Matt Reeve’s The Batman officially began filming this week and rarely has a comic book movie this early in development felt like an assured ace in the hole to me. There have been a plethora of live action Batman films through the ages, ranging from great to terrible, but none have yet to perfectly capture the character and his world in all facets.
Even the greatest of the bunch (imo), The Dark Knight, while so perfectly executing definitive film versions of the Joker, Harvey Dent and Gotham City, didn’t quite stick the landing in giving us a Bruce Wayne from the best of the comics medium. Not to say that Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan’s interpretation didn’t fit finely into the movie they made, just that they chose to give the character different layers than the character has most often had in the comics.
With Nolan’s vision, we find a Bruce Wayne who can see a better Gotham in the horizon and longs for the day he won’t have to be Batman anymore. His heart set on finally hanging up the bat-suit and retiring with the woman he loves, Rachel Dawes. Whereas in the comics, the battle is all that keeps Bruce going and his personal happiness is always tragically trumped by the vow he made to his parents to be the vengeance of the night. This was never so perfectly portrayed on-screen as in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, a 1993 animated adaptation. Here, after unexpectedly falling in love, Bruce begs to his parent’s grave to let him surrender Batman for his own happiness.
What specifically excites me about Reeves’ take being more faithful to the comic character than ever before is a quote he made back in January.
“It’s very much a point of view-driven, noir batman tale…It’s more Batman in his detective mode than we’ve seen in the films. The comics have a history of that. He’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective, and that’s not necessarily been a part of what the movies have been.”
While not explicitly promising a Batman that is obsessively driven by his job, it’s the point of view noir tale that stands out to me. A noir tale almost always features a detective protagonist obsessed with his work. Not to mention that the noir genre has been the backbone of Batman’s most significant comic storylines. The Dark Knight had elements of this fiction, but it will be a delight to see an adaptation that goes all the way with it.
The promise of a detective story is also long overdue. One of the character’s greatest super powers in the comics is his insanely high level intelligence as a detective. His books were so often framed as a detective story where he must solve a crime in order to catch a criminal. It’s astonishing with so many live-action adaptations there has been so little use of this essential ingredient. Bruce Wayne not only shaped his body to peak human perfection, but his mind as well. This aspect can also convey just how obsessively the character throws himself into his job. Batman can’t be bothered with the complications of his life as Bruce Wayne while Riddler’s latest twisted riddle has him manically occupied.
Speaking of The Riddler, that brings me to the most exciting part of this movie’s development, the casting. And Paul Dano as The Riddler is one of the best in an all around amazing cast. Dano has been an underrated actor throughout his career, always on the outskirts popping up in an indie movie here and there to deliver a fascinating performance, his most memorable being in There Will Be Blood. I figured his screen time would skyrocket after standing toe to toe with Danniel Day Luis, but it seems rare to catch a glimpse of him now days. A role with this kind of notoriety is long overdue for this actor. The Riddler as a character is also overdue for this kind of exposure. The last live-action treatment The Riddler got was by way of Jim Carry in Batman: Forever and the character deserves so much more than that one-dimensional, cartoonish portrayal. The Riddler functions as a crazed reflection of Batman’s obsessive intellect and it looks as though we may finally be treated to that on screen.
But before going any deeper into the supporting cast, our new batman begs to be addressed. Robert Pattinson may be an unlikely candidate at first glance, it’s tough to shed the ‘guy from those Twilight movies’ image from the mainstream, but given his most recent film rolls, he has potential to be the most inspired version of Bruce Wayne yet. Good Time, High Life, The Lighthouse and The King are all movies that not only reveal Pattinson’s surprising range, but his ability to choose distinctive and risky parts within groundbreaking visionary movies. The fact that he’s hopping on board such a mainstream movie only adds value to the unique vision of Reeves’ interpretation. His casting reminds me so much of Heath Ledger’s as the Joker. With so many mixed responses to weather he can take on a character this big, I have a feeling we’re going to get something just as special as Ledger’s performance.
Colin Farrell as The Penguin is yet another fantastic choice for a character who hasn’t received as much live-action love, at least not since Danny Devito’s legendary performance. And this casting seems to hint at a more grounded version than ever before. Andy Serkis as our latest Alfred seems solid and leaves the door open for such a versatile actor to take the part in any direction he pleases. Will he deliver the traditional, caring father-figure, or can we be in for a more tough-as-rocks, hardened interpretation? Serkis is certainly capable of delivering either or. John Turturro feels like an obvious choice for Carmine Falcone, a character that requires a scene stealer like Turturro to convey a chilling amount of power and presence. Jeffrey Wright as Commissioner Gordon is a name most of us would never have thought of for the roll but makes so much sense and feels just right when you hear it. His ability to convey a weathered and jaded but morally centered spirit will match perfectly with Gordon. And then there’s Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, an actor who has yet to fully prove herself in any groundbreaking roll, but amongst these supporting stars, it’s clear Reeves sees potential for her breakout in this classic part.
With a cast of villains this large, it seems more than likely that this movie will take inspiration from either of or both Batman: The Long Halloween or Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. These two comic storylines feature a full roster of Batman’s rogues, the former spanning a year in Gotham and the ladder taking place in one night where the caped crusader is locked in the notorious nut-house with all the enemies he’s put away. This then begs the question, is there more casting news to come? Or have they kept some casting on the down low in order to withhold the element of surprise? The Joker and Two-Face seem to be the only A-list Bat-villains missing from the list. Could Joaquin Phoenix’s joker show up, or could yet another new interpretation make a debut in this movie?
All fanboy speculation aside, Matt Reeves captaining this ship seems to point in the direction of a genuinely quality film being produced. Batman as a character has had a rough go in the past several years with the morose, and frankly boring interpretation we were given through DC’s extended universe. Ben Affleck seems like he genuinely cared about the character, but the story and vision simply did not translate well. Batman is a character who has seen his live-action low points in the past and has just as often been revived from those ashes by a unique take from a visionary filmmaker. All signs point to this cycle repeating itself. Hot off the success of the Planet of the Apes franchise, Matt Reeves should be gearing up to blow us all away with a new era of Bat-fun.