Matt Reeves’s “The Batman” — in theaters March 4 — leans into the caped crusader as noir detective. Reeves’s gritty Gotham features an angsty, singularly focused Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson), who’s in the first few years of life as a superhero, trying to figure it all out as he takes on organized crime; a terrorizing Riddler, and, of course, his own demons and the loss of his parents. This is Batman, after all.
Reeves’s story is a departure from the films starring Ben Affleck, the Batman we’ve known best since 2016. The director and co-writer carves out a new section of the multiverse, with a cast that includes Colin Farrell as the Penguin, Paul Dano as the Riddler, John Turturro as a crime boss, Jeffrey Wright as Commissioner Gordon, and Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman.
For Reeves, whose credits include “Cloverfield,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” and “Felicity” (he co-created the show with J.J. Abrams), bringing a new Batman to the screen was both thrilling and daunting. Reeves recently answered questions via Zoom about his contribution to the Dark Knight narrative.
Q. Who was your Batman growing up?
A. Adam West. I was born in 1966, the year the “Batman” television series began, and they made a movie that year. The show is so campy, but I didn’t see any of the camp. To me, he was just so cool. But I’ve loved all the Batmans, to be honest with you. When [Michael] Keaton showed up, I was so excited. I remember that trailer. You saw him flying the Batwing, and there was the Danny Elfman music. I love what [Christopher] Nolan did. I love what Zack [Snyder] did. I love “Batman: The Animated Series.” I guess the truth is I just love Batman.
Q. Can you talk about presenting a Batman that’s not an origin story, but focuses on someone who’s newer to the job?
A. I couldn’t touch an origin tale, because that had been done really well, more than once. But I didn’t want to have him already mastered and perfected. I thought, well, if he’s a young Batman, he [might] not realize the degree to which he is compelled to do [the work] from a personal place. He could be really acting from his shadow side in ways that he wasn’t aware of. The story would be him discovering why [Gotham] was so corrupt, through the clues of this crime — but they would then turn back to his own personal history, and that would be an awakening for him. He would be shaken to his core, maybe question the very reason that he ever became Batman in the first place.
Q. There’s a timelessness to interpretations of Batman, where there’s Art Deco decor and older-looking city. You maintain that while also acknowledging today’s technology.
A. I wanted the movie to almost seem like a 1930s Warner Bros. gangster movie; also like a ‘70s neo-noir. But I knew that Gotham should relate to our world, because that’s the world of the audience, right? I felt there was no way not to address, in a corrupt city like this, what the effects of social media would be. It’s this strange mishmash, and that’s also true, though, if you go to any grand city, right? You can go to a city that’s got Art Deco architecture, and it’s got all these different eras, and it’s all side-by-side. [In Gotham] there’s the cobblestones, but we’ve still got a dance club that looks like it’s right out of today. It’s the idea of the collision.
Q. As a person who enjoys “Twilight “and Robert Pattinson’s smaller projects such as David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis,” I have spent the last few years convincing friends why he makes sense as Batman. What work of his made him the right Batman for you?
A. He’s an incredible actor. The work that he did post-”Twilight“ — to become this pop sensation and then choose to not jump into another blockbuster, but start seeking out Cronenberg and Claire Denis, and my friend [”The Lost City of Z” director] James Gray, and all of these interesting filmmakers — Robert Eggers (”The Lighthouse”) . . . he just was like, “OK, I’m just gonna do whatever is really interesting, and do great work.” And he’s different in all of them. He’s a chameleon. I knew I wanted an actor in Rob’s age range, and had followed his work. Somebody said, “Oh, you should see him in ‘Good Time.’” In that movie, he seems obsessive. He seems so driven and I thought, “Oh, that’s kind of like the youthful drive of this Batman. He’s kind of addicted to being Batman.” Also, in everything [Pattinson] does, he’s got this vulnerability in him, a kind of humanity in his eyes, that you can see his fragility through all of the other stuff. That, to me, was one of the driving forces of why I wanted him for the movie, and there was no question in my mind. People go “Oh, what a crazy choice.” He’s the only choice for me.
Q. You use Nirvana in the film; Kurt Cobain becomes a voice, in a way, for this Batman.
A. When I was writing the first act, I tried to get into a certain state of mind, and I love Nirvana so I was playing Nirvana. When I put on “Something in the Way,” I was like, “Oh, this is it.” There was a tone that felt right to me. Then I thought about Cobain; there was this idea like he was a rebel, and he was fighting. And I think he was also obsessed with his music the way that Batman was obsessed with his mission. There was part of him that wanted to be a recluse, and I thought, “Oh, well, that makes sense to me.”
Q. There’s a lot of multiverse talk these days on the Marvel side, so on the DC Comics side, there’s speculation about whether we’ll see this Batman elsewhere. Can you place this Batman in the world of DC right now?
A. To approach a Batman movie is a high-wire act. There are great Batman movies, and when you decide to take one on, you have to have a healthy dose of fear because you’re going to be compared to great movies. You have to find a way to make it different, distinctive, and your own. One thing I didn’t feel that I could do, in doing that, was make it connect in any particular way. Even the idea that it could be in the universe, I didn’t want to service any of that. So I said, “Look, I think it’s gonna be enough to do a standalone Batman movie.” So that’s where it is. I was really lucky. They said to me, “OK, if that’s what you want to do, we can do that.” There’s no question that DC is doing the multiverse and they have a lot of connections between their films, but they let me, within this world, focus on [“The Batman”] first. As to whether that ever finds a way to connect to other parts, other characters, that’s way down the line. What I’m interested in doing is being in this world, and if there are more movies, they’re going to be within this Batverse.
Interview was edited and condensed. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.