We finally have our first look at The Batman and it’s safe to say that director Matt Reeves’ new take on the Dark Knight isn’t quite what most of us expected. Introducing a messier and scrappier vigilante than past iterations of the character, the Batman reboot seems to play more like the Bat’s extended fever dream of a city hellscape haunted by serial killers, crime lords, and master thieves than a traditional superhero action movie. And the trailer shows us just how he deals with these demons, as he beats the living crap out of goons, smashes his Batmobile through the city streets, and looks hella miserable while doing it.
If, after watching the movie’s first trailer, you didn’t get the sense that Robert Pattinson’s Batman resembled the image of the hero you know and love, this is by design, according to the director. Reeves revealed during the DC FanDome digital event that The Batman takes place in Year Two of the vigilante’s crime-fighting career, which means this version of the Dark Knight is still a bit rough around the edges and is in the process of figuring out just how much justice to dole out to evil-doers. (The beatdown in the trailer seems…a bit excessive.)
This Batman doesn’t yet inspire hope in the constantly-terrorized citizens of Gotham. According to Reeves, the people still fear the vigilante and his extreme methods.
“If you were in a city and there was a guy who dressed up as a bat who showed up out of the shadows and sometimes confronted those people and beat them up…I think we would wonder, well, gee, that guy sounds a little dangerous,” Reeves said of how Gotham feels about the Batman in his movie. “He’s not yet the vision of the character that he becomes, where he becomes a symbol of hope for the city. He’s early in the trajectory. And so they’re afraid of him, frankly. He’s kind of a growing legend.”
While other Batman movies have approached the Dark Knight as more of a legend or tall tale that people aren’t sure actually exists, such as in Tim Burton’s Batman or Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, The Batman really leans into that aspect of the character, according to the director. Reeves suggests that Gotham sees Pattinson’s Batman as more of a boogeyman, a dark figure stalking the night for criminals.
“I think there are some people who are wondering, does he exist? How exactly does he exist? And that legend is building day by day and has been since he made his first appearance about a year and a half ago, as we’re in year two. So yeah, the public is afraid of him. I mean, that’s one of the things I think that he will confront in the course of the story and that Rob has to sort of deal with in playing the character, which is the idea of how he’s perceived.”
It sounds like the Year Two setup does allow Reeves’ movie to circumvent the traditional story beats associated with a Batman movie reboot, namely his origin and all the pearls and dark alleys it entails, which is honestly a relief. The story of how Bruce Wayne became the Batman has been told enough times. Instead, Reeves wants to get inside Bruce’s head after he’s already decided to become the Bat. How does Bruce better himself and become the hero Gotham deserves? Reeves made it clear that his Batman isn’t yet the perfect detective who has a contingency or solution to everything.
“I think for me, what was exciting was not doing that, not doing the origin, not doing what we’d seen, done so beautifully in other movies, but instead to meet him in the middle of this criminological experiment, to see him in the becoming a Batman and to see him make mistakes as Batman. To see him grow and fail and be heroic, do all of the things that we associate with Batman, but in a way that felt very human and very flawed.”
Obviously, there are plenty of comic book stories that explore Batman’s early years as Gotham’s protectors. In fact, the very first Batman story in Detective Comics #27 fits quite nicely between his Year One origin story and the (admittedly campy) Year Two storyline that sees Bruce briefly question his own methods, almost taking things too far while facing a formidable enemy. While it’s highly unlikely that Reeves’ movie will use any material from Mike W. Barr, Alan Davis, Paul Neary, Alfredo Alcala, Mark Farmer, and Todd McFarlane’s actual Batman: Year Two arc, it’s clear that the director is at least exploring similar themes with the character.
Yet, while the movie has some clear inspirations beyond Year One and Year Two, including quite a few noir detective movies, there is one comic book influence that was key for Reeves when creating his new vision of the Batman. No, it’s not The Long Halloween or The Dark Knight Returns.
“Because I wanted to get into the mindset of the character and I wanted to think of the psychology, I think one of the cool deep dive ones was Darwyn Cooke’s Ego,” Reeves said. “He’s confronting the beast that is Batman. And it’s kind of the kind of duality. I mean, there’s a lot in what he’s trying to do in the story about him confronting the shadow side of himself.”
Published as a one-shot in 2000, Ego tackles one of the conflicts at the center of the Bat mythos: the duality of being both Bruce Wayne by day and Batman by night. In Cooke’s story, we watch as an exhausted Dark Knight struggles to balance the two sides of himself, which is indicative of the psychological struggle the vigilante will face at the hands of a character like Paul Dano’s Riddler who is always three steps ahead and may know more about Bruce than he knows himself.
Reeves revealed during the panel that The Batman won’t just be formative for the Caped Crusader but for his rogues’ gallery as well, promising takes on Catwoman, Penguin, and the Riddler that haven’t quite become supervillains and are still in the midst of their own transformations.
Year Two, then, should be a vastly different version of Gotham than what we’ve seen before, both on the side of the heroes and villains. We’ll be able to see how it all turns out when The Batman hits theaters on Oct. 1, 2021.