When Ben Affleck formally retired his Batsuit in January ahead of Matt Reeves’s stand-alone Batman movie, there was suddenly a void to fill for one of the biggest roles in Hollywood. The prerequisites for the new Caped Crusader were pretty vague: It seemed Reeves’s only real condition was that he’d be played by a young actor. (That became the impetus for an exercise we attempted in February, when Armie Hammer was inaccurately reported to have been cast for the film, which resulted in a hypothetical casting of Stephan James.)
But it now appears Reeves finally has his man, as Variety reported on Thursday night that Robert Pattinson was in final talks for the role. It’s worth noting that this isn’t completely a done deal: While Variety was confident that the casting would be locked in soon, a corresponding report from Deadline was less firm, indicating that Nicholas Hoult was still being considered, and that the 33-year-old Pattinson was merely “holding the edge.” That uncertainty might just be semantics—it’s more likely than not that Pattinson will be exchanging sparkly vampire skin–weird spacesuit–bleach blond hair for the Batsuit.
And now that we’ve got the mandatory Twilight dig out of the way, let’s consider the merits—of which there are many—and the drawbacks of this casting.
Pro: Commercial Appeal
While Stephan James was a fun hypothetical in a thought exercise, it’d behoove the new Batman movie to have a recognizable star with a track record of getting people to the box office. That doesn’t always need to be the case—Tom Holland was essentially unknown before his first Spider-Man movie—but after the early stumbles the DC Extended Universe endured, casting an A-list star mitigates some of the risk when starting from scratch with one of its biggest superheroes.
And whether it’s Cedric Diggory or Edward Cullen, Pattinson has held his own in two hugely successful franchises. The Twilight franchise has gotten a lot of flak—and look, I’m not here to defend the movies; I hated every second of their vampire baseball as much as you did—but it grossed more than $3 billion across five films. Moreover, the movies launched a fandom around Pattinson that still exists today (@RobPattzNews has nearly 250,000 followers on Twitter). If your opinion of those films has soured you on Pattinson—first of all, let it go, it was almost a decade ago; but also, it’s important to remember that before Ben Affleck was really sad and got a questionable (iconic?) back tattoo, fans were aggrieved when he was cast as Batman. Then he turned out to be one of the only bright spots of the Zack Snyder–led era of the DCEU.
Pro: Seriously, Have You Watched Any of Pattinson’s Movies Lately?
A cursory Twitter scan will find many tweets like this, poking fun at the DCEU for casting Pattinson. The implication of such tweets seems to be that they just cast the mopey, sparkly vampire from those bad, albeit popular, Twilight movies. But the Pattinson-Twilight digs are a cinematic self-own: If you still think of Pattinson as Edward Cullen, you haven’t been watching a lot of movies lately.
Pattinson’s post-Twilight career has been genuinely fascinating, and often brilliant. He’s starred in two David Cronenberg movies (Cosmopolis, Maps to the Stars), had a memorable supporting role in The Lost City of Z (a modern masterpiece you can stream anytime through Amazon Prime), never stopped running in Good Time (also exceptional), and just got really weird in space for Claire Denis’s High Life (there’s something called a fuckbox in it, and it’s exactly what it sounds like). Later this year, he’s starring opposite Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse, the follow-up film from The Witch director Robert Eggers.
Pattinson has gone from “movie star in the bad vampire flicks” to “dream casting for all your favorite A24 projects.” He’s carved out a fascinating career in auteur-driven indies, along with former costar Kristen Stewart, who was trending on Twitter on Thursday night by association. (Seriously, expand your horizons and also watch Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper—you won’t regret it.) So yeah, those Pattinson insults? You’re just insulting yourself.
Pro: Weird Batman
As Pattinson’s past five years have demonstrated—not to mention his biggest role, as a sparkly vampire who was really good at baseball, stalked a high school girl, and fantasized about killing her all the time—he leans a little weird. And his casting suggests we’re finally going to get Weird Batman, and not in the “George Clooney’s bat-nipples” kind of way.
The DCEU has been leaning toward the offbeat, as evinced by Dude-Bro Aquaman and the beguiling Joaquin Phoenix–led Joker movie. Considering how much of our blockbuster experience is defined by superhero movies, this is a very, very good thing.
Con: Pattinson Going Mainstream Again
Like Stewart, who will be starring in the Charlie’s Angels reboot later this year, Pattinson’s casting as Batman signals the actor’s return to franchise filmmaking. (In addition to the new Batman movie, Pattinson has also been cast in Christopher Nolan’s secretive new project.) But committing to the DCEU—and don’t be mistaken, if he’s officially cast it’ll probably be for more than one movie—means we’ll get fewer ambitious swings like Good Time or High Life in the near future.
Pattinson’s post-Twilight career turn was sometimes bizarre but always compelling. As Adam Nayman wrote for The Ringer in April, Pattinson transformed himself into a coveted character actor who consistently sought challenging roles under notable auteurs both young (the Safdie brothers) and old (Denis, Cronenberg). It would be a bummer to hit pause on all that progress to beat people up and say, “I’m Batman” in a brooding tone.
On the bright side, Pattinson probably picked the right blockbusters. Reeves joins the DCEU after directing Cloverfield, Let Me In, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and War for the Planet of the Apes: movies with a broad appeal that have a lot of complex ideas under the hood. War for the Planet of the Apes, especially, was surprisingly poignant and rife with biblical allegory, which is not what you expect to say for a movie that features a chimpanzee riding a horse while carrying an assault rifle. Nolan, meanwhile, is one of the only directors who can make blockbusters with an original conceit that can still send people to theaters in hordes. If Pattinson is going mainstream, at least he’s continuing his commitment to work with interesting directors. (One other silver lining here: Those Batman checks will make it easier for Pattinson to accept more low-paying roles in movies featuring space semen.)
There was never going to be a unanimously beloved casting choice for Batman—some corner of the internet would’ve found supposedly fatal flaws for the next Caped Crusader no matter what. But while Pattinson’s casting doesn’t guarantee a good Batman movie, the fact that the crux of the anti-Pattinson contingent hinges on Twilight insults is reductive. If that’s the best you’ve got, well, watch some A24 films and get back to me. Edward Cullen is dead. Long live Batman.