Written by Dave Itzkoff
You could see the ending of The Batman as a victory: our hero (Robert Pattinson) has halted the murderous rampage of the Riddler (Paul Dano), putting him behind bars and finding a new sense of purpose as he helps rebuild Gotham City.
Or you could see the conclusion as a disaster, with Gotham flooded and ruined, the Penguin (Colin Farrell) claiming a top position of power in the city’s criminal underworld and Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) leaving Batman behind as she hops a motorcycle out of town.
Matt Reeves, the director and co-writer of The Batman, has explained that certain ambiguities in the film were intentional, especially as the title character reconsiders his relentless approach to fighting crime.
“As a fan, I feel the same thing,” Reeves said in a recent interview. “There’s a part of you that wants to see somebody get vengeance — that’s the wish fulfillment of that idea. What was important was to bring the audience along and make them question it, so that they’d be like, Wait, is that right? Is that really what we should be doing?”
There are also aspects of the film’s ending that Reeves said were not totally intentional, like the frightening ways in which it seems to parallel the US Capitol riot and other events.
In these edited excerpts from that interview with Reeves, he talks about what he meant to say with The Batman, what he unexpectedly anticipated and whether he’s thinking about what comes next for the Caped Crusader.
Q: You’ve said that you wanted The Batman to tell a story where the character would have to examine the motivations of what he does. How did you see that playing out in this film?
A: I wanted him to have to confront himself. I did a lot of reading about the idea of being masked and the different paths you could go. When you’re anonymous, there’s a sense of power that comes in, a kind of unaccountability, but that anonymity could lead to a generosity of spirit — a lighter side. I wanted Batman to have to push that away multiple times until finally it became undeniable.
Q: Does that also explain why the Riddler — another masked, anonymous figure — believes that he’s on the same mission as Batman, and why he’s so wounded when Batman rejects him?
A: We’ve seen the iteration where he’s [Batman] backed into the corner because he’s robbed of his anonymity, so how’s he going to get out of this? That feels like it’s been done and I wanted to play on that because that’s the obvious thing — oh, he [the Riddler] knows who he is, and it’s like, no. He doesn’t know who he is. It’s a love story. That’s what this is. He loves him.
In that scene [where Batman interrogates the Riddler], that’s what we talked about. I said, this is a breakup. You go there expecting love. He inspired you, and then when that turns out not to be the case, you’re devastated. And then when you realize he’s not as smart as you thought, then you finally have power again.
Q: Central to the Riddler’s master scheme is a violent plan, focused around an election, whose final steps he doesn’t need to execute himself — if he puts enough ideas out in the world, his most misguided followers, who gather and share information in their own online community, will carry it out for him. Does that play any differently to you in a post-Jan. 6 world?
A: The script was written so far ahead of any of that. I wouldn’t want to be that direct because that, to me, would be exploitive. I wanted to do something that felt like it resonated with the way that we live, and that when things started to line up in certain ways, it was shocking to me. Jan. 6 happened, and we were pretty deep into the shoot. We were all really upset, but on top of that, it was unsettling the way certain things resonated. Obviously, it’s different, but there are resonances.
When I was writing, I was thinking a lot about social media. We know that the algorithm drives you in certain ways and it drives you toward the thing that provokes you the most, and that has changed the way people perceive the world around them dramatically. And it changed in the pandemic, where, literally, people were living through the computer — this virtual community where things can spread to them, that get people inflamed and passionate. Half-truths and total outright lies and even things that are absolutely true but are inflaming.
Q: After the Capitol riot occurred, was there any discussion of removing that plotline?
A: Well, the problem is that it was so central to the story. We all looked at each other and said, ultimately, we felt that it was both different enough, and also it was, quite frankly, so critical to the story.
There were moments when we were shooting and the cast and I looked at each other, going, this is strange. I remember the day where Jayme Lawson [who plays Bella Reál, the mayor-elect] is talking, in the aftermath of everything that happened, and she says, we must rebuild — not just our city but people’s faith in our institutions. It’s one of these things where I was like, whoa.
I was really interested to see if that was something that would come up for an audience when we did our test screenings with all these Batman fans, and it didn’t really, and so that gave me reassurance, too.
Q: Batman’s line, “I’m vengeance,” was played up in the promotion of this film, almost as a catchphrase, but then he hears those words repeated back to him by one of the Riddler’s followers. Is his lesson that he has to transcend this — that for the people of Gotham, he has to be a real hero?
A: When I was looking at the comics and Batman: The Animated Series, Kevin Conroy’s speech about “I am vengeance. I am the night,” something about that really connected to me. He’s doing this to get back at what happened to him, so he’s striking out. That is a form of vengeance, but that vengeance is not enough. He has to become more, and that’s the message of the whole movie. I want him to go from somebody who is projecting vengeance to somebody who’s letting people know that somewhere in all of this darkness, there’s hope. That was his arc.
Q: You seem to have clearly laid some track for a possible sequel. Are you already thinking about where the story is going to go next?
A: For sure. We have left the world in a very particular place at the end of the story. Corruption has had such a stranglehold in Gotham for so long. The events of the film would create the first glimmer of hope that the city has had in 20 years at least, but also smash the power vacuum apart. It would mean it’s also one of the scariest moments that the city has experienced in over 20 years. Where the story goes, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about that.