Matt Reeves sees Gotham City as an experiment. Which is to say in his version of the Dark Knight mythos, Bruce Wayne is just starting out in his war on crime and the Batman isn’t even sure what he can accomplish yet. However, this sense of experimentation also applies to Reeves’ take on the characters, which as he stressed throughout The Batman DC FanDome event is not an origin story: it will look familiar, and yet be something decidedly more intimate and grittier. From Robert Pattinson’s take on Bruce to its seedy depiction of the villains in the Rogues Gallery.
“This is all an experiment in the movie,” Reeves said. “The idea is that we’re in Year Two, it’s the Gotham experiment; it’s a criminological experiment. He’s trying to figure out what he can do that can finally change this place.”
It’s an interesting setup because of both how familiar it is and yet, as teased in the already impressive trailer, alien it is from what we’ve seen in past Batman movies. Reeves has spoken in the past about how much he admires Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, which is one of the key reasons he did not want to redo Batman’s origin story here. However, like may creatives working in the Gotham City playground, Reeves is still fascinated by exploring a Batman who might technically be fully formed, but his legend and influence on Gotham is not.
While the actual Batman: Year Two storyline by writer Mike W. Barr from 1987 is hardly anyone’s favorite Batman tale, the concept’s been reworked and reworked again, from the likes of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween graphic novel to Christopher Nolan’s own The Dark Knight. But whereas those stories are about a fully formed Batman who’s committed to his methodology in saving Gotham—almost like a political campaign in Nolan’s case—Reeves’ The Batman will be messier, and perhaps more intimate in its villains’ menace.
“You see he’s not having any of the effect he wants to have, and that’s when the murders start to happen,” Reeves said, teasing a major aspect of The Batman will be Paul Dano’s The Riddler turning Gotham upside down like a serial killer in a David Fincher movie. “The murders begin to describe the history of Gotham in a way that only reinforces what he knows about Gotham, and it opens up a whole new world of corruption that went much further.”
In this way, Reeves suggests the whole film is an origin story for Batman’s famed Rogues Gallery, from Dano’s Riddler to Zoe Kravitz’ Catwoman and Colin Farrell’s The Penguin.
“I think the one thing about the Rogues Gallery is that [the movie] actually, in a weird way, is the origins of a lot of our Rogues Gallery,” Reeves explained. “Selina isn’t Catwoman yet, that’s actually part of the journey. Os is not yet the kingpin he’s going to become; he’s the Penguin. In fact, he doesn’t like being called the Penguin. And the Riddler is just emerging for the first time, so that’s all incredibly exciting.”
Yet one of the most exciting aspects in this writer’s mind is how Reeves teased the Riddler’s murders may tie into the history of the Wayne family, departing from the rather saintly depictions of Thomas and Martha Wayne seen in Batman Begins or even Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This could be something grimmer, and a chance to explore aspects of privilege in the Wayne family.
Said Reeves, “As that story starts to come out, without being an origin tale for him, it ends up [touching] on his origins. So you start to see, as it starts to describe this epic history of corruption in Gotham, you start to understand ‘Well, where did my family sit in that?’… It’s got action and all that kind of stuff, but at the end of it, it’s also incredibly personal for him even though it is this story in which he is trying to understand and unravel this mystery.”
All of which reinforces that Reeves is making a darker, slightly more unhinged version of Batman. In Batman Begins or Tim Burton’s Batman, the character is traditionally clear of purpose and his role in the world. Even in Nolan’s origin movie the more he assembles his Batman persona, the more in control he appears. With The Batman, Reeves is beginning from a place that might suggest the Batman is not a healthy creation for Bruce Wayne, or at least one that doesn’t present a clean solution to Bruce’s experiment.
“That idea of being that driven by your past and by the things you can’t quite resolve in yourself, he’s a very alive character,” said Reeves. “And he is so far from being perfect and [for us] to watch him become what we all know about him, and see it in new ways, I felt that was a way to do something that hadn’t been done.”
Hence exploring a Batman who isn’t instantly welcomed as a hero for bringing down a crime lord on his first night out. Rather (maybe a little closer to Burton’s first movie), Batman is an urban myth to some, and a boogeyman to others.
“The public is afraid of him,” Reeves revealed. “He’s not yet the vision of the character where he becomes a vision 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.” It also gives Pattinson a lot to play with too. Teased Reeves, “That is one of the things we will confront in the course of the story, and that Rob has to sort of deal with in playing the character, which is how he’s perceived.”
Much like Batman’s career in the movie, it’s still early goings to know how exactly The Batman will be perceived. As Reeves reminded fans during the panel, they’ve only shot about 25 percent of the movie, which is a little bit incredulous when one considers how fully formed and impressive the film looks in that first teaser trailer. But also judging by the fan reaction to it, it seems likely that the movie’s legend can only grow.