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Judging by the new The Batman trailer, Robert Pattinson’s Dark Knight isn’t human. Or, at least, he doesn’t seem to believe that he is. Instead of taking the by-now-traditional opportunity to tell a panicking bystander (and the audience, of course) “I’m Batman,” Pattinson’s new cinematic hero instead declares himself to be something else entirely: “I am vengeance.”
The idea that Batman is, well, something other than a regular man is invoked throughout the new trailer for writer-director Matt Reeves’ film: We see Pattinson’s Batman get shot repeatedly, seemingly without suffering any negative effects. We see him survive an explosion, seemingly by simply driving through it entirely unscathed; the final shot of the trailer, unveiled Saturday at DC FanDome, is Batman walking slowly toward his victim, the camera inverted — his prey is trapped in a car that’s flipped over — and, more than any other superhero movie to date, it looks like something from a horror movie, as if Batman is the latest incarnation of Jason Voorhees or Freddie Krueger, another unstoppable elemental force on the prowl.
The temptation is there to suggest that, for this trailer at least, the audience is seeing Batman in the way that criminals in Gotham City do — the “superstitious, cowardly lot” that Batman’s costume was designed to strike terror into the hearts of, the ones who would see the Batsignal as “a warning,” as the opening narration points out. (“Fear is a tool,” after all.) It’s impossible to watch the trailer and not come away with the understanding that this particular Batman is meant to be scary above all else; it’s the core message being communicated throughout the whole thing, right down to the scream as he barrels along in the understated, nitro-powered Batmobile. The truth, however, might be somewhat more complicated.
There’s more going on that just showing the audience the Batman that criminals know; the trailer shows both faithful butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) and Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) attempting to speak to Bruce Wayne, instead of Batman — or, in Selina’s case, the man under the mask, although she doesn’t know his identity. In both cases, Pattinson’s Batman is unmoved, even seemingly responding to Alfred, “I don’t care what happens to me” in an appropriately surly manner.
It should be noted that line is one of the few times that we actually hear Pattinson in the trailer; in addition to being scary, this Batman is also unusually taciturn, even compared with earlier cinematic incarnations like Christian Bale and the grunt-centric Ben Affleck. We also only glimpse Pattinson out of the mask a handful of times, and in each glimpse, he seems uncomfortable and awkward compared with how he looks in the costume. There’s an unspoken implication that Bruce Wayne is an inconvenience, or a means to an end at best, with the Batman — the mission of vengeance — being who he really is, and what he really wants to be, even when faced with Selina Kyle’s flirting.
It’s a familiar framing of the character for comic book fans, who have seen a Batman lost in his crusade on multiple occasions before, and one that makes sense with what is already known about the movie: that it takes place relatively early in his career — before he’s nailed down that work/life balance thing. It also suggests a potential character arc for the Pattinson era of the franchise, although perhaps not, given that movie audiences have already seen the “Bruce Wayne learns to be a person instead of a revenge fantasy” progression in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight movies.
For all that The Batman looks to be grounded and far from the excesses of both the Zack Snyder and Nolan versions of the franchise — the criminals, even the big names like the Riddler and Catwoman, feel something approaching realistic and down to earth — it almost feels as if the central figure has gone in the other direction. Judging by this trailer, the Batman is this existentially threatening figure that exists to stalk evil without mercy, having already sacrificed everything for the mission.
Watching a Batman equally obsessed by everything from gangs of thugs to serial killers who offer clues in the form of riddles-that-aren’t-actually-riddles might not be everyone’s idea of fun, and it might not even be the way that the finished movie approaches things. One thing is for sure, though: It certainly makes for a fun trailer.
The Batman arrives in theaters on March 4, 2022.
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