You won’t find Gotham City on any map. No planes or trains go there, no one lives or works there and you won’t find a single company offering tours of the city. It doesn’t exist. And yet, we’ve all been there. Whether it’s through eighty years’ worth of comics or through the lens of directors as varied as Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton and Zack Snyder, there’s hardly a person on our planet who isn’t familiar with Gotham or its many remarkable residents. So, at this point, how do you make it stand out?
How do you tell a Batman story that feels fresh, even though it’s coming on the heels of literally thousands of existing Batman stories? That was the dilemma facing director Matt Reeves when he first sat down to figure out a story for The Batman, the visionary new take on the Dark Knight that hits theaters tonight.
“I knew I didn’t want to do an origin story,” explains Reeves. “And I knew that I wanted to do a story that would lean into the detective side of Batman, because we hadn’t seen it where it was really in the forefront of the story. I knew that what was important to me was that Batman have the arc of the story. A lot of times, once he’s already Batman, he no longer has the arc, per se. You might have rogues gallery characters who come and 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 his early days and had to find a way to really evolve.”
That evolution was present in actor Robert Pattinson’s performance as the Dark Knight as well. A self-professed Batman fan, Pattinson was born to play the role in the words of his director, but that didn’t stop him from feeling a good amount of intimidation. This is Batman, after all.
“I’m absolutely terrified,” he admits. “I feel like I’m on the block, but very, very excited. Having a fanbase like Batman does just to guide and bolster us through this period. Just knowing that there’s still anticipation after taking forever to shoot the movie and then waiting forever for it to come out.”
Those fans have been watching and rewatching The Batman’s numerous trailers since we got our first teaser at DC FanDome two years ago, so they know the look of the movie’s Dark Knight by now, but they won’t get a feel for how he sounds until they’re in the theater. The process of landing on the right voice for the movie’s Batman proved to be a very organic one.
“It was a lot of trial and error,” says Pattinson. “I think the first two or three weeks, we were doing a variety of different voices because there’s only a couple of lines in the first few scenes we shot. It started to sit in a very particular place, and it kind of felt like a progression from other kinds of bat voices, and felt somewhat comfortable to do as well.
“It’s weird. It just suddenly starts to feel right. It seems to be that as the more you embody the suit, the more you embody the character—it just starts to come out quite organically. I think that’s what I was trying to do with the character as well. I was thinking, he’s not putting on a voice. He puts on the suit and then the voice just starts happening for him as well.”
The Batman is a mystery and a thriller, but it’s also something of a love story…albeit one that focuses on two pretty damaged lovers. Zoë Kravitz suits up as the latest performer to take on the role of Selina Kyle, the gifted thief who will one day become Catwoman, even if it doesn’t quite happen in this film.
“It was really lovely to be able to play Selena and not have to jump straight to Catwoman,” shares Kravitz. “I have this wonderful opportunity to kind of slowly develop her, and the audience gets to come on that journey with me. But you know, obviously learning all the combat and the way she moves and finding ways to kind of hint at who she will become was a really fun process.”
“We talked a lot about the cats, and we were talking about the background that she comes from and what her life was,” adds Reeves. “In essence, because she was an orphan, she was a stray and she was collecting cats because now she’s decided she’s going to protect strays. I said, ‘That is so great.’ And she goes, ‘I could say that, right? Something about like, I have a thing about strays?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but how do we set that up?’ And she goes, ‘Oh, that’s easy. Batman can just say you got a lot of cats.’ They wrote it and they did it.”
The Batman is set in the second year of Bruce operating as the Gotham City hero, so while it’s not really an origin story for any particular character, you do get to see many of Gotham’s famous rogues before they become who they’ll ultimately become.
“The thing about the movie is that it isn’t a Batman origin story, but it is the origin story of every rogues gallery character that you come across,” reveals Reeves. “So, Selena Kyle is not yet Catwoman. And the Penguin is not yet the kingpin.”
And then there’s the Riddler, the main antagonist of the film. Played by actor Paul Dano, The Batman’s Edward Nashton is a drastically different variation on the question mark-obsessed psychopath than you’ve ever seen before, one that found its inspiration from the comics and, more terrifyingly, from real life.
“I wanted to do a story where the investigation of this particular mystery would lead Batman back to something very personal, and would rock him to his core,” explains Reeves. “So, I started thinking about The Long Halloween. I was thinking about Calendar Man and the idea of these different sort of killings. And I thought, well, we do a thing where at these crimes, there’s correspondence left for the Batman. The whole idea of being Batman is that your power is in being anonymous. So, the idea that suddenly someone is shining a light on you, that that would be very unsettling to him. And I thought, well, that’s a great way in.
“And as I started thinking about that and trying to ground it, I thought about the Zodiac. And I thought about how the Zodiac, 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, that actually sounds like a horrifying version of the Riddler, because he was leaving all these puzzles.”
The mystery behind what the Riddler’s actually doing opens the door to the introduction of other characters, such as Kravitz’s Selina, but also Colin Farrell’s Penguin, who’s working for Carmine Falcone at this point in his career.
“I knew right away that I wanted Selena Kyle to be in the story,” Reeves continues. “But I thought, well, gee, maybe there’s a way that we go searching for this person who was seen with the mayor, and that takes us to the Iceberg Lounge. And that’s provides a version of the Penguin you’ve never seen, which could get us into the mafia story, and that would get us into Falcone. And then of course, there’s the relationship that is in some of the comics between Falcone and Selena, and I was like, oh, there might be a way to do that.”
The result is a dense, rich, dark world that Batman fans are going to want to see a lot more of. However, whether that happens or not is ultimately up to you. Reeves and his team certainly have ideas for more.
“What we’re really trying to do is to launch this world,” explains Reeves. “And if the world embraces this, we have a lot of ideas for things we want to do. For sure, we want Selena to continue. Their relationship and what they are to each other is, to me, the heart of the movie. We are talking about a lot of things, but of course, we’re about to release this movie and it really comes down to how people receive it.”
At least that’s one mystery that we’ll soon have an answer to.