The Batman director Matt Reeves is addressing one of the more distinct aspects of his vision: why Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne largely eschews his billionaire playboy persona in the public eye, given that in past versions of the character, the hero has relied on entitled antics to throw people off the scent that he is Batman.
Even in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, itself a largely-realistic and grounded take of the superhero, Christian Bale’s version of the Dark Knight wholly embraces the façade of an over-the-top heir to unfathomable wealth. The 2005 film includes scenes wherein Bruce buys an entire hotel just to swim in the fountain of its lobby with some beautiful bachelorettes, and pretends at a fancy dinner to drunkenly banish his house guests in an unhinged tirade, the latter scenario being to cover for the fact that the League of Shadows has infiltrated Wayne Manor.
You’ll get none of that grandstanding from Pattinson’s version of the character. But as Reeves recently explained in Dolby’s Sound + Vision Lab podcast, there’s actually a good explanation for Bruce largely leaving the tuxedo at the door.
In the conversation, the Cloverfield director addressed the challenges of juggling the many identities of Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne / Batman in a practical and grounded way, noting that a guy dressing up in a cowl and cape, with a modded luxury car, is going to attract a lot of attention.
“But you also can’t be Bruce Wayne because he is a legendary figure,” Reeves said.
To help crack this dilemma, Reeves introduced a secondary secret identity — the drifter — in which Bruce shambles around in plain clothes to blend in with the crowd. This was ripped straight from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel, Batman: Year One.
However, Pattinson’s Bruce eventually does resort to making a rare public appearance as himself, the billionaire heir of the Wayne family.
“Somewhere in the story, I realized, ‘oh wait, there’s a moment here where he’s going to realize, wait, it’s actually an advantage to be Bruce Wayne,’” Reeves said.
In the scene in question, the Caped Crusader attends the funeral of the mayor, and he decides to go as Bruce Wayne in order to see if Paul Dano’s Riddler might show up to revel in the murder he committed.
“And there his disguise is Bruce Wayne. But he actually doesn’t know how to be Bruce Wayne. So as everyone is approaching him, and says Bruce Wayne, he’s just like, ‘I don’t want any of this,’” Reeves said.
In the film, Bruce is treated as Gotham’s most famous orphan. Though there are no flashbacks to his parents’ deaths, they’re frequently mentioned on news broadcasts within the film, and characterized as a major turning point for the city. Hence, the paparazzi attention is portrayed as something of a nuisance to the character, who can’t seem to escape fame.
“So it’s a weird thing where it’s an advantage, he’s kind of undercover as Bruce. But also he has to deal with the stuff that is the baggage that is the thing about being so famous who’s been that famous since childhood and doesn’t want to have anything to do with it,” Reeves said.
As Reeves has mentioned in the past, The Batman is an origin story, but not for the main hero; it serves rather for the rogue’s gallery of Gotham’s villains — e.g., in the course of the movie, the Riddler declares himself the Riddler, Colin Farrell’s Penguin is still a subordinate gangster, and Zoë Kravitz is still finding her footing as Catwoman.
Given this approach to exploring ancillary origins within the Batman mythos, it seems totally plausible that a followup film might serve as a starting point for Bruce to finally embrace the billionaire persona façade. After all, with some of the dark secrets that are uncovered about the Wayne family in the film, he will likely have to campaign, as Bruce, to repair his public image for the sake of Wayne Enterprises.
However, if the playboy persona never gets integrated into future films, we wouldn’t mind. Pattinson’s specific combination of character ingredients that make up his Dark Knight is compelling in its own right.
The Batman is in theaters now.