The world does not need another Batman movie. In the last decade alone, the Batman character has appeared in no less than five movies, and his origin story is approaching Spider-Man levels of “OMG we know already.” And yet, the recently released trailer for the upcoming reboot The Batman has me genuinely excited to see another story of this Caped Crusader, and it’s all to do with the genuinely refreshing approach that co-writer and director Matt Reeves appears to be taking with the material.
To explain why The Batman looks so refreshing, it’s important to remember where we’ve been. Following the delightfully campy Adam West TV series, Tim Burton took a Gothic approach to the character in the early 90s, blending theatricality with a genuine edge and darkness (especially in Batman Returns). Then Joel Schumacher elevated Batman to cartoonish levels with Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, before Christopher Nolan radically changed the superhero genre as a whole by offering an extremely grounded take on the character and his world with The Dark Knight Trilogy – in which every aspect of Batman lore could be explained away with a real-world reasoning or light sci-fi tech. And then Zack Snyder introduced an older, more grizzled, more world-weary take on Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, although Ben Affleck never got his own film to fully realize that iteration of the character.
And so right from the get-go, The Batman trailer feels different. Yes the Nirvana song provides a heavy lift (it’s just. so. good.) but the grittiness of Reeves’ Gotham City feels more akin to the unnamed city at the center of David Fincher’s Se7en than any other version of Gotham we’ve seen before. The story feels grounded, yes (Catwoman’s cat ears are once again organic, resulting from a ski mask rather than a theatrical choice made by the character), but ever-so-slightly elevated – in that way it’s different from Nolan’s Chicago-inspired Gotham and Zack Snyder’s more graphic novel-type depiction. And that extends to all the characters – Paul Dano’s The Riddler is more serial killer than costumed villain; Colin Farrell’s unrecognizable Penguin is just a regular guy instead of a disfigured monster; Zoe Kravtiz’s Catwoman is a thief. Again, the film looks heightened in the way that an auteur-driven thriller may be heightened. A far cry from the cartoonish leaps in logic required for a Marvel movie.
But the craft on display in The Batman trailer also promises something different. Cinematographer Greig Fraser has experience creating tangible worlds in films like Rogue One and the upcoming Dune, and the moody atmosphere and dimly lit world on display in The Batman feels tactile and lived-in yet hauntingly beautiful in a way.
In particular, I was struck by the scene in which Robert Pattinson’s Batman beats the ever-living heck out of a goon. It’s an impactful sequence, partially because it plays out entirely in one shot. Reeves doesn’t rely on quick cuts or speed ramps to up the impact of the violence or hide Pattinson’s stunt double. We watch on in one single shot as Pattinson punches and punches and punches until this guy can no longer stand. There’s a patience behind most of Reeves’ work, a confidence in stillness that’s in short supply in big blockbuster films. The reason this violence is so impactful is because Reeves lays it all out in a single shot; rather than cutting from face to fist to body to ground to telegraph its impact, we bear witness in real-time. Again, this feels incredibly different, which makes it all the more exciting.
Speaking of Pattinson, we don’t see much of him but the choice to finally show that Bruce Wayne does in fact wear eyeliner under his mask is an inspired little touch. Indeed, Reeves revealed during the DC FanDome panel before The Batman trailer was unveiled that this story takes place in “Year Two” of Bruce Wayne’s tenure at Batman, which is a refreshing change of pace. There will be no retelling of Batman’s origin story, but he’s also still in the nascent stages of working alongside the Gotham P.D. To that end, Reeves said The Batman plays out in one long mystery that Batman is trying to solve, and that the various Rogues Gallery of villains that appear in the film do so as organic pieces of this central storyline.
This is another incredibly exciting aspect of The Batman that we haven’t seen before. Previous Batman movies find the Caped Crusader squaring off against a primary villain for sure, but few have actually relished in showcasing the “World’s Greatest Detective” aspect of Batman. This movie appears to lean hard on it, as Pattinson’s Batman is solving a series of crimes committed by The Riddler (at least it appears that way). I hate to keep bringing it back around to Fincher, but the idea of “Se7en but with Batman” is just so freaking exciting, you know?
Look, we don’t know until we know, and a trailer is not a movie. The Batman still doesn’t hit theaters until October 2021, so it’d be foolish at this point to deem it a masterful new interpretation of a character we’ve seen countless times before. But that trailer hit all the right notes, and what Reeves had to say about his approach to this story felt refreshing and thrilling. That’s not nothing.
And so yes, despite the fact that we just rebooted Batman four years ago, here I am back on my bullshit, excited about a new Batman movie. Hope springs eternal.
For more on The Batman, check out what Reeves had to say about creating the new Batsuit.
Adam Chitwood is the Managing Editor for Collider. You can follow him on Twitter @adamchitwood.