Let’s count the Batmen. Just the movie ones.
If you include the original two film serials from the 1940s, and you should, it all started with Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery. Then Adam West did a film version of his 1960s television hero. Jump to the late ‘80s and ‘90s and you’ve got the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher quartet of movies starring Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Christian Bale came next in Christopher Nolan’s famously dark trilogy. From there, we got Ben Affleck and at least as many online opinions about his interpretation of the role as there are people in the world. Not to be forgotten is Will Arnett, whose hilarious voice work on the animated “Lego Batman Movie” changed the way I will see this character forever.
This brings us, finally, to now.
On paper, Robert Pattinson did not seem like a logical choice for the next Batman. Not for us, anyhow. But for him, it was more than logical. It was brilliant. It can be hard for an actor to outrun the youthful roles that made them famous. For half the world, Pattinson is Edward Cullen of the “Twilight” series, and, for the other half, he’s Edward Cullen and Cedric Diggory of “Harry Potter.” So, if Pattinson really wanted to shed those two successful but ultimately pretty limiting characters, taking a big risk with an even more beloved persona was probably a good way to start. It he pulls it off, he’s free, even though he will have put himself in the firing line of a fanbase every bit as rabid as those he’s entertained previously.
“The Batman,” out now in theaters, was originally meant to be part of the DC Extended Universe but now stands apart from that much maligned franchise. Director Matt Reeves (of the “Planet of the Apes” reboots) was brought on to replace Ben Affleck at the helm of the project, which will reportedly be part of a new alternative universe trilogy.
With so much backstory and pressure to manage, I was worried that Reeves and Pattinson might wither before the glare of the comic book troll kingdom that attempts to rule public opinion from their anonymous online fortresses around the world. But they did not wither. “The Batman” is the best reset of a superhero property I’ve seen in a very long time.
Pattinson is absolutely perfect as a 2020s caped crusader in his prime. He’s got the jawline for it, sure, but he brings a lot more than to the set. His physicality, his watchful silence, his flawed dignity–it’s all there in exquisite balance with the gritty, noirish ruin of Matt Reeves’ take on Gotham City. Immediately from the brief opening credits, Reeves makes the wise choice of dropping the needle on a young but already well-established hero. There are no pearls in the gutter of this movie, which is welcome distinction from virtually every previous telling.
“The Batman” is not an origin story. It’s a detective story, with a core mystery that’s neither too rich nor too thin for the genre. Through every punch and investigative revelation, Pattinson is surrounded by a supporting cast that matches his intensity with incredible range and humor. Geoffrey Wright, Zoë Kravitz, Andy Serkis–they’re all great, and together they’ve made something strangely beautiful with this film. I didn’t think there were new things to say about the Batman legend. Boy, was I wrong.
I’m glad to confirm that Robert Pattison was up to the challenge of re-making the Batman icon and that, in the hands of Matt Reeves, Gotham City has been reborn with incredible depth and complexity. I can’t wait to meet them both there for episode two.