Kambole Campbell



Michael Dunbabin

Matt Reeves: ‘I didn’t know if Rob would want to come back to a blockbuster’

The man behind the return of Gotham’s favourite son reveals why Robert Pattinson was his first and only choice.

Though comic books are by their nature about iteration, reinvention and status quo, there are few characters adapted for the screen that feel quite so ubiquitous as The Batman. From the camp antics of Adam West in ’66 to the character’s gothic, brooding reinvention in Burton’s films, to his return to camp again with Batman Forever and Batman & Robin – one might think we’ve seen it all at this point.

But with Robert Pattinson now taking the cowl, director Matt Reeves, known for his thoughtful genre flicks both large scale (Dawn of Planet of the Apes) and not (Cloverfield), there’s still more to the Caped Crusader than we’ve seen on screen. We caught up with the filmmaker ahead of the film’s release to talk the Bat, the Cat, and the Pattinson.

LWLies: Your vision of an early days, Batman-in-progress reminds me of Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s ‘Batman: Year One’.

Reeves: Totally, and that was one of the comics that when I did a deep dive at the beginning of this. I started by looking at all of the Kane and Finger stuff because that is totally noir – it made me think of Chinatown. But there was something about rereading ‘Year One’, tonally, that really resonated because one of the things I find exciting about Batman as a character is that he’s got a kind of compulsion and essentially just trying to cope. Also, while I was rereading that one, I was trying to figure out, well, how do you really go around being Batman?

You can’t go around through Gotham Square, which is like Times Square or any big city, dressed as a giant bat because people will look and go, ‘Oh, there’s that guy again? What’s he doing?’ I understand that the purpose of his costume is to intimidate and I wanted it to be very practical. You had to see that it was almost like it was very tactical. It would protect him. I wanted the design of that was all driven by its purpose. But that meant that I was like, well, wait a minute, you can’t just walk around in that, so how does he find crime? In ‘Year One’, before he becomes Batman, Bruce goes to the East End. It’s actually where he meets Selina Kyle for the first time.

But he goes as a drifter, because he can’t go as Bruce Wayne either. He’s high profile whether he’s Batman or not, so he had to become a third alter ego. That’s one of the things that we play with in the movie too, like ‘How does he get from place to place?’ As grounded as Nolan’s movies were – and they’re fantastic – but for all of the realism, he still leaned into the fantasy. I think he made a great joke of it too, with that whole idea that he could just disappear and reappear.

In one printing, Mazzuchelli has this note about how he sees Batman as Bruce constantly repairing his childhood.

Can I tell you something? That is something that I was talking to Rob and to the crew, everybody all about. Here’s the thing, he’s still 10 years old. That’s the thing, and I don’t mean that in a way to say that he’s totally immature. What it means is he’s emotionally wounded in that place where he hasn’t been able to move on. While the story is not an origin tale, his origins are constantly present psychologically. He just hasn’t gotten over it, and this is his attempt to make meaning. He’s driven in a compulsive way. I think that’s exactly right, that that boy is still in there somewhere, and that’s why he’s fighting so ferociously.

You’ve already mentioned Robert Pattinson – what made him a fit for the character?

I’m a huge fan of his. One of my closest friends is a director named James Gray, and we went to film school together and I just think he’s enormously talented. When he first had me come in and look at a cut of The Lost City of Z, I’d forgotten that he’d cast Rob, when he came on screen with that crazy beard and everything, I just thought he was so magnetic.

When I was writing, I started looking at actors in the age range of a year two era Batman, and I started looking at a lot of other movies that Rob had been doing, and he is a chameleon. He did such terrific work where he would just seek out filmmakers like James, the Safdies, Claire Denis and David Cronenberg. When I saw Good Time, there was something in that story where you could feel he had an explosiveness, but also a vulnerability, and I think that’s what I was looking for.

At a certain point, I became obsessed with it being Rob, and I started writing with Rob in mind. I had no idea, I mean, especially given that after Twilight he’d gone and done all this incredibly interesting independent film work, I had no idea if he had any interest in being Batman. I didn’t know if he’d want to come back to something that was a blockbuster. It turned out to my surprise that, he found out that we were doing another, he became very interested and he actually started pursuing it from his side. It was weird, it was almost fated, I didn’t tell him at that point that I had written it with him in mind.

This is coming out in an environment where comic book movies are very frequent, what do you think draws people to these stories for adaptation?

For me, I was just particularly drawn to this comic book character because his superpower is really just his drive, and he’s got this tremendous sort of mythic, psychological sort of story. I sort of have discovered this over the course of my career, because I never imagined myself being a genre filmmaker, but it’s something that I’ve kind of come to. When I first started, I thought I was going to be making movies that were like Hal Ashby movies or something, which of course now you couldn’t make in this environment for the big screen.

But I think what makes comic book movies and genre movies the most exciting is when there is that intersection between the story and the real world. Under the metaphors and the myths of the genre of the comic book story, they have to find something human for people to connect to. If you can do that, I think then they can be really special.

Published 4 Mar 2022

Tags: Matt Reeves Robert Pattinson The Batman

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