Interview: Matt Reeves catches The Batman in freefall

((L-r) ROBERT PATTINSON and director MATT REEVES and on the set in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “THE BATMAN,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. CREDIT: Jonathan Olley/™ & © DC Comics)

Director/ Writer/ Proudcer Matt Reeves’ The Batman, which stars Robert Pattinson in the titular role, is both an epic, high-octane action film on a massive visual scale and a gritty, edgy and emotional exploration into the twisted inner workings of the mind, all set within an iconic city on the brink.

In Reeves’ Gotham, fear is a tool and, when properly wielded, little else is required to halt the actions of the ill-intentioned, or to drive the fearful to act. In the hands of a brilliant sleuth with a taste for vengeance and little to live for, something as simple as a mask can be terrifying.

Man, or myth, call him “The Batman.”

In the 8th solo live-action Batman film, we learn that for the last two years, Bruce Wayne has given his life over to the night, and his nights to stalking the crime-riddled streets of Gotham, picking and choosing his petty crime battles and usually winning…often with only the aid of that signal that shines in the darkened sky. But he’s just one man, after all, and crime of every stripe is everywhere. And on a night like Halloween, for instance, when all the ghouls come dressed to kill, you never know who is on the prowl, or behind the mask…or what tricks they might have up their sleeve.

After Ben Affleck’s The Batman script went nowhere at Warner Bros, Reeves was asked to embark upon his own journey into the Batman canon. After Cloverfield and two extraordinary Planet of the Apes films, the director was thrillled by the idea of working with the icon that has lived for over eight decades in comic books and graphic novels—and taking him back to his earliest roots.

“I wanted to start not with an origin story, but with a young Batman—to see the arc of him pushing to become better.”

Matt Reeves

“Batman started as a detective,” says Reeves, “so, to find a way to go back to that, to strip away the fantasy aspect of a DC Super Hero but to still have him be aspirational, was a really exciting idea. I always find that, with genre work, the important thing for me is to find a personal avenue in, and Batman stories allow that. We wanted to make him someone whose real superpower is that he will endure anything to do what he has to do.”

Penned with screenwriter Peter Craig, Reeves’ script exists in its own carved-out portion of the DC filmdom, unconnected to previously (or soon-to-be) explored territory within the Multiverse and starting when Bruce Wayne has already been Batman for a little over a year.” Reeves adds. “So, we’ve taken that Batman and are having him solve a mystery in such a way that is not an origin tale, but refers to his origins, shaking him to his core.”

Here is a clip from The Batman:

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At the core of the character is the fact that, according to Reeves, “he connects to people because of the suit, the car, the gadgets, he’s super cool… But he’s not really a superhero; under all of it, he’s a human being and he’s driven to try and make sense of that human side of him. That he has that heroic drive to make the world better—but face it, he doesn’t do that in a purely altruistic sense—makes the character approachable.”

That the filmmakers also upped the overall stakes with the kind of mystery he placed before the Caped Crusader deepened the appeal. “He’s a detective solving clues left by a serial killer, and it’s very psychological, but also leads to something very emotional,” says the director.

Pattinson appreciated the heightened duality of the classically dual role. Reeves offers, “I had never been interested in doing a superhero movie, it hadn’t been in my periphery at all, but for some reason, Batman always stood out as a very special, separate entity. In the cultural lexicon, the character feels very individual and holds a lot of symbolic importance. Then, when I heard Matt was doing it, I just got really excited. When I finally talked to him, he showed me some of his very early storyboards and that set the tone from something quite radically different; he just had an angle on it that was exciting. And the Bruce characterization felt different as well. He’s alone and isolated, as well as compelled to do this thing. There’s even a kind of hopeless desperation, and that was an interesting interpretation.”

Producer Dylan Clark, who is a longtime partner of Reeves’ and has produced many franchise properties, says of his approach to the film at its conception, “I’ve been doing this over 20 years, and yet working on a movie like ‘The Batman’ takes you to another level. There is excitement and there is fear because of the history of these characters—it’s humbling to know that Batman has been around for over 80 years. So, the level of care, precision and focus is huge. You want this movie and the experience to be the best possible for the audience and the fans, so you have to really ask yourself: are you up to the task of doing something great for the canon of Batman stories that came before? This is a character we have all loved from childhood and you want to present the audience with a way into this character that hasn’t been seen before.”

Eight decades of The Batman has also produced the most iconic collection of Super-Villains in all of comics, as well as a host of other stalwart figures that populate perhaps the most beloved location in the fandom: Gotham City. “Gotham is a really scary place,” notes Reeves, “and as a world is incredibly rich for a filmmaker.”

Peter Craig says he and Reeves “wanted Gotham to be entirely alive, with the remnants of its corrupt history everywhere. One of the most exciting things about working on this was getting to experience Matt’s visual talent—and then having [production designer] James Chinlund on the other end of a speakerphone, fleshing out ideas and sending us images. We had the advantage of working with those pictures in front of us: Batman standing at the edge of an unfinished skyscraper, or Gotham Square seen from a perch above.”

Craig notes, “While leaning into that style we still wanted to sidestep its deeper cynicism. We saw Gotham like Bruce Wayne did: a dangerous and troubled place, but a place worth saving.”

If lifelong sidearm Alfred, portrayed by Andy Serkis, and the GCPD’s James Gordon, played by Jeffrey Wright, come with the territory, Reeves found both the lighter and darker side of policymaking as well as policing, with Gotham Mayoral candidate Bella Réal, played by Jayme Lawson, and D.A. Gil Colson, portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard.

The filmmaker also had a vast rogues’ gallery to choose from—and he didn’t skimp: Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as Reeves’ iteration of crime figure Oz before he fully embraces his better-known alias, The Penguin, and John Turturro is his boss, crime lord Carmine Falcone. Reeves also handpicked another fan favorite, Selina Kyle, who may or may not be on the side of “right,” but who finds herself frequently by The Batman’s side in the film.

Zoë Kravitz stars as the steely, slinky femme fatale with her own hidden agenda who is equally enigmatic—and just as recklessly daring—as her newfound partner in crimefighting. It was the opportunity to work with Reeves that drew the actress to the project.

“Matt’s amazing because he’s collaborative, and he really does want to know what his actors think and feel about the characters,” she says, adding that “all of the villains and heroes are so multidimensional. What’s wonderful about this world is the exploration of the gray area; it’s not all about black-and-white, good and evil. There’s just so much in between and the characters are so complicated. For me, that is what makes it really interesting.”

Finally, Reeves pits his protagonist against one of Gotham’s greatest and most twisted (and that’s saying something) minds, The Riddler. But this is not The Riddler who dons bright green duds peppered with question marks; Reeves’ Riddler, played with disturbing intensity by Paul Dano, is as querulous as he is questioning, and his riddles are no laughing matter.

Reeves furthers, “I wanted to lean hard into the early Bob Kane and Bill Finger stories in which Batman was solving crimes as a means of describing Gotham as an incredibly corrupt place. So, I came up with the idea of having the character he is interacting with—the case he is involved with—being a new iteration of The Riddler as a serial killer who is targeting so-called pillars of society. And in the wake of the murders, through the crime scenes and cyphers he leaves behind directed at The Batman, The Riddler is revealing the truth about these individuals. In doing so, I felt that Batman’s journey to solve the case could also serve to uncover for him the history of corruption in Gotham. And because the cyphers are left for him, it gets personal and rocks him to his core.

“This is not a Batman in control,” he emphasizes. “This is a Batman in a little bit of a freefall.”

The Batman opens this Friday, March 4, exclusively in theaters.

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