I was not among the voices of those whose gut reaction to having Robert Pattinson play Batman in the upcoming The Batman movie. Coming down on him for one character, Edward of the Twilight franchise, seemed a bit harsh since that’s not all he’s done. Since the movies finished Pattinson has done other movies, mostly indie films. I don’t know what else he can do so based on one character I’m not going to say he’s wrong for the part. There was an uproar against Michael Keaton playing the role and there wasn’t even an internet yet, at least not as we know it today.
However, a recent article I came across is giving me room to doubt. Pattinson seems to be trying to distance himself from the concept of superheroes by declaring that Batman is not actually a superhero. This is line with recent comments by Bree Larson that when she signed on to play Carol Danvers for Captain Marvel for the Marvel Cinematic Universe that she isn’t playing a hero, she’s playing a “person”. (Check out any video by YouTuber Mecharandom 42 that even mentions Brie Larson and you’ll see that clip.) Meanwhile, supervillains aren’t immune because of how the people behind the Joker movie approached that film. So why is it the public wants to see superhero stories but Hollywood increasingly doesn’t want to make them?
Let’s start with Pattinson’s comments. The first came from an interview in the New York Times, which doesn’t really have a public archive (it’s behind a paywall) so I’m going by the article that started this commentary.
Pattinson first expressed this controversial opinion in an New York Times interview in October.
“Batman’s not a hero,” the actor said. “He’s a complicated character. I don’t think I could ever play a real hero.”
Pattinson had a point. Batman is one of DC Comics’ darker protagonists. Whereas Superman and the Flash are clean cut, classic heroes, Bruce Wayne is often more dark and brutal with his enemies, sometimes putting him at odds with his Justice League colleagues.
The writer, Suzanne Nuyen, is not completely accurate here. Batman’s villains, especially in recent years as writers have amped up their addiction to homicide, are themselves darker and more brutal than they used to be while new villains like Victor Zsasz and Professor Pyg make Hannibal Lecter look almost tame in comparison. Batman himself is more willing to beat his enemies down or force information out of them but that’s kind of what the criminals in Gotham City call for. Even then Batman has given henchmen who are just trying to survive or feed their families a better alternative with a job in his own company, something you see little of today. He became Batman to push back against the criminal element and decrease the chances of another little boy having to watch his parents murdered in front of him like he did. As Bruce Wayne he tries to make the city better as well. None of that sounds like a hero? The only major conflict he had with the Justice League was in DiDio’s Darker DC where writers had Batman’s mind wiped to hide the fact that some of the heroes were messing with the minds of supervillains, causing him to not trust the League and create Brother Eye.
The actor sat down with Willie Geist on the TODAY show Sunday and elaborated on his views, providing another reason Batman couldn’t be a superhero.
“It doesn’t count,” he told Geist. “You need to have like magical powers to be a superhero.”
“I mean he’s got a cape, so that’s a pretty good start,” Geist responded.
“Yeah the cape is there. I give you that one.”
Considering how many superheroes don’t wear capes that doesn’t hold up either. It would be foolish for the Flash to wear them and few recent new superhero designs have included them as some backlash against them, like they’re all listening to Edna “no capes” Mode. Heck, even Thor isn’t wearing his cape in the MCU.
My question however is why does Pattinson have a problem with the fact that Batman is a superhero? Yes, Batman’s costume, designed by Bill Finger (Bob Kane created the concept of Batman), and his style has roots going back to pulp heroes like the Shadow or Zorro–both of which are acknowledged these days–but he’s still a superhero. He has amazing gadgets, a high-level intellect, and somehow enough money to run both a multinational corporation and a secret war on crime. Batman is really overpowered nowadays when you think about it with “prep time” almost being a superpower on its own. Yet somehow he isn’t a superhero because Pattinson doesn’t think he can play a hero…which is pretty sad itself. Connect that to Brie Larson’s own comments that she “didn’t want to play a hero” because she only plays people, as if heroes somehow aren’t people.
Therein like the big problem, that superheroes aren’t characters to these people. They didn’t grow up with comics or apparently even superhero cartoons, and they see the superhero as something just for kids, and are having the same panic as toy and cartoon reviewers had to the YouTube/COPPA nonsense. The difference is those reviewers are worried about their exposure and more importantly their ad revenue because YouTube wants to punish the creators rather than alter their data mining process. The actors may be more worried about how they’ll be perceived by the rest of the Hollywood community.
I keep seeing stories alleging that the general public are sick of the superhero genre, and studios and networks do have a tendency of running a new or resurfacing genre into the ground, especially genres considered more “geeky” like superheroes and science fiction. They don’t see superhero stories as having the potential to be smart no matter how many Watchmen productions are out there. Even if it does prove it shiny “clear cut” heroes are the antithesis of the types of stories and characters they want to make. Look at the reaction from the Titans actors when fans questioned not whether they were playing good characters but whether they were given scripts or dresses as the right characters. They don’t see superheroes as “complex” and they only want to play complex characters, to show off their acting range and show off to their acting buddies and casting agents. It’s like when a Disney Channel starlet grows up and wants to play a sexier role to show they aren’t the cookie-cutter actresses they’re falsely assumed to be. And since surface is all that matters in their circles they look at the surface of what a superhero, cartoon, or comic book is and wince that they may not be looked at as a “true” actor/actress if they’re tied to the “superhero stench”. Pattinson and Larson are both showing a lack of understanding of the characters they’re playing from the source material or the genre they’re getting into because it’s the new hotness, like doing TV commercials but only in Japan.
ANY character you play, including a superhero, has to be start with the idea that they’re people because that’s how the fans approach it. That’s what led to the Titans and the DC Expanded Universe backlashes. Fans know these characters as people, the sign of good writing, and know how these people would react to a given situation. Saying that heroes aren’t people is already insulting to every hero in and out of the military, police, or first responders, but saying that superheroes aren’t people or complex characters adds in a layer of not truly understanding the character you signed on to portray, which means you’ve lost part of the battle already.
Batman is a superhero. He fights crime through extraordinary means and wears a costume so that he can use fear as an extra advantage against the “superstitious, cowardly lot” he goes up against. Carol Danvers is a hero whether she’s going by Ms. Marvel, Binary, Warbird, Captain Marvel, or Air Force Pilot. If you aren’t playing them as people you’re doing it wrong, but if you can’t see them as people because they’re superheroes you are ignorant of the role you’re playing and still doing it wrong. If you didn’t want to play a superhero, when why are you playing Batman or Captain Marvel? They’re people who just happen to be superheroes. What’s so hard or so bad about that?