The new Batman movie will be released in theaters this summer. And while Ben Affleck’s iteration of the Dark Knight might not look exactly like his predecessor, he will certainly draw from his memories of Michael Keaton’s interpretation of the character.
Before the start of production, director Matt Reeves looked to his past to find inspiration for his newest superhero movie. And what better way to evoke the nostalgia-inducing figurehead of the Batman franchise than to pay homage to one of its most iconic symbols: the bat.
As the name would suggest, the bat is one of Batman’s most recognizable features. Over the years, the winged creature has become an integral part of the Dark Knight’s identity, serving as a consistent theme throughout all of the films and spin-offs. But while the bat is a staple of the Batman mythos, it has never been the character’s only defining visual feature.
In the upcoming Batman movie, Pattinson’s portrayal of the eccentric billionaire will draw on a more eclectic set of influences. But one of the most prominent details stemming from Reeves’ past is the inclusion of the bat symbol on Pattinson’s forehead.
The Origins of the Bat Symbol
During the production of the 2018 Batman premiere, Reeves shared in an interview with MTV that the decision to have Pattinson sport the bat symbol stemmed from the English actor’s ‘iconic status’ as a Hollywood Royalty. As one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood, it was only natural that Reeves would want to incorporate a recognizable symbol that is synonymous with the actor’s name into the film’s marketing material. And what better way to represent the transformative identity of billionaire Bruce Wayne than with a symbol of change? The bat was the perfect fit.
The timing of this incorporation is curious, however. According to Reeves, he first conceived of the idea while working on the 2015 film, War for the Planet of the Apes. During production, he would regularly draw inspiration from real-world events for his filmmaking, and during one scene in which an ape chases a human around a campfire, the idea for the bat symbol came to him. It was then, Reeves claims, that he decided to incorporate the bat into the film’s marketing material.
“I wanted to evoke, in some way, this character that I created, who is a combination of all these great animalistic qualities, and give him some kind of weird symbol that is a blend of his predator instinct and his smarts,” Reeves said. He then proceeded to draw the shape of a bat on his forehead, claiming that it was “an unconscious decision” that turned into a feature of his character and the theme of the film.
Pattinson’s Interpretation of the Batman Character
While Reeves drew inspiration from the bat for this summer’s Batman movie, it was not the only element of the film that he drew from his past. The new Batman will also borrow from Reeves’ experience as a filmmaker, using practical effects and natural light to create an immersive experience. The cinematographer of the film, Bradford Young, cited the unique perspective that comes with making a superhero movie as part of the inspiration for his work.
“There is a certain beauty in the insecurities of the human condition, particularly when conveyed through the eyes of a child,” said Young. “It’s an odd mixture of bravery and fragility that makes up a kid’s persona. There is an innocence to their awe of the world around them and an apprehension about it at the same time.
“When I started, I knew nothing about cameras, much less lighting and editing,” he continued. “So for me, it was like doing magic. I would set up the shot, match the emotion, and capture it. I could see the potential in a superhero movie, the weight that someone could carry around with them. It’s such a powerful tool when you find the right story and use it well.”
As well as drawing on his experience as a filmmaker, the new Batman will explore the themes of obsession and identity. While Bruce Wayne’s life will certainly be characterized by wealth and power, it will be defined by a singular passion for animals and a quest for identity, stemming from a traumatic experience as a child. This theme, Identity, will feature prominently in the marketing material for the movie, both in the film’s title and its key art. This decision was made, according to Reeves, to reflect the theme of the film, as well as the dark nature of Gotham City, home to Batman’s crime-fighting alter ego.
“I wanted to explore the psychological battles that this character goes through, and how he deals with both his humanity and the monsters that threaten it,” said Reeves in an interview with Deadline. “This movie is a meditation on obsession. It’s about the dangers of loving something so much that it hurts you, and being trapped by your desires.”
Why Do You Need A Joker?
While Batman will certainly make for a fantastic focus of the upcoming film, it will not be the only character in it. The Joker, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, will serve as the film’s antagonist. And while it is not uncommon for an actor to be signed on to portray multiple characters in a film – Robert Downey Jr. is a prime example, with his Ironman, Tony Stark, and Happy Hogan incarnations – this is the first time that a major Hollywood studio has gone all in on a film with a single, major antagonist.
In an interview with USA Today, Phoenix discussed the meaning of his character’s iconic smile. “Even when I was a child, I knew that smile. I knew it was the ‘Joker.’ It was the same with my father. It was kind of an ‘I’m not going to do what you want me to,’ smile. It was the same with my brother. It was the same with my sister. It was always there. It was something I inherited. Something I know,” he said.
As well as serving as a source of inspiration, Reeves looked to real-world events for additional plot points. The director revealed in the same interview that one of the main inspirations for the film was the 2011 horse meat scandal in Europe, which he cited as an example of “the absurdity of some of the laws that we take for granted.” He then proceeded to weave the incident into the fabric of his fantastical story, using it as a springboard to examine the nature of good and evil. “It was very important to me that this story not be about us versus them; that it be about people whose lives are touched by this, but who don’t necessarily join in with the violence,” Reeves said.
The director also cited Matt Damon’s 2016 documentary, The Great Barrier Reef, as part of the inspiration for the film. During production, he spent several days underwater with a camera, documenting the beauty of the reef and its inhabitants. According to Damon, “anyone who loves beauty and wonders should visit the Great Barrier Reef” – an inspiration that clearly found its way into the finished product.
The Future of Superhero Movies
With a new crop of heroes hitting the big-screen, it is clear that superhero movies are here to stay. But while many of these films are characterized by their fantastical settings and oversized costumes, there is still a desire to tell familiar stories with an original twist.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Warner Bros. executive vice president and chief content officer, Toby Emmert, discussed the changing landscape of superhero movies, and how the success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy paved the way for this year’s upcoming slate of films.
“There has been a huge shift in the last three years from caped crusaders to politicians, parents, and children fighting crime,” he said. “It’s a reflection of our times. People are interested in these stories, which makes complete sense, because a lot of people can relate to them.”
With superhero movies increasingly aiming to be relevant to a wider audience, it is clear that these strange, fictional characters will not be a fringe experience for anyone any longer.