It’s been ten years since the Dark Knight’s last stand-alone movie. The Batman returns the character to his roots as more sleuth than superhero, with Robert Pattinson as a cool new incarnation of the DC icon.

Pitting Robert Pattinson’s Batman against Paul Dano’s psychotic Riddler, The Batman plays more like a tense psychological drama cum crime procedural than a typical superhero movie. Leaning into the character’s origins as “the world’s greatest detective,” it draws heavily from film noir and the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s.

Writer-director Matt Reeves, formerly best known for the Planet of the Apes franchise, describes the process of making The Batman as “a real labour of love” and insists it isn’t a Batman origin story, but rather “the original story of every rogues’ gallery character that you come across. Selina Kyle is not yet Catwoman; The Penguin is not yet the Kingpin…”

Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne

When The Riddler targets Gotham’s elite, the Batman must follow a trail of cryptic clues into the underworld – aided by his old pal Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) – where he encounters characters like Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) – aka The Penguin – and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). And at each crime scene, a letter is left for the Batman.

“The whole idea of being the Batman is that your power is in being anonymous, so the idea that suddenly someone is shining a light on you, that would be very unsettling for him, which I thought was a great way in,” explains Reeves, who was inspired by the Zodiac killer’s disturbing cyphers left for both the police and newspapers.

“I thought that actually sounded like a horrifying version of the Riddler. So the Riddler was part of the conception very early on, in figuring out which of the rogues’ gallery characters would communicate with Batman in that way,” explains the director.

Paul Dano as The Riddler

Explaining his creative decision in choosing this storyline to introduce this new Batman, Reeves says, “I knew that I didn’t want to do an origin story but I wanted to do a story that would lead into the detective side of Batman where it was really at the forefront of the story. It was important that Batman have the arc of the story but also in his early days, where he has to find a way to really evolve, I wanted to do a story with the investigation of this particular mystery leading him back into something very personal that would rock him to his core.”

We’ve seen many versions of Batman over the past 80 years, and Robert Pattinson’s take is another new Caped Crusader – Batman as a troubled rock star.

“I wanted to do a new and definitive version of Bruce Wayne, because I felt like we’d seen him as the playboy,” explains Reeves. “So instead, I thought, ‘What if he’s more like someone who is from the lineage of royalty where something tragic had happened to some of the major figureheads of the family and he was the child, living in the wake of that and had kind of become a recluse that people would consider sort of a screw-up; somebody who had maybe become a drug addict?’ And I thought, ‘well he is a drug addict, but the drug that he is addicted to is being Batman.’”

“I started thinking of a rock star like Kurt Cobain and the idea of being addicted to your work and being that haunted guy inside a beautiful old kind of Wayne Manor… And for some reason, that was the flip side of Batman that I also saw in Rob. I thought he had that kind of Cobain-like handsomeness and sensitivity.”

Pattinson was well aware of the legacy and the weight of responsibility that goes with it.

“There’s something about the history of it, like with any of these characters that have been reinterpreted. It’s on a level of doing Hamlet, where the only thing you can really do is just give everything to it, and not think, ‘I’m doing a superhero movie’. I never for one second thought that you could just kind of allow for a certain story point to go through because it’s a superhero movie. It felt like an incredibly serious movie to do, for me,” he explains.

“We took it as seriously as the fans take it. It means the world to people who are Batman fans. And it feels like if you’re a Batman fan, you’re a fan for life and you see every iteration of it and read all of the graphic novels, and you’re still anticipating things. My parents’ friends are talking to me about it, and they’re in their seventies!

“They’re imperfect characters, so they can be consistently argued about how they should be interpreted and what they really mean, or what the metaphorical aspects are. You can really go deep with it.”

Like Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz had big paw prints to fill in her portrayal of Selina Kyle, following after Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Anne Hathaway and Halle Berry.

“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 become Catwoman,” she says. “So it was really lovely to be able to play Selina and not have to jump straight to Catwoman.

Robert Pattinson as Batman and Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle

“I think with these iconic characters that we all love so much, it can be overwhelming in terms of looking out; ‘Now here’s Catwoman!’ But now I have this wonderful opportunity to slowly develop her and the audience gets to come on that journey with me.

“Obviously learning all the combat, and the way she moves and finding ways to hint at who she will become, was a really fun process,” she adds.

“As Selina, she’s a young woman who loves cats – essentially strays – so she relates, being an orphan herself. So when we see Selina packing up, of course her motorbike comes fully loaded with cat carriers. “[That’s] because if she cares so deeply about cats, when she leaves town, she has to take the cats!” laughs Kravitz.

Pattinson also enjoyed the training process. “From the first day of rehearsals, we were doing about six hours training a day and a lot of it concentrated on my first big fight in the mayor’s mansion. It was fun and I loved how Rob Alonzo teaches choreography. You learn these little patterns and it’s like doing boxing combinations. Once you get the hang of it, you can do these fight scenes that feel very real and it keeps you very reactive.”

Together, the two co-stars would train with each other’s stunt doubles, Pattinson trying not to laugh as he recalls training with Kravitz’s double Tara Macken. “I said to her, ‘I really don’t want to hurt you’, and she says, ‘Trust me, you will not hurt me but I will hurt you, so pay attention’. And I remember on the first day, she kicked me in the head,” he recalls.

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ ™ & © DC Comics

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