About a month ago, the news broke that former YA heartthrob turned chameleon dramatic actor, Robert Pattinson, won the legendary part of Bruce Wayne/Batman. It had been rumored that director Matt Reeves eyed a new portrayal much younger than Ben Affleck, who had previously held the role in both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League to varying degrees of acclaim. The role had only been vacant for three years after Christian Bale had finished his run in The Dark Knight trilogy, yet the rapidity of recasting never felt out of the ordinary during the Affleck announcement.
It feels as though history is repeating itself with Pattinson earning his shot to pick up a role with such brand recognition and uncontrollable expectations. Like James Bond or the Joker, the baggage that comes with delivering a new interpretation is scarce. Boxes need to be checked, specific moments need to be done correctly, and if not, outrage ensues from those most passionate. We are yet to see a single still of Pattinson on any kind of set for the film and the rejection has already been fierce by some, but he has also been welcomed with open arms by others. The reasons are there but the validity is not, those who see the Pattinson casting as a mistake may not have a firm enough understanding of the filmography Pattinson has gathered for himself.
This kind of divisive casting in the Batman universe has happened before, considering the chance taken with Heath Ledgers’ Joker. For such a dark horse pick like Ledger despite his critical acclaim up to that point seems like the same narrative facing Pattinson ten years later. This bruting and handsome man who has been undeservedly declared just a pretty face with minimal range is an unfortunate but familiar reaction following this announcement. Rushing to judgment is fairly easy with certain actors when the film they appear in may not be as glamorous as how they perform in it. The Twilight franchise has been looked down upon since it came out, that it was just another YA novel adaptation starring young and attractive people, targeted for women and stretching for five years that resulted in melodrama starring vampires.
Throughout the Twilight obsession during the franchise run, it turns out Pattinson (and also lead heroine Kristen Stewart) was a diamond in the rough whose ability never was properly showcased in his breakout films. Having this reputation of “that sparkly pale guy from Twilight“, it seemed like a near-impossible task to reinvent himself, no less in a time where Hollywood occasionally has an identity crisis with who they do and don’t want to advertise as the next prominent name. Yet his Twilight success came as an unexpected double-edged sword, and now he has become so famous that he can work with whoever he wishes – teaming with some filmmakers over the last seven years that have brought the most interesting work out of him, including the likes of David Cronenberg and Claire Denis.
2012 was a big year for Robert Pattinson. With the franchise that got him put on the map now ending with Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, he begins to choose the films based on specific directors who can get him the furthest away from Edward Cullen as possible. His turn as Eric Packer in David Cronenberg’s capitalist satire/drama Cosmopolis was surprising but welcomed simultaneously. Packer is a character that is just as cold and sterile as the rest of the film. Pattinson is dialing things way down when discussing the state of the economic collapse in the back of his limousine with the many close associates, though this is the kind of performance he needed to deliver in order to showcase the first major accent change in particular.
As we come to find out over the next several years, Pattinson is gifted with shedding his native British accent into pretty much anything else the film asks of him. Like in Cosmopolis with a Manhattan accent, Good Time shows him going even more New York with a Queens accent, a southern twang for The Rover or even older an American western accent in Damsel. Leaving not only each film, but also each character unrecognizable from the last is something not many actors of his ability or age can hone in on. The characters have progressed to such a range that it’s never easy to guess what he is going to do next.
The choices he has made post Twilight have been marvelous to see, opting for what he wants as opposed to what he needs has been all the more beneficiary, yet the movies themselves may not be as successful when compared to when he had his name associated with a franchise. Occasionally, there is an assumption that if a film is not financially viable then it doesn’t translate into success. Robert Pattinson sees success as something that doesn’t have to reach larger audiences, that smaller films can mean just as much during a time in cinema where box office numbers mean everything and records are trying to be broken. It’s why for many, he had vanished when Twilight had concluded, no longer needing to prove himself as a household name like Daniel Radcliffe had done with Harry Potter (which Pattinson had also made a brief appearance in). In fact, it is filmmakers like Josh and Benny Safdie, Werner Herzog, David Cronenberg, Claire Denis, or James Gray that act almost like box office repellent, never conforming to what is most expected in the landscape of commercial filmmaking.
In the era of perfect actor and character attachments are coming to an end, like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, (spoilers for Avengers: Endgame) recasting has become even harder to match those that come before. With the case of Batman, there hasn’t been one person connected to that same identity – but five – that have offered their own takes. Almost in a way of James Bond, a particular recasting that has been welcomed instead of unwelcomed for over fifty years, the character doesn’t stop because of the disconnect it has with its makers.
I don’t know what The Batman (Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson’s upcoming reboot of the beloved, bruting vigilante set to be released in 2021) exactly looks like. How faithful to a certain comic they will be, if the film is connected to the DCEU or if the Reeves/Pattinson take is alienating on initial release. Reeves is no stranger to picking up the baton left for him by another Goliath franchise with his two installments in the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy giving a gritty and sympathetic updated in a world that so desperately needed it. Batman is in a weird time right now, for his past two appearances when he was performed Batfleck, he shared a movie with other characters that were in service to propelling a doomed cinematic universe. Not since 2013 with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises has he seen his own movie proper, and even then Rises had many other things on its mind, thus sidelining its own title character.
What makes this Pattinson decision really exciting is what we expect but also what we don’t expect. There is a list of boxes to check when it comes to Batman and Bruce Wayne that everyone is going to be looking out for, such as his portrayal the grizzled, haunted vigilante at night but the dashing, misanthropic playboy during the day.
How Pattinson decides to ultimately play with the defining characteristics is gonna be something special, given not only his age but the reputation he has worked so hard to run away from.
The Batman hits theaters in 2021