The Batman franchise was once among Hollywood’s most lucrative endeavours. Fresh off the success of The Dark Knight in 2008, Warner Bros. and director Christopher Nolan were eyeing massive global box office returns with their highly anticipated follow-up. The studio had even purchased the rights to publish an official Batman magazine in the hopes of capitalising on the craze surrounding the caped crusader.
Over three years later and despite a brief cameo in the upcoming Justice League, the future of the Batman franchise looks more uncertain than ever. Not only has The Batman failed to live up to expectations at the box office, but several of its key cast members are publicly criticising the direction in which the series is headed. Most notably, Robert Pattinson’s much-hyped turn as the Dark Knight has proven to be a major disappointment, propelling him into cinematic oblivion.
The Robert Pattinson dilemma.
Pattinson’s casting as the iconic Batman was met with universal acclaim. The English actor, famous for his romantic performances in films such as Twilight and Good Time, effortlessly embodied a billionaire playboy who spent his days fighting crime and his nights socialising with gorgeous women. Audiences around the world connected with the character, and when he strode onto the screen for the first time, jaws dropped and hearts swooned.
Indeed, it seemed like a perfect fit. A brooding, billionaire playboy trapped in a Batman costume. But something funny happens when you put a human being inside a costume. No matter how well-intentioned or how talented the actor, he simply cannot replicate the movements or the spirit of a comic book character. Especially not one as iconic as Batman.
It’s not that things couldn’t have worked out. Pattinson is an excellent choice to play Batman, and he certainly shows the potential to embody the role to great effect. But the disconnect between what the audience sees on screen and what they experience in real life inevitably leads to disappointment. The Dark Knight was a critical and commercial failure, propelling Pattinson into a cinematic wilderness.
The actor has been struggling to gain traction ever since. Walking dead season two was supposed to be his big comeback movie, but it never found an audience. And while he can be seen in other Hollywood productions, he has mostly been relegated to one-off appearances or cameos.
There are worse fates. At least Pattinson has the luxury of time to find a new career. The question now is: will he ever find success as an actor in Hollywood?
Why the Flop?
Despite his growing reputation as a cinematic enigma, it’s actually quite straightforward to explain the failure of The Batman. When compared to its predecessor, The Dark Knight, the 2017 film is largely unadventurous and quite content to rehash familiar territory. In fact, the entire superhero genre, particularly the DC extended universe, has seen a gradual decline in commercial and critical confidence, with many viewers rejecting the notion that DC’s cinematic output is relevant or interesting any more.
For those unfamiliar, the Dark Knight trilogy established a number of benchmarks in superhero film. It introduced the world to Gotham City, a dark and dangerous metropolis rife with corruption and violence. The caped crusader, while an immensely iconic figure in pop culture, was actually a very understated character in the films. He didn’t need to rely on his physical appearance to enliven the story, and for the most part, he kept a very low profile.
Compare that to Christopher Nolan’s subsequent entry into the DC cinematic universe, Justice League. While Batman himself doesn’t appear in the film, it is widely considered to be his replacement. The Dark Knight and its characters regularly pop up, not just in the form of Easter eggs, but as living, breathing presences in the background, providing a constant stream of inspiration for the rest of the cast.
Justice League, while critically acclaimed, was a commercial disappointment, managing only to make $400 million at the box office, half of what The Dark Knight made three years previously. The film, much like its predecessor, is rooted in nostalgia and draws heavily on decades of source material, but the difference is that it feels more like a labour of love. The action sequences are frequently beautiful to behold, but they are merely window dressing for a story that is as much about the characters as it is the setting.
Who Is To Blame?
The blame for The Batman’s failure can be attributed to many things. For starters, the character itself is almost unsympathetic in a way. Batman has always been a somewhat polarising figure, particularly among comic book fans, who expect more from their superheroes. This is mainly due to Batman’s very existence. He is meant to be a symbol of fear and vigilantism, and even in his brief appearances in The Dark Knight, the character is more associated with violence and intimidation than he is with saving or protecting people.
Those looking for a genuinely heartwarming story were instead served a somewhat corny tale of a father/son team of detectives solving a series of crimes. The Dark Knight is ultimately a very dark and dramatic movie, and while many will argue that it served a greater purpose, it’s hard not to be put off by the film’s many twists and turns. Even with all that drama, The Dark Knight is still considered one of the best superhero movies ever made. So it’s clear that there is much more than one culprit behind the underperformance of The Batman.
Despite his misfortunes, Robert Pattinson is not completely devoid of talent. He proved that with his turns in the upcoming films High Life and Twilight. Both films were critical and commercial successes and have established him as a leading man to be reckoned with. The only question is whether or not he can carry that clout across multiple projects. The answer: probably not. The last thing Hollywood wants to do is cast a major celebrity in a role that is not guaranteed to sell.
Pattinson has found himself typecast as a rich, pampered youth who regularly indulges in decadent pleasures, particularly those involving alcohol and cigarettes. His career, much like The Batman’s, is currently in a holding pattern. He will continue to be visible in the occasional blockbuster film, but otherwise, he will be taking a backseat to more up-to-date talent.
Will he ever play a leading man? Will he ever appear on the cover of a magazine? Will he ever be in the vicinity of a luxury product? Sadly, probably not. But at least he can console himself with the knowledge that he was the male lead in two of the most commercially successful films of all time.