Film News

The Familiar Arc of Robert Pattinson’s Path Toward Batman

The pot of gold at the end of the redemption rainbow in Hollywood probably shouldn’t be a starring role in a superhero movie. Surely the film and TV industry can think of a better reward for those actors who’ve embraced humility, taken pay cuts, and toiled away in little seen indie films. Such a career path shouldn’t automatically lead to playing Batman or Iron Man. However, like Ben Affleck before him that’s what just happened to Robert Pattinson – the man who once proved vampires can sparkle is now the new Dark Knight.

This story, of course, has been percolating for weeks now. The predictable internet outrage cycle had pretty much already run its course by the time the casting was finally made official. In the days since then, we’ve learned the behind the scenes details of how it all went down.

Robert Pattinson vs. Nicholas Hoult. The Prize: The Batsuit!

According to THR:

  1. Writer-director Matt Reeves thought of Pattinson for the role without knowing if the former Twilight star would even want the job.
  2. The selection process was guided by the fact that Batman is written to be roughly thirty-years-old in Reeves’ script. The 33-year-old Pattinson can certainly pass for that. This winnowing down by age group is partially what led to Affleck’s departure, though that had already been in the works.
  3. It came down to either Pattinson or Nicholas Hoult, aka, Beast in the recent X-Men movies.
  4. Unlike Hoult, Pattinson hasn’t already appeared in a series of comic book movies. There’s no official rule at either DC or Marvel preventing actors from working for both companies, but when it comes to the big title roles DC doesn’t want to dilute the brand and cast someone already associated with a major comic book role for a competitor.
  5. The true deciding factor, however, might have been as simple as this: Pattinson looked better in the Batsuit than Hoult. Like virtually all of the Batman actors before them in the modern era, their final hurdle in the casting process was to don a Batsuit from one of the prior films and perform a screen test in it. Both actors already had deals worked out with the studio prior to putting on the suit. That way whoever looked better on camera could simply sign their deal to make it official and then immediately get started with training for the film shoot, tentatively scheduled for early next year.
  6. Thus begins the start of a planned trilogy of Batman films, with The Penguin and Catwoman rumored to be the featured villains in the first installment.

Yes, Good Time is Great, But Tell Me, How Does He Look in a Batsuit?

There is something hilariously emblematic about that process – years and years of drama school training, a carefully cultivated career built on consistently surprising audiences with your range, a series of high-stress casting calls, and it all comes down to whether your jawline and eyes look good under a mask and pounds of leather. Welcome to 2019 Hollywood.

However, in the superhero game how you look in the costume is paramount to your success. That’s at least partially why Christopher Nolan picked Christian Bale over Cillian Murphy or Eion Bailey:

It’s also why Stephen Amell should never again be asked to war a Flash costume:

Of course, his obvious discomfort in the costume was part of the joke in Elseworlds.

So, I’m sure Pattinson looks fab in cape and cowl, but I just can’t with the outrage right now. Whenever an iconic role is recast there’s bound to be push back. We see it every time we get a new Doctor on Doctor Who, James Bond, Spider-Man, or Batman. Most of the time, we are reacting against change, clinging to our memories of the last person to play the role. Then, inevitably, flash forward a couple of years and that new person in the role has won everyone over.

They Hated Michael Keaton Too Before They Actually Saw Him

From the 1988 Wall Street Journal article “Batman Fans Fear the Joke is on Them In Hollywood Epic-They Accuse Warner Bros. of Plotting a Silly Spoof of the Caped Crusader”

This march toward acceptance doesn’t always end successfully, of course. For example, many Doctor Who fans have failed to warm to either Jodie Whittaker or Peter Capaldi after Matt Smith’s youthful incarnation of the character. But more often than not casting directors and talented filmmakers make the right call, which is why those same fans who hated the idea of Ben Affleck as Batman now mourn the fact that we’ll never get a solo Batfleck movie. Batman v Superman and Justice League are each flawed movies in their own way, but Ben Affleck is not what’s wrong with either of them.

Go even further back and you’ll find reminders that fans absolutely hated the idea of a Michael Keaton Batman – what, the short, thin Mr. Mom guy with funny hair? – before they actually saw him on screen. As the film’s producer Jon Peters said at the time:

“Fifty thousand letters or protest arrived at Warner Bros. A lot of people in the company lobbied against it. One of the most powerful men in Hollywood went so far as to call Warner chairman Steve Ross and tell him casting Michael Keaton was such a horrible it would bring Warners to its knees. That the entire studio would crash and burn as a result. Heaven’s Gate revisited.”

As quoted in Billion Dollar Batman

As a Wall Street Journal article from 1988 quoted a concerned Batman fan arguing, “If you saw [Keaton] in an alley wearing a bat suit, you would laugh, not run in fear. Batman should be 6’2, 235 pounds, your classically handsome guy with an imposing, scary image.”

Obviously, that quote hasn’t aged well.

Why Would Pattinson Want This?

What I can’t deny, however, with Pattinson inevitability comes an awful lot of cultural baggage. Despite his years of exile into underseen indie films, he’s still a massive celebrity whose very presence conjures memories of the days when his love life was fodder for endless tabloid headlines, and while his performances in films like Good Time, The Lost City of Z, and High Life has won him favor with cinephiles the mass public still knows him as the Twilight guy. No amount of weird black and white indie movies, such as recent Cannes favorite The Lighthouse, will ever change that.

It’s mildly surprising Pattinson would even want to venture back into the Hollywood machine, knowing full well what it can do to someone’s life. Just look at all the ways Ben Affleck’s life fell apart during his tenure in the batcave. As of 2017, Pattinson’s Good Time co-director Josh Safdie didn’t think the actor craved that kind of challenge anymore. Asked by Filmmaker Magazine how Pattinson ended up in his film, Safdie argued:

He doesn’t need money-what he’s after is so much more existential, and he related to [the character] in that regard. He felt imprisoned, and that he couldn’t be free because of the Twilight thing. That’s why he’s been making these interesting decisions. He wants to get at what makes acting acting to him.

Filmmaker Magazine Summer 2017

The Lost of City of Z director James Grey, also talking to Filmmaker Magazine, had a similar insight as to how he coaxed Pattinson into disappearing behind big, thick beard and horn-rimmed glasses to play a supporting part opposite Charlie Hunnam:

I said, “I don’t want to see you playing a character. I want to see a part of you. That is the most important thing-you will always use aspects of your experience.” With Pattinson, “You had 100,000 girls screaming at you every five seconds. You were like a member of The Beatles when you were doing Twilight. Didn’t you want to disappear?” “Yes” “Didn’t you want to hide?” “All the time”

Filmmaker Magazine Spring 2017

But there’s only so many years of that kind of work movie stars can take. Eventually the soul-nourishing experience of one underfunded movie after another translates back to wanting to go back to movies with actual craft services or landing a cushy Netflix show. Plus, if Ben Affleck – the man who had already played Daredevil and then literally played sad, depressed George Reeves in a biopic and thus should know all to well the pitfalls of taking an iconic role – can’t pass up the opportunity to be Batman then who can, really?

Batman 2021

I do wonder if the superhero movie world has moved beyond Batman. After all, much of the Batman DNA trades on tropes which have been thoroughly eviscerated by Marvel Studios. Superheroes with secret identities, for example, feels so 20 years ago (counterpoint: Tom Holland’s Spider-Man), and as The Lego Batman Movie brilliantly illustrated much of the Batman lore is ripe for satire these days. Speaking as someone who has lived through countless animated Batman shows and direct-to-video films as well as five different live-action incarnations I feel as if my Batman itch has already been thoroughly scratched by pop culture.

But, it’s Batman. I’ll be there opening night no matter who is under that mask.

What about you?

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11 comments

  1. I feel confident that both, Pattinson and Matt Reeves, will do a good job with this new franchise. However, it will be even better if they can focus on showing how great of a detective Batman is. I feel like that has been downplayed in most of the previous films.

    1. They’re going to have to do something like that to stand out from what came before. Reeves has talked about wanting to go with a film noir vibe. As Detective Pikachu and Blade Runner: 2049 showed, modern blockbusters aren’t above going that route.

    1. I dig what Matt Reeves did with his two Planet of the Apes movies. After Zack Snyder already covered the The Dark Knight Returns old man Bruce era and Nolan covered the absolute earliest days with Batman Begins I think Reeves approach to skip the origin story and do a more film noir take on Batman: Year One is a logical approach. I do wonder if he’ll do anything radical to adjust to the new reality that all of the Batman tropes are kind of old hat in the superhero movie game or if he’ll resist any urge to radically update the material for today.

  2. I’m not going to lie, as a HUGE Batman fan, when they first announced this casting I was pretty upset. Like you said in your article, while some know him for his indie roles, most people still know him as the “Sparkly Vampire”. The thing that did it for me was when I saw his film, High Life from 2018. That part gave me hope that he can do the role justice. Now, I defend the casting saying that “everyone hated Affleck before he was cast and look how that turned out”, I think we all need to give him a chance to deliver he performance before throwing our stones at him, but sadly that’s not the way things work anymore.

    1. I just tune out the internet outrage cycles now, at least as much as I can. This mostly means staying off of Twitter for extended periods. History repeats itself and all that. No amount of “everyone complained about Keaton/Ledger/Gadot/Affleck” reminders will do anything for certain people. The only thing that will change their mind is actually seeing the actor in costume and in action in the finished film. So, the anti-Pattinson crowd will be entrenched for a couple more years now, and most of those people will probably never bother to even watch High Life or Good Time or anything which disproves their notion of who this actor is because he did those vampire movies when he was younger. Maybe that’s just my cynicism talking, but a lifetime of observing this echo chamber of fan outrage tells me otherwise. There’s a part of me which wishes WB had just gone with an unknown. After Affleck, maybe picking someone with a lot of baggage wasn’t the wisest PR move, but if he’s the best guy for the part then more power to them and Matt Reeves.

  3. Woukd have paid twice as much to see a return of the dark knight movie starring clint eastwood. Better than reinventing his earlier days again. I suppose you got to think merchandise and kids audience these days to compete with marvel.

  4. Batman, the Freemasons superhero 🙂 Isn’t the first time Patterson has been linked with the more esoteric occult topics and such. Cronenberg is deep into the occult and JK Rowling is very much pointing to Phoenix Arizona for reasons known to more and more…

    Here is my article on the Masonic links with the Snyder Batman. Shame he didn’t get a longer crack as it, like his movies.

    https://alltruth.exposed/2019/06/21/freemason-batman-a-masonic-rumour-that-wont-go-away-zack-snyder-edition/

    1. Interesting. This the first I’ve actually heard of this particular take on Snyder’s Batman.

      “Shame he didn’t get a longer crack as it, like his movies.”

      Well, there’s always a chance of the Snyder cut Justice League coming out eventually. But, yeah, other than that he’s done with Batman.

      1. Honestly, the entire movie is steeped in Masonic visuals. I got 5 mins in realised I could only summarise.

        Snyder needs to make more. He’s visually excellent.

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