When writer-director Matt Reeves embarked upon his own journey into the Batman canon, he was thrilled 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. Penned with screenwriter Peter Craig, Reeves’ screenplay for The Batman exists in its own carved-out portion of the DC filmdom, unconnected to previously (or soon-to-be) explored territory within the Multiverse.
Reeves did not want to start with an origin story, but with a young Batman
“To see the arc of him pushing to become better,” says Reeves. “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.”
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. 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.”
“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.”
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
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.
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.”
More than a year of stalking the streets as the Batman (Robert Pattinson), striking fear into the hearts of criminals, has led Bruce Wayne deep into the shadows of Gotham City. With only a few trusted allies—Alfred (Andy Serkis), Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright)—amongst the city’s corrupt network of officials and high-profile figures, the lone vigilante has established himself as the sole embodiment of vengeance amongst his fellow citizens. When a killer targets Gotham’s elite with a series of sadistic machinations, a trail of cryptic clues sends the World’s Greatest Detective on an investigation into the underworld, where he encounters such characters as Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), Oz, aka The Penguin (Colin Farrell), Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and Edward Nashton/aka The Riddler (Paul Dano). As the evidence begins to lead closer to home and the scale of the perpetrator’s plans becomes clear, Batman must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit, and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued Gotham City.
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.
Pattison appreciated the heightened duality of the classically dual role. He 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.”
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.
Serkis was happy to collaborate again with Reeves, stating, “Not only is Matt a fine visual director and great master of using the camera, but he’s got an extraordinary eye for detail and performance. It always feels like you’re making a very intimate movie with Matt because deep down, the emotional core of the story is what drives Matt as a filmmaker and underpins every decision about the look, the feel, the cinematography. Everything is done to amplify the emotional truth at the centre of the story.”
Wright was thrilled, revealing he was a Batman fanatic as a child, enthralled by both the comics and the TV series. “One of the things that distinguishes Batman among comic book superheroes is that he lives in a city that’s very recognizable, a city very much like New York City or Chicago,” says Wright. “That makes him grounded in a way that’s relatable. He is also human, not an extraterrestrial, and inhabits the kind of space that many of us inhabit. Matt Reeves really built on that in a compelling way in the script and did a lot of due diligence—a deep archaeological dig into Batman—so that the world around him was justified for the audience.”
As Wright read the script, he was trying to justify himself in the role of Gordon and found that the world he created was so palatable that it was relevant to our times. “It was grounded in a social and political reality that made sense and that aesthetically it felt richly Gothamesque. There was something about the character of the city that really resonated for me in the writing.”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 favourite, 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.
“Her backstory was very clear in the script,” Kravitz relates, “so, for me it was more about figuring out what happened between then and now—how she’s been able to survive, how she’s ended up where she is now, and why she finds it so important to fight for what she believes in.” That exploration, along with the famed moniker, sparked an idea. “The other thing that I brought to Matt was this idea of stray cats. I think that she is a stray herself, and I think she sees Batman as a stray and that’s where their connection lies. She really wants to fight for those who don’t have someone else to fight for them and that is where Batman and Selina really connect.”
She also reveled in the way Reeves had intertwined Selina and The Batman. “Actually, cat-and-mouse is a great way to describe their relationship,” Kravitz smiles. “There’s a love-hate thing and the line between love and hate is really very thin. There is a deep soul connection; even though they see things differently and they come from very different backgrounds, they both believe in justice…though their ideas of what justice is might be a little bit different. They’re both people who not only fight for what they believe in, but also aren’t afraid to die for what they believe in, and that’s a very rare quality.”
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.
According to Reeves, the film explores the parallels between Bruce Wayne and the villains he pursues. “The Riddler is a serial killer whose motivation is gradually revealed: to expose these supposedly legitimate Gotham figures who turn out to be corrupt. Batman and The Riddler share a philosophical view of the city and of crime and corruption; Batman is drawn to the edge and comes close to it—the struggle to do the right thing is always alive.”
“The Riddler is an iconic, mythic character,” says Reeves, “He needed to be larger than life, he needed to be grand in his use of puzzles and cyphers to taunt and tease and lead this city, and Batman in particular, toward this message that he’s trying to reveal about why this city is this corrupt. It’s almost as if he’s saying, ‘I have the answer and I am going to show it to you, but to get there I’m going to torture you and scare you to death.’”
As well as falling for the script, Dano responded to Matt Reeves’ infusion of psychological and emotional suffering on the main characters, and the effects of that. “Matt and I talked a lot about the two sides of trauma, and that really spoke to me,” says the actor. “Bruce Wayne has lost his parents and responds to his trauma by trying to do something good with that pain. And you have the trauma of Edward Nashton, who has suffered in his own way and takes that pain and thinks he’s doing something good, but it is misguided. That felt like a really good way into this villain. How do you bring a fresh point of view to the idea of the villain? I think having the emotional backstory be the driving force for that character in the way that Matt had written it, felt good to me.”
Another longtime favourite from the DC Super-Villain lineup featured in “The Batman” is The Penguin. Also known as Oz, in the movie, he is the proprietor of Gotham’s exclusive nightlife hotspot, The Iceberg Lounge, a meeting place for the city’s underworld. While this shady crook is known for running his mouth as well as running operations for the city’s top gangster, Carmine Falcone, he definitely has designs on even more.
Completely transforming himself for the role, actor Colin Farrell says the idea of working with Reeves on a new version of a property he loves was an easy “yes.” Farrell relates, “Matt’s an extraordinary director. He makes really huge and incredibly entertaining films that always have a very real and significant emotional core to them. When I heard that he was doing Batman and that there was the opportunity to play Penguin, I was thoroughly intrigued.”
Upon his first read, the actor was hooked. “The script was extraordinary. It had incredible depth and every single character seemed to be imbued with a sense of backstory and subtext and a deep emotional and psychological undercurrent. I thought Matt did an amazing job of creating a sense of danger in this world. The Gotham of this film feels like a very lawless place, a place of spiritual corruption in a way, and also political corruption and environmental corruption are key narrative elements in this story.”
Reeves had shared his inspirations for the character with Farrell when he approached him for the part. “What was interesting to me about this version of the character we’d written was that he was not yet the Kingpin,” says Reeves. “He’s on a path to becoming the kingpin, but now is a midlevel gangster who’s underestimated, who’s made fun of. So I talked with Colin about the idea that you would see the seeds of what he was gonna become, but not yet see that he was that character. I had thought a lot about gangster movies, like ‘The Long Good Friday’ with Bob Hoskins, and I thought, ‘Oh, I can see that in Oz.’ I also thought about John Cazale, Fredo in ‘The Godfather,’ and the idea continued to form for Oz as being someone who is a showman, people think he’s a little bit of a joke, and he’s kind of this mixture of someone who people make fun of to a degree, but actually, it turns out, that under all of that, he’s a volcano.”
Reeves 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
“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,” says Reeves. “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 idea was to explore the concept of being masked and what it means,” says Reeves. “You have a guy who, at the end of the day, may think he’s mastered himself but is ultimately trying to find meaning in his life after the death of his family. When he masks himself and he’s in pursuit of this goal, he becomes the shadows. That complexity is really unique to Batman.”
Reeves cast Pattinson in the role because, he says, “I was keen to show a different side to the character; I wanted him to have almost a recluse rock-and-roll vibe, a cross between Kurt Cobain and Howard Hughes. Bruce has retreated from being a Wayne and if you see him, it’s like seeing a rock star, but instead of going out and playing gigs at night, his gig is to be Batman. He’s an obsessive guy, and that was one of the things that was exciting to me about Robert Pattinson: he has the intensity to bring that to life.”
Reeves began considering Pattinson for the role while he and co-writer Peter Craig were developing the screenplay. The filmmaker recalls, “I started thinking I should really look at actors in this age range, and I’d always been a fan of Rob’s. James Gray, who’s a friend of mine since film school, made a movie called ‘The Lost City of Z,’ and I remember him telling me that he’d cast Rob in the movie. We always share the cuts of our movies with each other, and when he showed me the movie I had forgotten that he’d cast Rob. So, when Rob appears in the movie, he has this enormous beard and is unlike any version of Rob you’ve ever seen and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s Rob Pattinson; how interesting, he’s a chameleon.
“And then I just started watching a bunch of his movies and every time he was totally different,” Reeves continues. “One of the movies that somebody suggested I take a look at was ‘Good Time,’ and in that movie, I saw something that, to me, really connected to Batman. In it you can feel his desperation and you can feel his drive, as well as a level of vulnerability. I wanted this version of Batman to be driven to be scary, but I also wanted to see his vulnerability; when I saw all the different aspects that Rob brought to his roles, I really felt this could be Rob, and I started writing with him in mind.”
This vision of taking Batman back to the early years to bring about a shift in the character’s emotional and psychological make-up disoriented the actor upon his initial read of the script
“I couldn’t quite tell why Bruce Wayne felt so radically different,” he says. “And then I realized it’s because he’s not a playboy in this story. That is such a key element of previous Batman films, so it does feel really strange. Bruce is so alone and isolated and that is fascinating. I knew Matt saw him as a slightly nihilistic character, but there’s something more emotional there, too. Bruce doesn’t know he’s going to save the day, he doesn’t know if being Batman is going to work, but he’s compelled to do it and he knows that there is no other option. There’s a kind of desperation to it, which is a little bit different.”
When delving into the core of the character, Pattinson was spurred by the question of “Who is Bruce Wayne?” as opposed to “Who is The Batman?” “Bruce is quite an obsessive character and I think the concept of Batman has been fermenting for years,” he posits. “But at this stage, he doesn’t have that much in the way of technology to give him an advantage, just a few layers of bulletproof armour and, as the story goes on, the Batmobile and a few gadgets, but it’s pretty rudimentary. So, he’s very fallible, but he keeps at it; I think he’s really working out this rage. I get the impression that he just wants to keep recreating the night where his parents die.”
The very definition of insanity, perhaps, for a man on the edge trying to save a city on the brink.
“I think it’s about alter ego and identity,” adds the actor. “If he puts on the suit, and he believes in it so much, it elevates him as a creature; he isn’t Bruce, he is The Batman. I wanted him to be less human when he has the suit on; I wanted to get that into his movements. Bruce is still trying to figure out who exactly Batman is, and that makes for a very reactive version of Batman, and that’s new.
“That is why the fights he has, seems very personal, too,” he continues. “The reason why he outmatches these people is because every time he’s fighting a stranger it’s as if they have personally harmed him. In a way, he’s imagining that his adversary is the person who killed his parents. Ultimately, that’s not a winning strategy, because if you are fighting too emotionally, you will make mistakes and you’ll lose. But, I don’t think he cares about surviving at all, he just wants to inflict pain, inflict his form of questionable justice.”
Pattinson appreciated Reeves’ deliberate work, not only on the page but on set, too. Of the director’s measured approach, he relates, “Matt is incredibly patient. He’s like a conductor of an orchestra, able to keep the entire story in a macro view in his mind the entire time. He’s never rushed, he will only move on when he feels like he’s got what he needs. He isn’t afraid to stray a little from the Batman canon and he definitely made some pretty bold stylistic choices, and that’s exciting.”
Director/Writer/Producer Matt Reeves
Matt Reeves first came to feature film prominence in 2008 as the director of the acclaimed science fiction horror hit Cloverfield, a modestly budgeted film set a domestic record for January release and went on to gross over $175 million dollars worldwide.
In 2010, Reeves directed Let Me In, acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, the film is a remake of the Swedish horror film “Let the Right One In,” about the relationship between a bullied young boy and his new neighbour, a young girl who turns out to be a vampire.
In 2014, Reeves directed the second instalment of the popular Apes franchise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The critically acclaimed film grossed over $700 million worldwide. In 2017 Reeves wrote and directed the critically acclaimed final chapter of the Apes trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes, grossing over $490 million worldwide since its release.
In television, Reeves co-created and directed the pilot for the popular series Felicity, and served as executive producer along with partner and co-creator J.J. Abrams. He is currently the creator and executive producer of NBC’s Ordinary Joe, which debuted in September 2021.
In 2023, Reeves and J.J. Abrams are re-teaming for a new Batman animated series, Batman: Caped Crusader, with DC animated universe veteran Bruce Timm, on HBO Max.
Through his production company, 6th & Idaho, Reeves is currently producing Lift, and the series Twelve Scarves, both for Netflix. Current feature development includes Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth and a remake of the Russian film Sputnik with Village Roadshow. The Human Conditions and The Future are also in development for HBO Max.
Screenwriter Peter Craig
Peter Craig is a screenwriter and crime novelist whose debut feature was Ben Affleck’s The Town. He went on to write Parts 1 and 2 of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, with Danny Strong, then the adaptation of his own novel, Blood Father, as well as Bad Boys for Life. In the coming year, his other credits will include Top Gun: Maverick, and The Mother, currently in production.