The Batman took a long time to take shape, but fans are finally starting to get the full picture of director Matt Reeves’ take on the character.
At DC FanDome this August, Reeves introduced the first trailer for The Batman, which confirmed that the movie will be a gritty noir centering on a set of serial murders and the history of corruption of Gotham City. It also suggests the central villain will be The Riddler, played by Paul Dano. (Though it’s worth noting they only had 20 percent of the movie shot, so not a lot to work with.) Watch it below.
Reeves also revealed the movie will take place in year two of Batman’s crime-fighting career, a period in which he is adjusting to his new life and Gotham adjusting to him. An HBO Max series, Gotham P.D., will focus on Batman’s year one, and follow corrupt cops in the city’s police department.
Let’s take a look at more of what we know about the movie from earlier reveals as well as the history of how the project came together.
Plans for the film began in 2014, when Warner Bros. had a massive, Marvel-style DC film universe in mind. An important pillar of that concept was Ben Affleck behind the cowl of the Dark Knight and in the director’s chair for a film called The Batman. It was to tie in to the character as he played it in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League and would follow the events of both films. Affleck teased the arrival of the DC Comics villain Deathstroke to his tale by posting a costume test with actor Joe Manganiello under the mask. The actor was later set to play the character in the film and made a brief appearance in the Batman v Superman stinger scene. Some reports suggest the film would have taken place inside Arkham Asylum.
But then things began to unravel. Despite commercial success, Batman v Superman was perceived as a creative misfire even as cameras began to roll on Justice League – leading to a rethink of the film’s plot. Warner Bros. asked Affleck to re-write his script for The Batman as the shape of the film universe changed alongside Justice League. In January of 2017, he had stepped down as director with Matt Reeves soon taking over. He also eventually handed script duties over to Reeves and Mattson Tomlin, leaving many to wonder if Affleck would even star in the picture.
Almost a full year of speculation followed until Affleck, then dealing with a number of personal problems, set the record straight in January of last year, announcing his complete departure from the project. And with that, the original vision for The Batman gave way to Reeves’ new take.
Even before Affleck’s departure was confirmed, many began to speculate about the seventh person to wear the cowl in a theatrically released, live-action film. Rumors began to circle around The Lighthouse star Robert Pattinson, who emerged as the favorite and eventually took the role in May of 2019.
Over the course of the following months, a cast list began to emerge, including Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman), Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon, and Paul Dano as the Riddler, whose civilian identity in the film, “Edward Nashton,” is a one of his known aliases in the pages of DC comics. Over the Fall of 2019, Colin Farrell signed on as Oswald Cobblepot and Andy Serkis also stepped up to take over as Alfred Pennyworth from Jeremy Irons, who had played the character for Affleck’s Batman. Other cast members include John Turturro as Carmine Falcone, Peter Sarsgaard as District Attorney Gil Colson, Con O’Neill as Chief Macheknize Bock, Alex Ferns as police commissioner Peter Savage, and Jayme Lawson as Bella Reál. Recently, Teen Wolf’s Max Carver and Charlie Carver joined the cast, leading some to suggest they may play Batman rogues Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Behind the camera, Reeves’ crew includes director of photography Greig Fraser, editors William Hoy and Tyler Nelson, production designer James Chinlund and costume designer Jacqueline Durran. Reeves is producing the film alongside Dylan Clark while Simon Emanuel, Walter Hamada, Chantal Nong, and Michael Uslan serve as executive producers. Michael Giacchino is set to score the film.
At DC FanDome, Reeves teased that, just as Batman is still finding himself in the movie, so too are the “rogues gallery” of villains we meet. We meet Selina Kyle, but she’s not Catwoman as we start the film; ditto Farrell’s Oswald Cobblepot, who’s destined to be crime kingpin, the Penguin.
From that list of cast and crew, a sense of The Batman began to emerge… as did a potential source of its story.
Though Reeves referred to the plot as an “original story” from the moment he began answering questions about the film, the number of villains and supporting characters in the cast left many to wonder if it might be taking inspiration from Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.
Set after the events of the seminal Batman: Year One storyline, it sees Batman attempting to learn the identity of a serial killer known as Holiday. It also accomplishes a few other things, like chronicling the year mobsters lost control of Gotham City to the costumed supervillains. The 13-issue miniseries was followed up by Batman: Dark Victory and Catwoman: When in Rome, which saw Loeb and Sale return to some of The Long Halloween’s ideas, including the continuing deterioration of Gotham’s organized crime families.
But the key to The Long Halloween was its expansive cast and Batman encountering a mystery he could not easily crack.
Early on, Reeves said he wanted to emphasize Batman as the world’s greatest detective – an element of the character generally downplayed in the more action-oriented Batman and Dark Knight film cycles – while also playing up the noirish elements inherent in the concept. Reeves said at DC FanDome that noirs like Chinatown have been a big inspiration for his approach to the material. Additionally, the costume test video of Pattinson in the batsuit and the Batmobile pictures clearly illustrate Batman during an early part of of his career – again, now confirmed by Reeves – making the case for The Long Halloween as a primary source stronger.
It would not be the first time, though, the book was called upon as a source of inspiration or, indeed, the first time a Batman film used one of the better-known Batman stories in its development. The Dark Knight used one or two elements from the story while also grabbing from The Killing Joke. The Dark Knight Rises also pulled from the “No Man’s Land” story. But this should not suggest The Batman is a straight adaptation of The Long Halloween, as someone key to that story is missing from the film: Harvey Dent.
The Long Halloween is also a Two-Face origin story that sees him promoted to Gotham City DA near the start of the story and, well, somewhere else by its conclusion. In lieu of Harvey, Sarsgaard plays Gil Colson, an original character for the film. Curiously, before Sarsgaard’s role was confirmed, some suggested he might be playing Harvey Dent, while yet others noted the character’s name bares a resemblance to that of a corrupt Gotham Police officer who helped Two-Face in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series. For the moment, we’re inclined to believe Sarsgaard is, in fact, playing a wholly new character with no ties to Gotham’s most famous lawyer, but the possibility does remain until we get a trailer.
This suspicion also extends to Lawson’s Bella Reál, another new character said to be running for mayor in the film. As with DA Colson, we’re willing to accept this as the truth until presented with evidence that she is really Barbara Gordon or Poison Ivy.
As with Joker, Warner Bros. made the choice to debut The Batman’s key costume in a short video before any paparazzi had a chance to shoots pictures of it on location. Seen through darkness and red light, the suit seems to employ a more bare-bones, off-the-shelf aesthetic. The body armor continues Batman ‘89’s basic design choice, but a cowl made of fabric sets it apart from all other cinematic Batmen. Some have also speculated the bat symbol is made of the gun Joe Chill used to kill the Waynes. It’s all pretty interesting even if the video makes it look a little too much like Daredevil’s costume. Subsequent set pics also offered a better look at the cowl, which may be inspired by Silver Age comic book artists like Dick Sprang and Carmine Infantino.
At DC FanDome, Reeves said that the fact this is only year two of Batman’s career heavily influenced the design of the costume: Wayne built it himself, he’s making adjustments, you can see the gashes from his scuffles on the suit.
In March, Reeves unveiled the first look at the Batmobile. Eschewing the more outlandish design conventions established in Batman ’89, this car is, in fact, a muscle car with some obvious modifications. Long-time readers of Batman comics may even recognize the broad strokes of the design as the one Batman used through most of the 1980s and into the 1990s. The new Batmobile design continues the notion that Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne merely modified existing gear instead of inventing Bat-gadgets from whole cloth and, if nothing else, is an interesting departure from the previous Batman film cycles, particularly the tankish Tumbler and Justice League Batmobile.
Ahead of the DC FanDome event on August 22, Reeves revealed even more in a Twitter post debuting the film’s logo and FanDome-specific artwork:
Excited to share the very first look at our official #TheBatman logo, and some very cool additional #DCFanDome artwork by the amazing @jimlee — see more of #TheBatman at the #DCFanDome global event in the Hall of Heroes this Saturday, 8/22! #TheBatman #DCFanDome #ForTheFans pic.twitter.com/ApfngNbyor
— Matt Reeves (@mattreevesLA) August 20, 2020
Despite all the tell-tale markings of a reboot, The Batman’s place in the loose continuity of Warner Bros’s DC film slate is still up for debate. During the early phases of development, Reeves suggested it could take place out of continuity like Joker, but quickly backpedaled to say it will have some ties and maybe even a cameo or two. At the same time, recasting Jim Gordon, who was played by J.K. Simmons in Justice League, with Wright also suggests the film is in a world all its own. But then again, the DC Universe is a place where world-changing events create convenient retcons. Pattinson could simply replace Affleck’s Batman in the new DC film reality where Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) co-exists with Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and the Suicide Squad of 2021. Is all depends on whether or not Reeves would be interested in utilizing any of those ideas or, indeed, if Pattinson would want to bring his Batman to play with the other DC film heroes.
The film will be released in the midst of a calendar that includes The Suicide Squad and Black Adam at the end of 2021. We wouldn’t put it past Warner Bros. to try to connect them, but we won’t be disappointed if they remain separate. In the meantime, though, the principle cast is expected to return for at least two sequels to The Batman.
The Batman is currently scheduled for release on June 25, 2021.
Thumbnail image by @mattreevesLA