On March 3, Australian audiences will finally be able to witness the latest live-action incarnation of Gotham City’s greatest detective with the release of The Batman. Starring Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne, Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman), Paul Dano as The Riddler, and Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon, director Matt Reeves has ensured he will deliver a Batman film like none other.
Originally planned to be the solo outing of Ben Affleck’s version of the character, the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director was brought on board by Warner Bros. in 2017 after Affleck chose not to direct the film himself. After Affleck completely stepped away in 2019, Reeves cast Robert Pattinson as a younger version of the Dark Knight and leaned heavily into an eclectic range of sources as he pulled the film together. Citing comic books such as Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, and Ego as his primary sources of inspiration, Reeves was intent on depicting a relatively inexperienced version of Gotham’s masked vigilante and emphasising his detective prowess.
However, those comics weren’t the only sources of inspiration Reeves used to help shape his unique vision for the franchise, and his creative process also looked to some real-life figures to help solidify his plans for the film. With The Batman’s hotly-anticipated release almost upon us, let’s take a look at two of the real-life inspirations behind the upcoming blockbuster.
The Zodiac Killer
As far from Jim Carrey’s over-the-top portrayal in 1995’s Batman Forever as one could possibly get, Paul Dano’s version of The Riddler is a decidedly darker take on the character than audiences have ever experienced before. Drawing from The Long Halloween, which sees Batman in his second year as a crime-fighter attempting to chase down a mysterious serial killer striking fear into the heart of Gotham, Reeves has chosen to make Gotham’s puzzle maker the film’s key antagonist who will taunt Batman with a series of brutal slayings accompanied by cryptic clues and messages.
For true crime buffs, this MO will automatically bring to mind one of America’s most feared serial killers, the Zodiac Killer, whose own cryptic puzzles stumped investigators in the late ‘60s and still has never been caught to this day. Even Dano’s costume in the film, which features a hood and a stylised version of the Riddler’s question mark on his chest, is reminiscent of descriptions of a costume worn by the Zodiac Killer when he attacked a young couple on the shore of Lake Berryessa.
Reeves himself described his film’s premise and the connection to the Zodiac Killer in an interview with MovieMaker: “The premise of the movie is that the Riddler is kind of moulded in an almost Zodiac Killer sort of mode, and is killing very prominent figures in Gotham, and they are the pillars of society. These are supposedly legitimate figures. It begins with the mayor, and then it escalates from there. And in the wake of the murders, he reveals the ways in which these people were not everything they said they were, and you start to realise there’s some kind of association. And so just like Woodward and Bernstein, you’ve got Gordon and Batman trying to follow the clues to try and make sense of this thing in a classic kind-of-detective story way.”
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain
If Reeves’ version of the Riddler owes his inspiration to the Zodiac Killer, what about the star of the film, Bruce Wayne himself? Intent on moving away from the idea of Bruce Wayne as a billionaire playboy, Reeves sought to write his version of the character as a tragic recluse still tortured by the brutal death of his parents. Dipping into the psychological explorations featured in 2000’s Ego, which sees Wayne haunted by the violent and destructive aspects of his dual life, the director had a very different source of inspiration for his version of the character.
At last year’s DC Fandome, Reeves introduced the first teaser trailer, which included the Nirvana song Something in the Way, and it turns out this choice of music had a far deeper meaning. According to the director he was listening to the song when first writing his script, and elected to base Bruce Wayne on the troubled rockstar Kurt Cobain. In another interview with Empire, Reeves stated:
“When I write, I listen to music, and as I was writing the first act, I put on Nirvana’s Something in the Way, that’s when it came to me that, rather than make Bruce Wayne the playboy version we’ve seen before, there’s another version who had gone through a great tragedy and become a recluse. So I started making this connection to Gus Van Sant’s Last Days, and the idea of this fictionalised version of Kurt Cobain being in this kind of decaying manor.”
As for Reeve’s choice of casting, the director also explained that Robert Pattinson has “got that Kurt Cobain thing, where he looks like a rock star, but you also feel like he could be a recluse”.
Clocking in at 2 hours and 55 minutes, The Batman has now officially been revealed to be the third-longest superhero film of all time, behind Zack Snyder’s Justice League and Avengers: Endgame, and with the wealth of material Reeves has used it is easy to see why. Fans will get a chance to experience it all for themselves when it hits Australian cinemas on March 3.