DUBAI: There has never been a Batman movie like ‘The Batman’. Something has always been missing. 1966’s “Batman” was too campy to be taken seriously. Tim Burton’s films have relegated Batman to a secondary character. Even Christopher Nolan’s much-loved Dark Knight trilogy was primarily about Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, with Batman still feeling like a costume he’s wearing rather than a character in the movie. And, in each of them, there was a boy who overcame the tragic death of his parents by becoming a hero – that part of the story ends there.
“From the first time I read the script, it was clear that this was a dramatic departure from the traditional way Bruce Wayne and Batman are portrayed,” said Robert Pattinson, who plays the title role in the new film, to Arab News.
Let’s be clear: writer-director Matt Reeves’ highly anticipated latest film (“War for the Planet of the Apes,” “Cloverfield”) isn’t another origin story. The film picks up with Batman a year into his journey as a Caped Crusader, and despite being established as Gotham’s Dark Knight, he hasn’t dealt with the traumas of his youth. He forgot how to be Bruce – his real face is that of Batman.
“Bruce Wayne is traditionally portrayed as a society playboy. He’s in perfect control of all three aspects of his personality – the silly public face, the serious Bruce at home watching old movies, and Batman. In it, he leaves Bruce to waste away since his parents died. The only way for him to survive is to create this alter ego that he wants to live in more and more,” says Pattinson.
“I think he doesn’t have a whole lot of control over what happens to him when he puts this costume on. He genuinely believes he’s another person when he puts it on. And he’s addicted to it. And so when the light red lights up and calls out to him, it’s almost as if he’s more afraid of his identity being revealed than of dying. For him, it’s almost worse than death,” he continues. “Don’t ask me not to explain that to you.”
For Reeves, it was a conscious decision. While other Batman films are often about the villains more than the hero, this was out of necessity, as Batman himself had no room to grow. But “The Batman” is about the hero’s own journey, ultimately leading him to the best version of that hero.
“I’ve seen a lot of origin stories,” Reeves says. “I was like, ‘Well, I don’t want to do an origin story. I want to go straight into (the life of) a young Batman. I wanted to position it along an arc of becoming. He’s a guy with room to improve. It always grows. He can get better. I wanted to take this Batman and have him solve a mystery, something that wouldn’t be an origin tale, but would reference his origins and shake him to his core.
While the film isn’t an origin story for Batman, it shows how a cast of characters who 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, without the over-the-top villainy or hint of the supernatural that’s been found in previous iterations.
“That’s how this world was designed,” says Jeffrey Wright, who plays Gotham Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. “The wonderful thing about Batman as an idea is that they’re all human. They all exist in a city shaped after New York in 1939. It’s an ingrained thing. They have their flaws and their strengths. .
“What really excited me about this script and Matt’s vision is that he was making a Batman for now, honoring the franchise’s history from 1939 and infusing this film a relevance to 21st century Gotham that I find really exciting,” Wright continues. “I think it’s going to be exciting for the fans because it’s modern, but it’s also based on the origins of the characters, which revolves around mystery and detective work and all that good stuff.”
This ingrained humanity was exactly why Reeves wanted Pattinson to play the role.
“What got me excited about Robert is that he has this intensity,” Reeve says. “We all know he will push himself anywhere. I wanted an extremely human Batman. His scars are his strength. What happened to him made him perfectly suited to be the person who will push himself all the way, because that’s the only way for him to find meaning in his life. This Batman is a human being, and his superpower is his will to endure.
For the cast, it was often a huge challenge to forget part of the franchise’s history and see humanity buried beneath iconography; molding a real person who wasn’t just an imitation of another performance, and compartmentalising their understanding of those characters. Although not all have tried to completely sever that bond.
“I will say Jim Carrey (who played Riddler in 1995’s ‘Batman Forever’) was one of my favorite actors growing up. I was obsessed with Jim Carrey when I was out of elementary school. And coincidentally, Jack Nicholson (who played Joker in “Batman” in 1989) was my other favorite actor growing up,” Dano explains.
“Fortunately, Matt gave us the keys with the script to take the energy that is there. I think these things have their energy in them: it’s part of the culture for a reason. I didn’t really need to think of any other villainous work, but subconsciously I’m sure it informed me, because these performances are indelible to me.
Kravitz, on the other hand, found the shadow of those previous performances daunting, having to live up to the character portrayals of Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Anne Hathaway and others.
“It was intimidating,” she says. “I think the hardest part is forgetting that they’re iconic characters. That was really half the battle. I think to really honor who these characters are and play them as three-dimensional people, you don’t You can’t think of them as Catwoman. You can’t think of them as somebody iconic. You just have to play a human being in a situation and hope it all works out together.
As well-established as this cast is, another daunting prospect awaiting them once what is arguably the most anticipated film of the year in the Middle East and beyond has been seen is the new level of fame and attention he will bring to each of them. Pattinson has had his fair share of his days in the “Twilight” franchise, but this is something different. It’s Batman.
“It’s very surreal. I’ve seen the posters and I still think it’s not actually happening. But it’s starting to feel a little more real now,” Pattinson says. really liked the movie. So at least there is that.