Director Matt Reeves Tells Us Why He Initially Said No To ‘The Batman’

It’s been, somehow, five years since Matt Reeves’s last film, War for the Planet of the Apes. Reeves directed the last two movies in that series and transformed what people assumed would be another unnecessary reboot into a cerebral, heralded film series that both had something to say and weren’t the definition of a “feel good” blockbuster. (And these were blockbusters. War made half a billion on its own.) It’s tough to make a mass-marketed movie, using prime IP, that people recognize as “a good movie,” and also doesn’t just give people what they might want. (Sometimes, as a viewer, getting what we want as a viewer is okay. But Reeves just isn’t that kind of director.)

Reeves’s The Batman both somehow feels old and new at the same time. The whole concept of a superhero just trying to solve a mystery within the confines of his own story feels so old now that it does play as a new and refreshing concept. The Bruce Wayne we meet here (played by Robert Pattinson, who is great) is a younger Batman than we are used to. (Technically, yes, Christian Bale was younger when he played Batman, but this Bruce is portrayed as younger.) We don’t see Pattinson’s Bruce train to become Batman, he’s just Batman when the movie starts and Batman is without a doubt the main character. (In two of the three Nolan Batman movies, Batman is not in large chunks of those. That is not the case in The Batman.) The Riddler (Paul Dano, dressed like the Zodiac) is killing city officials, leaving clues along the way for Batman to solve. The Riddler is nuts, but he also may be trying to expose something bigger. Watching The Batman is more like watching Se7en or LA Confidential than it is like watching, say, an Avengers movie.

And according to Reeves, that’s by design. This is the movie he wanted. Reeves is in no way saying there won’t be flaws, but there was no edict in his film to do anything he didn’t want to do – this is the film Reeves wanted. Which is a murder, mystery movie where Batman just happens to be the main character. (At least to a point. Even Reeves concedes if you’re making a Batman movie, there has to be a Batmobile chase scene. And The Batman provides a pretty nifty one of those.)

Ahead, Reeves explains what he did and did not want to do with a movie about Batman. To the point where the first script he read, he liked it, but was also ready to say no. It was a movie intertwined with the rest of the DC Universe and that’s just not up Reeves’s alley. But, as he explains, instead he was then asked what he’d want to do. And one of the main components was to make Batman himself have an arc.

The first time I spoke to you was Let Me In. I remember the whole thing surrounding that movie was like, “How dare he remake this movie?” And now you’re the king of Hollywood…

Okay, cool. All right. I was going to say, is this another one of those, “how dare he”? You know what I mean? It feels, why is this guy always doing these things to offend us?

Speaking of offending, right before we started I noticed I was wearing a Spider-Man sweatshirt I had just randomly grabbed, so I had to change. I didn’t want you thinking it was some message.

I’m not offended.

And then underneath that, I was wearing a Flash t-shirt. So I had to get a whole new wardrobe.

[Laughs] What’s going on here? I see. You’re trying to provoke me.

I’m trying to provoke you.

I’m unprovoked!

Let’s get into it.

It’s so interesting. I will say, the people’s connection to these characters is so profound. One of the things that I noticed when I was writing The Batman, look, I’ve loved the character since I was a kid. Adam West was my first Batman. But, when I started writing, it was one of these things where suddenly you walk down the street and you notice people wearing those t-shirts. wow. So many people. You see a baby in a Batman onesie, and you start realizing, oh, my God, this is so connected to people’s lives. That’s when you realize that you’re a custodian for a character. For a period of time, I get to carry this character, but the character belongs to everyone else.

I can’t pull off a Batman’s shirt because then people think you’re a tough guy, and I’m not a tough guy.

I see. Oh, okay. I don’t know this baby that had the onesie, he didn’t look that tough. He looked cool.

But see, he’s going to grow up to be a tough guy

That’s true. Could be.

I’m going to say something, and I want to see if you agree with it or not because I was thinking it during certain points in the movie: this feels like a ground-level mystery, a noir movie that Batman just happens to be the main character.

For sure. The only way that I would put it slightly differently is that I wanted to do that kind of movie while, at the same time, doing all of the things that people associate with a Batman movie, too. You have to start at a baseline and say, Okay, you can’t do a Batman movie and not give people a Batmobile chase. Or him fighting in a way that’s distinctive or him. I knew that I was going to do those things, but what I wanted to also do was to give the audience a movie they didn’t expect. And that’s the kind of movie you’re talking about. So I wanted to find the intersection between those two things so that you could find a way to do this in a fresh way.

Look, I love Marvel movies. I loved the new Spider-Man. But what really hit me during this movie was I wasn’t sitting there wondering what mystery character might show up. I was riveted by the story. It’s a mystery and he’s got to figure it out. I kept thinking about movies like Se7en and LA Confidential while watching it.

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. That was the tone of it was to try and figure out a way … what I wanted to do is when they did show up, you go, “Oh, that’s who that is.” But it wasn’t critical to the story. It was a delicious reveal to say, “Oh, that’s this version of, let’s say the Penguin,” or, “Oh, that’s Selina Kyle…”

Yeah, true, but these are all Batman-centric characters.

Oh, I see what you’re saying.

Like, there’s no way in a movie like this Green Lantern is going to pop up. Something like that.

That was one of those things from the beginning that I said, if I was going to do it, that it was going to … to me, the history of Batman is so daunting. It’s been around for 80 years and there are great movies. The last thing that I felt I could do was to do a movie that was a standalone Batman movie, the first one in 10 years, that they also had to connect elsewhere. I thought it’s going to be enough just to do Batman in his world. So that was something that I said from the beginning was important to me: that I not have to do anything deliberately to connect it to other things.

When I spoke to you for War For the Planet of the Apes, you said something really interesting — that you’re always looking for a reason to say no to doing a movie. And you said on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that there were times where you had assurances, but then were asked, “What if we did this?” And when you reminded them of the assurances, they backed down. Now, did anything like that happen on The Batman?

Well, I will say that it began in exactly the same way. Which is that, when I first was involved, I was finishing War, actually. I was finishing a movie, and I was deep in post. I was getting these calls from Warner Bros., and they kept telling me it’s a general meeting. And I kept turning it down, because I was saying, “I’m trying to finish this Apes movie.” It’s so crazy to try. You know? Then finally my agent called one day and he said, “That’s not a general meeting. It’s about Batman.” I said, “Okay. I’ll find a time to meet with them.”

So we met. And we met based on, at that point, obviously, Ben Affleck was still doing the movie, and there was an iteration of it. There was a script that was the script, that, at that point, they wanted to do. It was something that made total sense. I could see why they wanted to do it, but obviously it did connect to the broader world, to the broader DCEU. It was very action-oriented. It was totally valid. It was like a James Bond kind of thing. I was like, Oh, I totally see why you’d do this. I thought the meeting would be very short because I thought I would meet with them and say like, “I’m so flattered, and I love this character, and I can totally see why you would do this, but this isn’t the way that I would do it. I have to find some way in that feels personal to me or I wouldn’t know how to make it for you. So I would be the wrong choice.” I came in thinking that I’d be telling them, “I’m so flattered. This movie seems really cool, but I’m just not the right guy for it.”

They were like, “Well, no, no, no. We like you. We want to know what you would do.” Again, it was like Dawn. I told them vaguely what I would do, which was I wanted to do a story that would be just in the Batman world and would take his character and make him have an arc. I didn’t want to do one of these stories where the Rogues Gallery characters come in and it’s really their story and Batman is a cipher because he’s already mastered himself. I wanted him to have an awakening. I wanted something that would rock him to his core.

I didn’t know what it was. I wanted it to be emotional for him. I said, “And here’s the thing. If you want that, which would be amazing, you also have to wait six months before I can even tell you what it’d be, because I have to finish this Apes movie.” To my utter shock, they said yes. I have to say, my experience with Warner Bros. was pretty incredible in that they wanted me to do that. They did wait for me, and then they let me make this movie. This is the movie I wanted to make. Whatever people think of the movie, flaws and all, whatever it is, it’s not because there were edicts thrown down or I would have to do something. “Well, you have to do this to connect to that.” You don’t have to do that.

Speaking of that arc, he’s already Batman. We’re dropped in. He’s a young Batman. The relationships are new, but established, which is also great. As soon as the movie starts, we’re all off.

Yeah. We are. I knew I didn’t want to do an origin tale because they’d been done so well…

You didn’t want to kill Thomas and Martha Wayne again?

So I thought, the audience, I think, had seen that so many times. And I thought, well, how do you do something fresh? Once Ben decided he didn’t want to do it I thought, well, I could make him younger and still have him be Batman. Not make it Year One, he becomes Batman. Make him be Batman, but have him have a ways to go – have him have an arc so that he’s not quite figured it out and have him have an awakening. Have him not understand everything about what he’s doing. Then it would be an origin tale, or you’d see the origins of these other characters. In the comics, the Rogues Gallery is created in relation to the fact that there’s a vigilante who shows up and becomes known as the Batman in Gotham. And then these other characters create themselves in a way in response to him. So I thought, Oh, well, we could meet a Selina Kyle, who’s not yet Catwoman. We could meet a Penguin who’s now just a mid-level criminal who’s underestimated and is not yet the kingpin that we know he is going to become. All of that seemed really exciting. We could have a Riddler who is this very grounded version, this serial killer version that felt something like Zodiac or something.

He does feel like Zodiac, yes.

He’s taking on the moniker of Riddler in this film, and you’d see it. In certain ways, it wouldn’t be the beginning. In other ways, it would be a beginning.

‘The Batman’ hit theaters on March 4th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.