that’s there. I do think that this stuff has their energy in it: It’s been around in the culture for a reason. I didn’t have to really think about any other villains work but unconsciously I’m sure it informed me, because those performances are indelible to me.”
Kravitz, on the other hand, found the shadow of those previous performances daunting, having to live up to portrayals of the character from Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Anne Hathaway and others.
“It was intimidating,” she says. “I think the hardest part is forgetting that these are iconic characters. That really was half the battle. I think to really honor who these characters are, and play them as three-dimensional people, you can’t think of them as Catwoman. You can’t think of them as someone iconic. You just have to play a human being in a situation and hope that it all flows together.”
As well-established as this cast is, another daunting prospect awaiting them once what is undoubtably the most anticipated movie of the year in the Middle East and beyond has been seen is the new level of fame and attention it will bring to each of them. Pattinson has had his fair share from his days in the “Twilight” franchise, but this is something differen. This is Batman.
“It feels very surreal. I’ve been seeing the posters and still thinking it isn’t actually happening. But it’s starting to feel a little bit more real now,” Pattinson says. “But when it comes down to it, I really liked the movie. So at least there’s that.”