With The Batman opening in theaters next month, I was able to attend an early press screening of the highly anticipated film this past week on the Warner Bros. lot. For the time being, reaction and reviews are embargoed, but those of us in attendance had plenty to talk about at a Q&A after the film with Writer/Director Matt Reeves, Producer Dylan Clark, and stars Robert Pattinson (“Bruce Wayne / Batman”) and Zoe Kravitz (“Selina Kyle”).
The film’s main villain is The Riddler, played by Paul Dano, who is far darker and more intense than the most familiar versions of the character. Reeves and his collaborators spoke about the inspiration behind this Riddler and much more, including the decision to keep Batman’s origin offscreen (while still having it in mind), meeting a pre-Catwoman Selina, and whether potential sequels to The Batman could bring in some of his superpowered foes from the comics.
Matt Reeves never wanted to tell another origin story with The Batman and explained, “I knew that I wanted to do a story that would lean into the detective side of Batman, because we hadn’t seen it [in the films] where it was really in the forefront of the story.”
Reeves brought up that some Batman films, once he’s fully Batman, often give his enemies more of an overt story arc, noting, “They have the grand story and then Batman is going to battle them in some way. I wanted to do a Batman story where he was already Batman, but he still was in the early days and he has to find a way to really evolve. And 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.”
Having immersed himself in Batman comics, Reeves said, “I started thinking about The Long Halloween,” bringing up the 13-part series in which a killer is striking during holidays, while the villain Calendar Man plays a Hannibal Lecter-like role, observing and commenting on what is happening from behind bars.
Explained Reeves, “I was thinking about Calendar Man and the idea of the different sort of killings [in Long Halloween], and then this idea came to me. I thought we could do a thing where, at these crimes, there’s correspondence left for the Batman. 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, and I thought that’s a great way in.”
Reeves then elaborated how a real life killer began to shape where the film went too. “As I started thinking about that, and trying to ground it, I thought about the Zodiac [Killer]. And I thought about how the Zodiac, in this horrific way, left all of these sort of 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. So the Riddler was part of the conception very early on in trying to figure out which of the rogues gallery characters would communicate in that way with Batman.”
As for the other familiar characters who pop up in the film, Reeves said, “It isn’t a Batman origin story, but it is the origin story of every rogues gallery character that you come across,” with the filmmaker explaining, “I thought it would be interesting that as you followed the details of the crime, it would take [Batman] across the paths of these other characters.”
Selina Kyle was the next character Reeves knew he wanted to use, and he then thought of a scenario that “takes us to the Iceberg Lounge, and that’s a version of The Penguin you’ve never seen, and that could get us into the mafia story and that would get us into Carmine Falcone. It’s this whole thing where you do the deep dive and everything becomes like a blender…”
Looking back at all of the influences, Reeves stated, “The number of comics that I read just to begin, and then watching a bunch of stuff and reading Mindhunter and learning about profiling serial killers… So that was kind of what led to it. Riddler was first and then thinking about the path and how we could cross [in] these iconic characters, but in versions you hadn’t seen and that weren’t yet the versions that we know.”
THE BATMAN’S BACKSTORY
Though Batman’s origin is not shown in the film, Robert Pattinson said that when it came to that unseen backstory, “We discussed it a lot. It’s funny, because everyone wanted to avoid an origin story, but it’s a new version of the character and you’re so aware of his origins that you end up trying to sort of play it in the subtext and little moments. And because the story is set over such a short period as well, it’s actually really difficult to shove in as much as you can, the kind of emotional weight that just lies in your body language and on your face. Hopefully it comes across.”
There were areas in which Pattinson and Reeves knew they wanted to diverge from some well known versions of Batman, with Pattinson noting, “He doesn’t go away and train and come back as a fully mastered Batman at all and [Bruce is] not the traditional kind of playboy persona.”
Pattinson said he felt with his version of Batman, “There’s too much trauma for him to deal with,” with the actor explaining, “When he’s Bruce, it’s still the day his parents died. He hasn’t gotten over it at all. He’s become Batman almost in order to survive his present, rather than to think, ‘I’m going to make a new future.’ It’s to protect himself as much as anything else. And as soon as he takes [the costume] off, then he just goes back to being a 10 year old boy again, and the pain is still very much real. He’s sort of 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 yourself when he’s had it for most of his life inside his own mind.”
Said Reeves, of this take on the character, “The idea of being Batman, honestly, it’s not altruistic. It’s a desperate attempt to make meaning,” noting he liked a thought Pattinson had that, “The faces of everyone you come up against, they’re the faces of the killers of your family…. Bruce Wayne, he’s totally lost.”
Added Reeves, “There are a lot of great Batman movies and so you want to find a way to do something that feels like it’s true and iconic and connects to the story but still fresh, and 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 one of the Royals, and in the wake of this death, he’s never quite recovered. He became reckless. If you saw [Bruce Wayne], he would look very pale, kind of bruised up, and you’d think, ‘Is this guy a drug addict? What is his problem?’ You’d think he was a real screw up, and I guess in a certain way, maybe he is. That drug that he’s addicted to is escaping himself and doing this thing of trying to make meaning.”
This Batman has his usual gadgets and equipment, but Pattinson said, “It never feels like he’s built something to be cool. It doesn’t come from a place of supreme confidence… The suit, the Batmobile, and all these tools, they all seem like they’re just a guy obsessing in his basement, building it. Even the grapple gun, it’s like it’s Travis Bickle. It’s a guy who’s sitting there going, ‘My city is collapsing around me and I need to build these little tools.’ I don’t think that Bruce even really feels like, ‘When I’m in the suit, everyone’s gonna be scared of me.’ It’s just something that’s born out of this need and obsession.”
As Reeves mentioned, Selina Kyle is a big part of the film and Zoe Kravitz expressed a lot of enthusiasm for the role, saying, “The character is so well developed in the script and I was really excited to explore her backstory and where she comes from and the process that she goes through in terms of becoming closer to what will be Catwoman. It was really lovely to be able to play Selena and not have to jump straight to Catwoman. 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.”
Reeves noted that Kravitz did plenty of research, recalling, “There were images literally from the comic books that she was like, ‘God if we could do this moment…’ There was stuff from Batman: Year One and Zoe said, ‘Can we do this image?’ and I was like, ‘Let me see,’ and we would do that kind of stuff.”
Said Kravitz, of her character, “For Selena, I think a lot of her power comes from her vulnerability.” She added that she pondered, “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. It’s in the script; I didn’t have to do a lot of work in order to create a grounded character. Matt, you did such a wonderful job at keeping us grounded whenever we would kind of go off the rails a little bit and get too excited. ‘I’m playing Catwoman… I’m gonna do a cat thing!’ You’d be like, ‘Don’t do that. Don’t do the Catwoman thing that you’re doing.’ And it was helpful and it really keeps the tone of the film very, very clear.”
Dylan Clark had high praise for Kravitz, telling her, “I remember during the screen test, there was a thing you did when you turned to Rob [as Batman], and you said the line, ‘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.’”
It’s been reported that there are two TV series spinoffs in development at HBO Max – one centering on the GCPD, the other on the Penguin. Asked if Catwoman might be a character who could get an HBO Max series, Reeves replied, “Look, what we’re really trying to do is to launch this world and if the world embraces this, we have a lot of ideas for things we want to do and for sure, we want Selina to continue. We’re talking about a lot of things. But of course, all of it depends… We’re about to release this movie and it really comes down to how people receive it.”
Batman’s world in the comics includes some wild, fantastical elements, with villains like Clayface, Poison Ivy, and Man-Bat who have outright superpowers and often don’t even appear human.
I asked Reeves if he could see those types of characters fitting in with this incarnation of the character and he replied, “In my view, I just feel drawn to finding the grounded version of everything. So to me, it would be a challenge, in an interesting way, to try and figure out how that could happen. Even the idea of something like Mr. Freeze, that’s such such a great story, and I think there’s actually a grounded version of that story, which could be really powerful and could be really great.”
Reeves said that he loved the fantastical side of Batman too and felt that The Batman, “is very comics faithful, but it doesn’t lean as hard into the fantastical. But I think it would be interesting to try and unwind the fantastical and see how that could make sense here.”
Regarding any hesitation to bring in the fantastical elements, Dylan Clark said, with a laugh, “This is where Rob disagrees,” with Reeves agreeing Pattinson would be the one far more inclined to simply declare, “Oh, my God, of course, we’re doing Clayface next!”
Joked Pattinson, with a grin, “Just get a guy and put some clay on his face!”
The Batman opens March 4.