If there’s one thing that Batman fans can’t complain about, it’s the number of opportunities the character has had to shine on the big screen. Since Michael Keaton portrayed the Caped Crusader in 1989’s Batman, Bruce Wayne has shown up in 12 live-action films—13 if you want to count his brief appearance as a child in Joker—with five different actors putting on the Batsuit. Some of these Batmen have regaled us with a voice that sounds like Bruce sandpapered his larynx; others have embraced pointy nipples and credit cards bearing their Bat-signature. For better or worse, no two live-action Batmans are the same—a challenge that The Batman director Matt Reeves and its star, Robert Pattinson, have met with headline-grabbing zeal.
In the lead-up to The Batman’s theatrical release next month, Reeves and Pattinson have talked at length about all the influences behind their nearly three-hour film. And if you take all these quotes about the movie’s thematic inspirations at face value, then The Batman is shaping up to be the cinephile’s equivalent of Space Jam: A New Legacy, with pop culture references flooding every inch of the screen like a bunch of bats emerging from a damp cave.
Granted, it’s possible that Reeves and his Bat-muse are embellishing some of the details—first and foremost, they’re trying to promote a blockbuster. (That they’ve already gotten this much attention proves that it’s working.) But since they’ve invited all these comparisons to fuel the hype, let’s go through everything The Batman has been compared to before offering up a verdict on whether each supposed influence seems like a good fit for the character and movie. It’s time to light up the Blog Signal and dive in.
As Robert Pattinson revealed in a GQ profile this month, The Batman’s noir influences will be felt from the opening shot. “The first shot is so jarring from any other Batman movie that it’s just kind of a totally different pace,” he says. “It was what Matt was saying from the first meeting I had with him: ‘I want to do a ’70s noir detective story, like The Conversation.’” While Pattinson has admitted that he sometimes makes stuff up in interviews—including a previous comment in a profile about not washing his hair that made the rounds—it’s safe to assume that he’s being truthful about The Batman, if only because Reeves has been adamant that his film is supposed to feel like an old-school noir.
Aside from The Conversation, Reeves was inspired by Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, comparing the widespread corruption that Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes uncovers to Bruce’s odyssey in Gotham City. “Chinatown is a kind of metaphor for just how corrupt we are,” Reeves told MovieMaker Magazine. But arguably the biggest noir inspiration of all came from the first film of Alan J. Pakula’s acclaimed “paranoia” trilogy, 1971’s Klute, in which a detective (Donald Sutherland) tries to save a call girl (Jane Fonda) who’s being stalked by a killer. For Zoë Kravitz, the relationship between Batman and her Catwoman was heavily inspired by Sutherland and Fonda’s dynamic in Klute. “That film kind of became a bible for me in terms of tone and the relationship between the two of them,” Kravitz said. “What I love about Donald Sutherland in that movie is he judges her—he judges her and yet he falls in love with her. And I just thought that there was something about that, that related to what I thought could be a Batman–Selina Kyle story.”
Verdict: Batman is supposed to be “the world’s greatest detective,” and yet his previous live-action appearances have been criminally low on actual investigative work. (The Ben Affleck Batman, for instance, was more likely to open up Gotham’s first CrossFit gym.) It’s not only a great idea to bring Batman back to his noir roots: somehow, it also hasn’t really been done before.
Serial Killers, Real and Fictional (and David Fincher)
While The Batman will feature several iconic comic book villains, including Catwoman and the Penguin, the film’s big bad appears to be the Riddler (Paul Dano). As we’ve seen from the trailers, this Riddler leaves cryptic, personal messages for Batman at crime scenes to piece together. It’s a storytelling choice that was based on the real-life Zodiac Killer, who sent coded cyphers to the San Francisco Chronicle during his infamous killing spree in the late ’60s. “[The Zodiac Killer] went around in a black, crudely-made costume, with an insignia and an executioner-type hood,” Reeves told Empire Magazine. “In the darkest of dark ways, he’s the real-world analogy for one of these rogues’-gallery characters. There was something very powerful and provocative in that idea.” (As an extension of that influence, Dano’s Riddler looks like a greener version of the Zodiac.)
Of course, the Zodiac Killer was also the subject of David Fincher’s masterful Zodiac, and when thinking about terrifying interpretations of serial killers on the big screen, he’s probably the first filmmaker who comes to mind. After the first trailer for The Batman came out in August 2020, fans quickly noticed that it was imbued with the same brooding, ominous tone of Fincher’s serial killer movies—most notably Se7en. After all, the riddle-like nature of the Riddler’s clues certainly seemed of a piece with John Doe’s bloody, biblical-themed crusade.
Verdict: “Yes … ha ha ha … yes!”
Noirs with overwhelmed detectives navigating the seedy underbellies of their corrupt cities aren’t the only inspiration that The Batman takes from the ’70s: When it comes to Bruce Wayne, Reeves apparently also wanted to channel a bit of Taxi Driver. On the surface, this seems like an odd fit for Gotham’s resident billionaire: The central figure of the Martin Scorsese–directed drama, played by Robert De Niro, is like the throwback version of an incel. But as Reeves explained to Esquire, Bruce becomes obsessive about crime in Gotham and Batman’s role in it.
“He’s doing a kind of criminological experiment where he’s trying to see what effect he can have on crime in the city, the way that Dr. Jekyll charted his experiment and what was happening to himself,” Reeves said. “It was this psychological kind of thing. Almost like a kind of Travis Bickle sort of journal.” It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time that the director has made a connection between The Batman and Taxi Driver: He talked about the film as an influence when the first trailer premiered at DC’s FanDome in August 2020.
Verdict: Reeves is really hammering home the point that The Batman is influenced by the ’70s, but callbacks to detective noirs seem more fitting than Travis Bickle references. Put another way: It feels way more likely that Bruce would say, “Forget it, Alfred, it’s Gotham,” than yell at himself in the mirror and shave his hair into a mohawk.
For The Batman, Reeves wanted Bruce/Batman to be a constant presence in the movie. It’s a decision that the filmmaker not only likened to (yet again) how Chinatown spends so much time with Jake Gittes, but also to the kind of paranoid headspace associated with an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. “Batman or Bruce is in almost every scene in the movie, which is not the usual way these movies are done,” Reeves told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s a very Hitchcockian kind of point of view where you are wedded to his experience.”
Verdict: Reeves is clearly a student of cinema history, and while comparing The Batman to the works of Alfred Hitchcock seems like a smart way to get in the good graces of Film Twitter, it’s more likely to blow up in his face because, c’mon, a Hitchcockian Batman?! With this one, we’re veering into the Russo brothers comparing Captain America: The Winter Soldier to ’70s conspiracy thrillers territory, and not in a good way.
The love affair between The Batman and the ’70s marches on with the Penguin, whose performance in the film by an unrecognizable Colin Farrell is inspired by one of the greatest movies of all time: The Godfather. You see, the Oswald Cobblepot of The Batman manages the shady Iceberg Lounge, a favorite hangout for Gotham’s criminal underworld. But while Cobblepot runs in the same circles as some of the city’s biggest bad guys, he doesn’t get the same respect as them—he’s a black sheep (er, bird?) of Gotham’s underworld, and views the “Penguin” nickname with scorn.
As Farrell explained to MovieMaker Magazine, the Penguin has a bit of Fredo Corleone in him. “[Matt Reeves] was just talking about somebody who had very real and very lofty ambitions, but never really had the opportunity or the chance to explore them, and was maybe looked upon as someone who was handicapped, whether it was psychologically, intellectually—Fredo was frowned upon as less than the other brothers, and maybe Oz as well, in his life, was looked upon as somebody who wasn’t capable,” Farrell said. “And so that’s one of the things that fuels Oz.”
Verdict: Considering the last iteration of Cobblepot—a legitimately great Danny DeVito in Batman Returns—bled black goo (?) and was one of the most repulsive villains ever seen in a superhero movie, it’s nice to know Reeves is trying to take the Penguin in a different direction (one that’s also more aligned with how the character’s been portrayed in the comics). But here’s hoping Farrell’s gangster performance is more John Cazale’s Fredo than John Travolta’s John Gotti.
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana
There’s nothing modern movie trailers love more than throwing in a moody remix or cover of a famous song, and The Batman is no exception. The first trailer featured a slowed-down remix of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way,” a song that Reeves says he found himself listening to in the early stages of writing The Batman’s screenplay. For Reeves, it’s not just Nirvana’s music that relates to the Caped Crusader. As he sees it, the way that Bruce channels the pain over his parents’ murder—by cleaning up the streets of Gotham as a masked vigilante dressed like a bat—is not unlike the highly publicized struggles of the band’s iconic frontman. “The truth is that he is a kind of drug addict,” he said. “His drug is his addiction to this drive for revenge. He’s like a Batman Kurt Cobain.”
Verdict: Does this look like someone who fucks with Nirvana?
Yeah, that checks out. The Nirvana comparisons are a little stupid—comparing a superhero to a real person who died by suicide is a pretty wild thing to do—but they’re also contagious. The Batman’s Batman is here to entertain us.
Turns out, not even the Master of Horror can escape the gravitational pull of The Batman. How does Stephen King fit into the movie? While I won’t be surprised if there is a child-eating clown lurking in Gotham’s sewage drains, Reeves turned to the King for inspiration on, of all things, his version of the Batmobile. More specifically, Reeves was drawn to Christine, King’s wacky novel about a murderous, possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury that was later adapted into a film by John Carpenter. “I liked the idea of the car itself as a horror figure, making an animalistic appearance to really scare the hell out of the people Batman’s pursuing,” Reeves told Empire Magazine.
Verdict: I was on board with the ’70s noirs and the serial killer dramas. I could accept that Bruce Wayne had a bit of Kurt Cobain and Travis Bickle in him. But I just can’t pretend that evildoers in Gotham are going to shit themselves when they see a juiced-up muscle car in the distance like it’s Jason Voorhees. On a related note: Matt Reeves, drop the strain (and the Letterboxd login).
Paul W.S. Anderson’s Cult Sci-fi Masterpiece Event Horizon
OK, fine, I made this one up.
Verdict: An eyeless man can still dream.
Batman Comics and Movies
You might want to sit down for this: A movie about Batman has also looked to comics and other on-screen adaptations of Batman for inspiration. In his EW interview, Reeves cited as influences Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween, and Darwyn Cooke’s Batman: Ego and Other Tails. As the comics’ title implies, Year One showed how Batman fared in his first year as a crime-fighter in Gotham, warts and all, and Reeves wanted to capture that spirit for his inexperienced Caped Crusader. “I felt that we’ve seen lots of origin stories,” Reeves said. “It seems things go further and further into fantasy, and I thought, well, one place we haven’t been is grounding it in the way that Year One does, to come right in to a young Batman, not being an origin tale, but referring to his origins and shaking him to his core. You can have it be very practical, but I also thought it could be the most emotional Batman movie ever made.”
Meanwhile, Pattinson believes that the tone The Batman takes—more brooding and less heroic—was previously best captured not by a live-action adaptation, but by the critically acclaimed 1993 animated film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. “When I saw [Mask of the Phantasm], it clicked: Being Batman is a kind of curse, it’s a burden,” the actor said in an interview with Premiere France.
Verdict: I would humbly recommend that Reeves and Pattinson also check out the scene from The Lego Batman Movie in which Will Arnett’s Batman makes a song in which he shouts “DARKNESS! NO PARENTS!” It’s a pretty profound text. But considering that Reeves told EW that he never viewed the Adam West Batman series as camp—“I thought it was totally serious”—referencing these grittier interpretations of the character seems extremely on-brand.
If we accept all the interviews Reeves and Pattinson (and Colin Farrell) have given at face value, then The Batman is [deep breath]: a Hitchcockian detective noir in which a grungy, Travis Bickle–esque Batman has to rid Gotham of a serial-killer Riddler and a mobster failson Penguin with the help of his demonic muscle car that plays Nirvana 24/7 and strikes fear in the hearts of criminals. Time will tell whether any of these comparisons end up being accurate, but for now, I’m buying what Reeves is selling. If The Batman isn’t the best Batman movie since The Dark Knight, I’ll be listening to Nevermind in the darkest corner of my apartment for months.