The Batman Matt Reeves interview

The Batman delivers light in the darkness: An interview with Matt Reeves

In many ways, The Batman is a love letter from Matt Reeves to the movies.

Since 1939, Batman has adapted to fit his era. Born under the looming war and the aesthetics of film noir, the flawed and all-too-human superhero has transformed to reflect the moment’s anxieties. Matt Reeves, the latest director to take on the Dark Knight, could not have predicted the darkness COVID-19 would have plunged the world into when he first accepted the project, but the paranoia of our era feels perfectly encapsulated in The Batman. This superhero seems to ask, “What hope is there in this dark, tormented world?”

“For me, that’s Batman,” Reeves explains over Zoom. “That in these dark times, that will and desire to fight gives meaning. Regardless of whether or not it will change something, you have to keep fighting.”

Robert Pattinson, as Bruce Wayne/Batman, embodies this struggle. He’s blinded by grief. Reeves plunges us deep in his world, foregoing hashed and rehashed origins. With his eyes painted black, like burned tears, Wayne struggles to find hope. His fear and his anger propel him to act, but one feeling from the beginning is that he’s on the brink of giving up. His body language betrays a growing sense of apathy. Is the world capable of real change?

The world Reeves builds is dark, but that doesn’t mean it’s lifeless. “I wanted the movie to have a humanist bent to have empathy for all these characters. It’s about the struggle,” he says. 

In creating the look and feel of the film, Reeves drew on movies and art of the past. Movies like The French Connection and Chinatown inform the textures and movements of the era. Narratively, these reference points echo a previous generation of growing paranoia and apathy reflected on the screen. Channelling those periods aesthetically lends The Batman a more timeless feel. 

“Some digital cinema can be a bit too clean,” Reeves says while explaining how he integrated elements of those films. The movie was shot digitally using the Alexa LF with anamorphic lenses, creating a wider aspect ratio. The result often means that the camera has a shallow depth of field and mild distortion further away from the centre. The imperfections create a painterly quality that was particularly prominent in the 1960s through until the early 2000s. Reeves originally wanted to try the effect on his Planet of the Apes films. His VFX supervisor, Dan Lemmon (who also worked on The Batman), explained it would be impossible to “take all those imperfections and then shoot the digital apes.” 

They furthered the textured effect by taking the edited film and rendering it into film negatives. “There is this quality of the kind of analogue and digital together,” Matt says. In previous films, particularly Cloverfield and Let Me In, Reeves used image noise and nature (such as snow, smoke, rain) to further obscure the image. The effect disorients and displaces the audience, creating a sense of discomfort and uncertainty. The world becomes literally clouded, the edges of the frame uncertain and flexible. It’s a risky move for a major blockbuster to risk alienating your audience, but it pays off. 

An interview with Matt Reeves
Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz (The Batman delivers light in the darkness: An interview with Matt Reeves)

Another critical point of inspiration was the paintings of Edward Hopper. “It was literally in the script,” Matt says. “I’ll write a lot of shots, and I had this one image of the cops moving to capture the Riddler. We see him sitting alone in the diner. It would be like Nighthawks.” The loneliness and disillusionment of that image weigh heavily in Reeves’s vision for the film. While scouting in Chicago, he even brought the crew to see the painting. 

The diner was a set built by production designer (another long-time collaborator) James Chinlund. “As I was writing Batman, I would send him pages, and he would send me sketches and images,” Reeves explains. “We had this whole dialogue about the Gothic architecture and really about trying to make our own version of Gotham so that you didn’t feel like we were shooting in Chicago or London or New York.” 

One of the film’s most impressive sequences is a rainy highway chase scene. Once again inspired by films of the past, Reeves did as much practically as he could. “Obviously, we live in a time where it’s possible to do anything through CGI,” he says. “I wanted everything to be as real as possible.” 

“There’s even some stuff you probably think is CGI, but we actually did it,” Reeves says. “The Batmobile is meant to intimidate. You can’t drive around in the Batmobile and not be noticed, right? I had this idea,” he says. “Like in a horror movie, the Batmobile could fly through fire and that would be emblematic of this Batman. I thought it would have to be a CGI shot.” Speaking with his stunt coordinator, Rob Alonzo, and Dom Tuohy, the physical effects coordinator, they told him they could make it happen. They really drove the Batmobile through the fire; no (or very limited) CGI required.

They mounted as many possible cameras to capture the scene to create the mood. The impact is raw and visceral. When the car shakes, you feel it in the camera. “You’re feeling the water on the lens, the grit,” because it’s really there. There are computer effects, but he didn’t want anyone to see the seams as much as possible. Reeves is insistent on the importance of not “breaking the rules of the practical world,” even when using computers. The effect is seamless. 

While Reeves’s Batman privileges naturalism in many ways, the movie remains in a nightmare liminal space where anything seems possible. The subjectivity of the camera, borrowed in part by the realm of Film Noir, means that we are often seeing and hearing the world through the point of view of characters. Sound plays a tremendous role in this, for example, if “Batman gets knocked out. You’re suddenly gonna be knocked out with him,” Reeves explains. “We would do these very expressionistic things, and they would make sounds and put them through all kinds of different sorts of processes and distortions.” 

In many ways, The Batman becomes a love letter from Matt Reeves to the movies. “I wanted to do a story that felt very intimate, but also felt like a visceral experience,” he says. “You can feel the sound in your body, you can feel your hair move. We want the theatrical experience to survive, and everything was about creating that big-screen experience. It’s exciting to know that we’re in a time where we can get back to people, going to the movies — and we hope they do.” ■

This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Cult MTL.

The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves, is screening in Montreal theatres now.

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