The latest chapter in the Batman saga lands in cinemas this weekend, with Robert Pattinson for the first time taking on the mantle of the crusading, caped avenger cleaning crime from the streets of Gotham City.
We’ve already seen Batman on the big screen about 20 times before, ranging from the high camp of Adam West and George Clooney’s interpretations to the grit and bleakness of Christian Bale and Ben Affleck’s takes on the character.
This time around, director Matt Reeves has promised something completely different from all that has gone before, promising a Dark Knight inspired by seemingly unconnected muses as film noir, 1990s Batman comics and the life — and death — of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.
It's a distinctive approach that the film’s star realised as soon as he laid eyes on his lines.
“I remember the first time I read the script, it just read so differently,” Pattinson tells The National. “Bruce is really struggling, and he’s not a comfortable person to be around, even when he’s not Batman. He doesn’t have much control over his personality, the delineation between when he’s Batman and when he’s Bruce. In all the other movies, he has complete control of the delineation of when he's Bruce in public, when he's Bruce in private, and when he's Batman. He can just change at will.
"Whereas in this film, he's basically Batman the whole time. In a way, he's just let Bruce disappear.”
Of course, however much this version of Batman may have let his alter ego disappear, the struggle between the contrasting personalities of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and his crime-fighting alter ego are central to the Batman myth, and Pattinson confirms this is a thread we’ll see developed within the movie.
“As much as he tries to bury his past and bury the baggage of being Bruce Wayne, there are still all these unanswered [questions] he can't help but be drawn to,” the actor says. “There's something so odd about his character. It's not ‘Oh, you are a genius and that's why you can figure these things out.’ There's something deeper. He hasn’t completely defined what Batman is. He’s a bit out of control — he's not a normal person.”
Another point at which we’ll see The Batman diverge from previous screen treatments is in the director’s decision to do away with the traditional origins story. Usually when we meet a new Batman, we’re treated to the tale of how Bruce’s parents were murdered, the shot of Martha Wayne’s string of pearls tumbling to the floor, and her vengeful son leaving Gotham to train as an avenging angel before returning to wreak havoc on the evil doers of his hometown.
This time around, however, we meet Batman when he’s already in his second year of cleaning Gotham’s streets. It’s a decision Pattinson approves of.
“I like the fact that you don't see the origin story,” he says. “Even in the graphic novels there's always this period of, ‘Oh, I went away and trained, and I've mastered myself.’ In this film, it's less logic-based. There's something about putting on that suit that allows him to access heightened feelings because there's an abandonment of self as soon as he puts it on. And the more he puts it on, the more abandonment comes with it. It's as if you totally shut down all of your other emotions, then you can heighten your immediate senses, I guess.”
It's certainly a sharp contrast to the linear development we’ve seen in previous incarnations of the Dark Knight, and such sharp contrast can be found off-screen, too, in the shape of none other than Pattinson himself.
Although the actor first rose to prominence as Edward Cullen, the heartthrob vampire in the blockbuster Twilight franchise, he’s largely eschewed the limelight of big budget fare since, reinventing himself as a darling of the festival circuit. His appearance in a bombastic superhero yarn could hardly be further removed from his recent roles in celebrated, but understated indies such as The Lighthouse and Waiting for the Barbarians.
Pattinson assures us he won’t be sending his showreel to Marvel any time soon, however. Quite simply, he says the mighty Batman was the one superhero he was ready to make an exception for.
“It didn't really fit into the kind of stuff I was doing [when I was cast]. But for some reason, with Batman, it’s literally the only comic character I'd ever do. He's by far the coolest one,” he says.
“I remember the first time I saw [the Batmobile], I was just supposed to see if I could fit in it with the cowl on, and I didn't really realise that you could actually just drive it off,” he recalls with a laugh. “We were on some testing track, and it was the only time I actually did this because as soon as I did, they realised I couldn't be trusted with it. I immediately drove off and just kept driving around for 20 minutes. I was never allowed to drive it freely again. It was very, very exciting.”
Unfortunately, most of us won’t ever get 20 minutes alone with the Batmobile, but we can at least see it on screen again this weekend, and on this front we concur with the film’s star — it’s very, very exciting.
The Batman is out in cinemas across the UAE from March 3
See photos from the London premiere of 'The Batman':