The Best Part of The Batman Is Robert Pattinson’s Tiny Sunglasses
belated thoughts on our favorite goth <3
Ten minutes into Matt Reeves’ The Batman, which premiered on Friday, Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) trudges into Wayne Manor to talk to Alfred (Andy Serkis). What they talk about in this scene, I honestly forget, because it’s overshadowed by a bizarre ten-second sequence in which Wayne makes unblinking, grimacing eye contact with the sun while slowly putting on a pair of tiny sunglasses.
It seems like a joke. Tiny sunglasses – the whimsical, impractical trend that blew up in 2018 – are even more ridiculous than usual amid Gotham’s grit and noir. It’s like Robert Pattinson had a pair left over from one of his high-fashion photoshoots, and everyone let him wear them on set because, well, what the heck? He’s the star. It’s a silly choice to let Bruce Wayne, a man who chooses daily to cosplay as Stellaluna, wear such unnecessarily hip eyewear. But I wish Reeves & co. had made this kind of choice more.
As I went to see The Batman, the Christopher Nolan trilogy loomed large overhead. I imagine this comparison is inevitable for most viewers. Christian Bale is iconic in the role, the definitive Batman of a generation. (Apologies to Twitter’s favorite beleaguered cigarette smoker and former life-sized Ana de Armas cardboard cutout owner.) And Bale’s Batman makes perfect sense. By the time he’d been cast in Batman Begins, Bale had already proven himself adept at playing the pretty boy with a violent streak, protected by money and smug charm, in 2000’s Shaft and American Psycho. He was made for the billionaire playboy Batman, swanning around fancy fundraisers and stockpiling sleek weaponry in a well-lit room.
Pattinson is a more surprising choice. He cut his teeth on Twilight, the ridiculous teen fantasy franchise that demanded little of his acting ability except to look constipated and over-groomed for hours at a time. Before going on to prove his artistry in a string of indie films, much like his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart, he built a persona around sheer absurdity. In one interview, asked how he maintained his famously tousled hair, he replied, “I use dog shampoo.” For a GQ profile during quarantine, he nearly exploded his kitchen trying to make faster pasta by microwaving penne and water topped with cornflakes and wrapped in aluminum foil. He frequently goes viral for his chaotic, ironic moments, which make him feel like a cult figure despite his mainstream success.
I wanted The Batman to lean into this Internet-age charm, to create a new version of the classic anti-hero predicated on Pattinson’s grungy, off-kilter, incidental glamor. And this almost happens. Bookending the film are two scenes where Wayne rides his motorcycle to the tune of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way,” a brilliant soundtrack choice that evokes a sludgy, begrudging cool. But mostly, The Batman’s Batman isn’t cool, just miserable. Which is fine. As Joanna Robinson points out on the Ringer’s podcast “The Big Picture,” this is one of the most grounded depictions of Batman yet. He’s out fighting crime every night; of course he’s exhausted in the morning. Of course we never see him as Bruce Wayne; when he’s not Batman, he’s asleep.
Maybe it’s antithetical to Batman’s story, or to cinema itself, but when I walked into the theater, I just wanted to watch Pattinson have a little fun. It wasn’t in the cards. As Wayne, Pattinson brings his particular energy of an overgrown child with more money and notoriety on his hands than he knows what to do with, a kid thrust up into power and a bit dazed by it himself. But he doesn’t get to show off his distinct sense of humor, the alien, antic self that is so delightful and specific to him, the reason I thought he might be a good choice in a Batman movie haunted by its very recent predecessors, released in a market where everything is a reboot of two-decades-old IP.
The Batman is beautiful – shot in rearview mirrors and phone screen reflections, lit up with city neon, glossy with rain. It plays with out-of-focus shots and long stretches of silence, an extravagant car chase through the fiery dark. It’s evidently made by people who know what they’re doing and have plenty of money to do it. But I wish it had been bold enough to assert a new vision for the character, one that needed Pattinson’s fingerprints, one that understood a little more we don’t need another doubled-down, dark, hard-jawed anti-hero. We’ve seen all that before. Give us a thrilling weirdo with some joyful charisma in him. Give us someone we can’t replace in a 2030 remake. Give us Robert Pattinson in tiny sunglasses – surprising us, surprising even himself.