Wow. “Breathless” is the only way to describe DC FanDome, which was nothing short of a spectacular success. It went off without a hitch, offering news and exclusive content for every film currently in production. If it had ended without any footage for “The Batman,” it still would have been a day full of wonderful surprises and fan engagement, dominating the online conversation from start to finish.
Thankfully, Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson had different plans.
After a panel full of fascinating insight on the film from co-writer/director/producer Matt Reeves, he shook the world and dropped a full, two-minute trailer. As I write this just three hours after the fact, Batman is still the number one trending topic on Twitter. The film’s official account launched less than four hours ago and already has over 30,000 followers. The trailer? 7.6 millions views, 138,000 retweets and 223,000 likes. It is simply the best trailer released all year, and I am here to break it down.
It opens with who is sure to be Paul Dano’s Edward Nashton/The Riddler sitting atop an unconscious, bleeding man. Riddler dons a dark green coat and mask with goggles, unspooling a roll of duct tape and completely encompassing the man’s head before writing the message “NO MORE LIES” in red (possibly blood) on his face. Reeves has spoken at length about his Batman film being a murder mystery, with speculation suggesting that The Riddler is on a killing spree. There have also been rumors that this film takes place during an election year in Gotham City. Judging by newspaper clippings that are shown later in the trailer, this man seems to be named Don and was some sort of political figure — seems relevant.
Reeves praised Dano’s take on the character during the panel, saying Dano “plays a version of The Riddler that no one has ever seen before. He’s an incredibly creative actor. I think he’s going to blow people’s minds.” After seeing this trailer, I’m a believer. While The Riddler sure looks sinister enough, it’s also his ominous, modulated voiceover that truly gives viewers the heebie-jeebies.
But before that VO kicks in, we get to meet Jeffrey Wright’s Jim Gordon, who is not yet the commissioner of the GCPD. We get an excellent point-of-view shot that puts us right into Batman’s boots as he walks into a crime scene behind Gordon. GCPD officers on both sides look at the Caped Crusader with disgust, suspicion and maybe even a little hate. Matt Reeves said that Batman is only in his second year of crime-fighting, and his attempts to clean up the city don’t seem to be winning any police over at this point, apart from Gordon.
Wright looks perfect as the character, sporting the classic mustache and glasses combo. Gordon reads from a card left at the scene. One side of the card asks “What does a liar do when he’s dead?” and the other side reads “Haven’t a clue? Let’s play a game, just me and you…” Gordon shows the green envelope to Batman, revealing that the card was addressed to the Bat himself. This is where we finally get our first full look at Pattinson in costume, stepping out of the dark and toward Gordon. He simply looks stunning. Tall, with ears that are just the right length and a beautiful suit of body armor. He looks like he’s stepped out of an “Arkham” game.
We then get a quick glimpse of what looks to be Alex Ferns as Police Commissioner Pete Savage at some sort of press conference, possibly discussing the murder. Down the street, Bruce sits on a motorcycle and looks on, with dark makeup surrounding his eyes. It’s almost as if he’s just switched out of his Batsuit or is getting ready to put it on. We see him drive off and through a graveyard before arriving in what looks to be Matt Reeves’ version of the Batcave.
It’s difficult to figure out where this actually might be. There’s a tunnel that seems to serve as a garage, with giant, stone staircases on each side and old light posts that aren’t illuminated. But if you look closely, old rail tracks — possibly once used for trains or another type of public transit — run straight through the middle of the tunnel. There also looks to be another tunnel in the background. My best guess is this is actually an old section of Gotham, maybe a subway system, that Bruce has repurposed as a base of operations within the city, considering he’s yet to fully establish himself as the well-equipped Batman most of us know.
Next, we find out that Matt Reeves was crazy enough to drive a whole car through a packed cathedral. Bruce and hundreds of others are attending a funeral when the car comes crashing through the front doors and sends everyone scattering. Bruce tackles a young boy out of the way, saving him. The driver exits with one of Riddler’s cards taped to his chest, addressed to the Batman, leaving Bruce shocked. The car itself is covered in some sort of writing, no doubt another clue or code from Riddler.
Fun fact: this cathedral is actually a replica, constructed inside the giant airship sheds in Cardington, England. The sheds have also been used to film sequences for “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “Inception,” so Warner Bros. has plenty of experience with them by now.
The following sequence is a quick intercut of the film’s two other antagonists: Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) and Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin (Colin Farrell). During the panel, Reeves said that when the film begins, Selina has yet to become Catwoman, and that’s pretty evident here. At this point, she’s simply donning an all-black outfit and a ski mask that forms two little nubs on top of her head to resemble cat ears. She’s breaking into a crime scene and trying to steal from a safe, which proves to be a not-so-good idea when there is a masked vigilante on the prowl.
Now, this is the part where we have to address the penguin in the room: Holy shit, the makeup and prosthetics they have used to transform Colin Farrell are nothing short of sensational. I watched this trailer all the way through the first time and wondered who this character was. It wasn’t until Twitter users pointed out that this is in fact Oswald Cobblepot that I could see and hear Farrell in the character. This is one of the best transformations I’ve ever seen, and it should easily be the early frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling in 2022.
At this point, Dano’s demonic voiceover finally kicks in. “If you are justice, please do not lie,” he bellows out over a curious scene of Batman standing in a cell of some kind, surrounded by police. He seems to attack an officer before Gordon manages to get him under control. We also get some quick action shots of Cobblepot and his goons spraying automatic gunfire and Selina Kyle flipping down her motorcycle helmet visor as she speeds off. The trailer’s pace quickens right up to a hand-to-hand struggle between Selina and Bruce at the crime scene she infiltrated.
“What is the price for your blind eye?” The Riddler asks, finishing his voiceover just as a pair of intense shots flash on screen that feature Batman being blown back by an explosion. It appears that Bruce went back to the scene of the crime in the cathedral to investigate and maybe try to crack the code painted on the vehicle, but a trap was waiting for him. The entire hall lights up, with chairs and flowers still strewn across the floor. You can even see the tire marks from where the car came speeding in, which is another nice bit of detail.
Finally, we arrive at the trailer’s most-talked about moment. A mysterious gang — with white and black face paint that doesn’t resemble anything I recognize from the comics — confronts Batman on a rainy night. According to Reeves, Batman is still an urban legend at this point in his career. Naturally, these guys ask him “What the hell are you supposed to be?” and challenge him to a physical confrontation… which, needless to say, doesn’t go so well. With others looking on and one even recording on a cell phone, Batman blocks an attack from a pipe-wielding thug and beats the living hell out of him, declaring “I’m vengeance.” Pattinson’s Batman voice is noticeably deeper than his usual voice, but not too growly like Bale and not modulated with technology like Affleck. In short, I dig it a whole lot.
We get a few more quick action shots, including Batman’s armor deflecting a point-blank gunshot, Batman grappling up through a stairwell full of people, and the Batmobile firing up and chasing after Cobblepot in what could be one of the film’s standout action sequences. Cobblepot shrieks and yells out what we all already know: “This guy’s crazy!”
The trailer closes out with one last voiceover from Riddler, telling Bruce that he is “a part of this, too.”
“How am I a part of this?” Bruce asks.
“You”ll see,” Riddler responds, as Bruce lifts his head and stares into the camera.
I’ve been a Matt Reeves fan since before I even knew I was. “Cloverfield” came out in 2008 and blew my mind, becoming the first film I ever saw more than once in theaters. It wasn’t until after “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” floored me six years later that I realized it was the same filmmaker. That film and its even more impressive sequel — “War for the Planet of the Apes” — are two of the most incredible blockbusters of the century. I even got the chance to express my gratitude to him on Twitter in 2018, and he expressed it right back.
When I found out that he was taking over directing duties on “The Batman” from Ben Affleck in February 2017, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. This is a writer-director who, maybe more than anyone else working today, understands how to use genre films to tell deeply personal and emotional stories about real characters.
When Affleck dropped out of the directing role and Reeves cast Pattinson, it felt like a match made in heaven. This trailer is the culmination of all my expectations and hopes, and I certainly couldn’t have asked for better. It’s going to be a long 14 months until we see this on the big screen, but I’m more than willing to wait. This is the kind of big-budget picture that can transcend its genre, rebuild its star’s reputation with the general audience, and firmly cement its director as one of the best of his generation.
“The Batman” hits theaters on October 1, 2021.
Johnny Sobczak is an entertainment journalist and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in Media and Journalism and minored in Global Cinema. Johnny is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has been with Inside the Film Room since August 2019. He was named Senior Writer in January 2020 and co-hosts the Inside the Film Room podcast with Zach Goins. Johnny spends his days job-hunting, watching films and obsessing over every new detail of Denis Villeneuve's "Dune."