This morning I texted my pal Justin Kroll at Variety to ask if he’d heard a single name for Matt Reeves‘ The Batman, and his answer didn’t surprise me. Neither of us have heard anything on the casting front. That’s because, as Kroll so helpfully explained minutes later on Twitter, Reeves is still polishing the script, and there’s a possibility that production could start early next year rather than later this fall.
As far as casting goes, it’s difficult to speculate because we have so few clues as to the kind of Batman that Reeves is creating in his laboratory on the Warner Bros. lot. What’s his take on the Caped Crusader? Will he be depicted as a hulking superhero, like broad-shouldered brawler Ben Affleck, or will he be a bit more brainy, as the World’s Greatest Detective probably should be? Early reports suggest this Batman will be more of the latter, as the unfinished script supposedly harkens back to classic, detective-driven film noirs like Chinatown and the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Of course, we’ve also heard that Warner Bros. has asked Reeves to beef up the action in recent drafts — a stark reminder that the studio still needs to sell superhero spectacle if it wants to cross the billion-dollar mark at the worldwide box office, which neither Batman v Superman or Justice League managed to do.
So to recap, casting hasn’t started yet, and even if it had, us reporters don’t even know what Reeves is looking for, outside of a male actor who will likely be between 25-33 years old. Before we learned that Reeves would be aging down the character of Bruce Wayne (at least in comparison to previous live-action movies), early rumors pegged Jake Gyllenhaal for the role, largely because he’d never been in a comic book movie before. Of course, that was before he was cast as Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Gyllenhaal will be 39 this December, so even though he’s my favorite actor these days, I think he’s a little too old for what Reeves supposedly has in mind.
Once Gyllenhaal joined the Spider-Man universe, the most buzzed-about names became 32-year-olds Armie Hammer and Robert Pattinson, though Hammer has repeatedly denied rumors connecting him to Batman, a role he was all set to play once before in George Miller‘s infamous Justice League: Mortal. Pattinson was a popular pick because it was clear that he was ready to return to blockbuster filmmaking again after paying his dues and establishing himself as a respected actor in a slew of acclaimed indies following the Twilight franchise. Pattinson recently parlayed that goodwill into a lead role in Christopher Nolan‘s next movie, so Warner Bros. is already invested in his future, and if Reeves moves production to early 2020, he’d likely be available to do it. The problem is that Pattinson is all wrong for Batman. He’ll be perfect for the cold, stylish world of Nolan’s upcoming sci-fi film, but I don’t buy him as the Dark Knight. You need to be able to root for Batman, and I worry that Pattinson would be overshadowed by the character’s rogues gallery of villains.
From there we must consider Aaron Taylor-Johnson (28) and Nicholas Hoult (29), the latter of whom co-starred in WB’s Mad Max: Fury Road and plays Beast in the X-Men franchise. He’s right on the cusp of a major breakout, but I don’t think The Batman will be the one to take him to the next level. In fact, Taylor-Johnson would be a much better choice, even if he’s already played a couple superheroes before in Kick-Ass and Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which he played Quicksilver. The thing is, he only played Quicksilver in a few scenes before Marvel killed off the character, and he was just an 18-year-old kid in Kick-Ass. His body hadn’t quite filled out yet, but it has now, and he certainly looks the part of a superhero. I think he’d be a great pick, but not The Best pick. As the saying goes, I’m saving the best for last.
There are the A-listers like Ryan Gosling and newly-crowned Oscar winner Rami Malek and rising star Timothée Chalamet, but like Gyllenhaal, Gosling will be 39 before the end of the year, while Malek turns 38 later this month. They’re both a little too old, and if the age limit is legit, so are Logan Marshall-Green (42), Oscar Isaac (40), Luke Evans (40), Jamie Dornan (37), Ben Barnes (37), former Captain America Chris Evans (37), Dan Stevens (36) and Toby Kebbell (36), for that matter. If only Empire star Jussie Smollett (36) was a little younger, right? I mean, he is due for a comeback! I kid, of course, but on the opposite end of the age spectrum lies Chalamet. I mean, I can suspend my disbelief that a 24-year-old is playing a 27-year-old or what have you, but Chalamet is also kind of scrawny, and I’m not sure I can picture him kicking ass like a superhero needs to these days, all due respect.
Then you’ve got your indie guys, which is the group I find most intriguing. For example, Christopher Abbott is a young actor on the verge of stardom, and I’d give him a much better chance of playing Batman if he hadn’t just worked with George Clooney on Hulu’s Catch-22. Batman and Robin was, famously, one of the worst experiences of Clooney’s career, and I imagine that if Abbott was up for the role, he’d reach out to Clooney, who would either warn or encourage him. Having met Abbott a few times, I think he’s a very thoughtful, soulful actor, and while I have a hard time imagining anyone turning down the chance to play Batman, he’s one of the few I could see passing. Think about it. He was on a hit HBO show in Girls and he walked away at the peak of its success because he was honest with himself that it just wasn’t for him — and that was when he was just starting out, wasn’t a ‘name,’ and probably could’ve used the money. I think it would really depend on the script for him. Two guys who haven’t received as much attention when it comes to speculative casting stories are 29-year-old Emory Cohen (The OA) and 26-year-old Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), two of the most exciting young performers in Hollywood. These guys have a little edge to them and I think they’d both be cool, if outside-the-box picks. Keoghan’s American Animals co-star Evan Peters (32) has also seen his star rise of late, while Set It Up stud Glen Powell (30) is the kind of guy who men want to hang out with and women want to date. When he lost the co-lead in the Top Gun sequel, his fans rallied online to the point where Paramount cast him in another role that was beefed up to accommodate him.
Meanwhile, could you picture a Jewish Batman, like 27-year-old Logan Lerman? What about a red-haired Batman, like 25-year-old Cameron Monaghan? Would you be down for Scottish Batman? After all, Richard Madden (32) seems bound for big things in the wake of Bodyguard. And speaking of international talent, what about Madden’s Rocketman co-stars Taron Egerton (29) or Jamie Bell (33), who are also of the appropriate age. I mean, Christian Bale is Welsh and he arguably made the best Batman.
Then there are Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan, the 32-year-old stars of Fantastic Four. Teller has some heat on him right now between Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Cannes-bound Amazon series Too Old to Die Young and a starring role opposite Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick, but he should take a page out of Jordan’s playbook and play a super-villain soon. We’ve never really seen Teller play a villain before, but I think he’d make a great baddie in one comic book universe or another. Jordan, on the other hand, would obviously be a great pick for the first black Batman, but he has already done two comic book movies (including last year’s Black Panther) and he doesn’t really need the role, as his career as a movie star is thriving right now. Believe me, Jordan’s first Oscar nomination is coming, but I think he should continue to pursue prestige projects like Just Mercy and potential franchise starter Without Remorse, which he’s also producing, rather than chase the title role in The Batman. If Reeves did want to shake things up and cast an actor of color, Daniel Kaluuya, the Oscar-nominated star of Get Out, would be a great choice at just 30 years young. And I still say that Shia LaBeouf (32) deserves another shot at a big studio blockbuster. If Robert Downey Jr. got to play Iron Man after his battle with addiction, why the hell not? LaBeouf has the raw talent to soar in Hollywood, he’s just been exiled to Indiewood.
This piece is starting to run long, so let me wrap things up by sharing my personal pick for the new Batman. It’s such an obvious choice, and yet, I rarely hear this actor’s name linked to major projects. I used to, but I don’t anymore, and I have no idea why, because I think he has really turned a corner in his career and is positively ripe for a major studio movie. Ladies and gentlemen, hot off the best reviews of his career, I think that Zac Efron (31) makes the most sense to play Bruce Wayne. Allow me to explain. While some here at the Collider office would argue, I fully believe that Efron has rid himself of his squeaky-clean High School Musical image and that audiences are ready to see him get his hands a little dirty. He has done a good job mixing up co-lead roles in commercial fare like Neighbors and The Greatest Showman with smaller roles in scrappy-if-starry indies like The Disaster Artist and The Beach Bum. He’s been earning raves for his turn as charismatic serial killer Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, which will debut on Netflix later this month. Bundy was a man with two faces — the affable law student he presented to the public, and the raging psychopath he was in private. You know who also has a violent alter ego he keeps secret? Bruce Wayne!
The truth is that we’ve all been waiting for Efron to blossom into a full-blown leading man ever since his Disney Channel days. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. His stock has never been higher, and it’s time for him to push all his chips into the middle of the poker table that is Hollywood and make a strong play for Batman, because I think he could pull it off. I also think Warner Bros. could use a bit of a name here. Taylor-Johnson, for instance, is a great actor, but I’m not sure he’d put butts in seats like Efron could. Today’s teenagers have grown up watching him. He has a classic movie star look and the gravitas to back it up. If Efron is as good as most critics say he is as Bundy, a plum part in a major movie won’t be far behind. If Warner Bros. and DC Films don’t make a play for him now — and keep in mind, there are rumblings that The Flash could be recast — then I guarantee that Disney will snag its homegrown star for a Marvel or Star Wars movie. Who knows, maybe they even make him the next Indiana Jones? I’m just saying, Zac Efron is a bonafide star, and if WB doesn’t try to find a place for him in the DC universe, he’s going to take his talents to some other studio, which will surely reap the spoils of that decision. Warners is already testing the Efron waters with his casting as the voice of Fred in Scoob, so he has an active relationship with the studio. Sure, their DJ movie We Are Your Friends flopped a few years ago, but that was hardly Efron’s fault, and it was before he rebounded with The Greatest Showman and, to a lesser extent, Baywatch, which grossed nearly $200 million worldwide.
In summation, it’s still early days when it comes to Batman casting. We won’t have a clear idea of the kind of actor Reeves is looking for until he finishes the script. As outlined above, there is no shortage of contenders, and we haven’t even mentioned the possibility, however remote, of Reeves casting a complete unknown in the role. His has never gone for the “obvious” casting choice and I suspect he may surprise us with his vision for The Batman. Only time will tell, so stay tuned to Collider for more updates and informed speculation.