Movies & TV

Why The Batman Director Matt Reeves Nearly Missed Out on the Job

Initially, he knocked back the meeting...
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Writer-director Matt Reeves has spent a total of five years on The Batman – including two years filming (because Covid). But the project has had a longer gestation than that. Reeves got the call from Warner Brothers back in 2016, when he was hard at work on another hugely loved franchise. Shrouded in secrecy, his initial reaction was to not take the meeting. As he recently told Esquire, when he found out what Warner wanted, that changed.

“At the end of 2016 I was deep into post [production] on War for The Planet of the Apes. Because of [all] the motion-capture it can be more intense than actually shooting. We were in post over a year. So I was deep in the middle of that and I kept getting messages that Warner Brothers wanted to have what I felt was a general meeting – they kept referring to it as ‘a general meeting’, it was obviously a top secret thing. And I was, like, ‘I really appreciate that and I’d be very interested to discuss whatever you want to discuss. But honestly, right now is just not the time’. And I kept pushing it off and pushing it off. And finally my agent called me one day and said ‘Listen, I just have to tell you something between you and me, that general meeting – it’s not a general meeting. It’s about Batman. And I was like, ‘Oh. Well then I will take the meeting!’"

While Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy had been a huge critical and commercial success, Batman was now part of a DC Universe, appearing alongside Superman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman in less well-received fare such as Justice League. While Reeves appreciated the thinking behind that – something similar was working rather well for Marvel – he had reservations that that was a path he wanted to follow.

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“We’re in an era that, when it comes to the theatrical experience, everything is about that ‘very known’ IP,’” he told us. “So when the idea of Batman came up I said ‘Oh my gosh. I love Batman. And the idea that the character is a great powerful myth that has lasted over 80 years now’. It’s an incredibly powerful story. There’s a character at the centre of it who is very human. He doesn’t have superpowers, other than his incredible focus and his desire to endure, and his trauma that comes from what happened to him as a kid. That completely appeals to me. But at the same time, I was terrified. Because there have been great Batman movies.

“At that point Ben [Affleck, then DC’s current Batman] had been working on a version of the movie and at that point he was re-evaluating. And he decided he wanted to step down from that. And I read the script he had been working on and I said, ‘Here’s the thing. I don’t really know how to do any project without finding a way to make it personal’ I said I would want to do something that was personal to me, because otherwise I won’t be able to find my way in. I won’t know where to put the camera or tell the actors where to go or what to do’. I said ‘What I’m interested in doing is something in the Batverse’.

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Photo by Steve Jennings | Getty Images.

"I really wanted to do a story that I felt was personal to Batman and that was definitive of his character in some way. And one that really leaned hard into the idea of getting something that [got away from the origin story]. Cos a lot of times the Batman stories can get to a place where, once you’ve established the classic origin tale, he can become a cypher-like character – [and] the thing that starts to hit the spotlight is some of the rogue’s gallery of [villains].

"I knew what I felt I wanted to do was to take an emotional story, to have Batman going on a journey to solve a very, very complex and terrifying case. And that that path would take him in surprising ways back to his origins. But not do ‘an origin tale’. Because obviously, at that point, it was Ben and we wouldn’t have done an origin story [because Affleck’s Batman was already established].

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"So I said ‘I don’t know what that story is. And I’m doing this Apes thing’. So the only way I will agree to do it is, if you like what I’m saying – and if you wait for me. Because, unfortunately, as excited as I am to do this, I have to do much more on the movie that I’m doing now that I have invested three years of my life into. And to my great surprise and my great pleasure they said ‘We’ll wait for you’."

“As I did more work on the [Apes] film the [Batman] movie ended up being in a more transitional phase and there were leadership changes at DC and Ben was evaluating further. And then I just really leaned hard into making something that was totally new. And that became very exciting.

“I didn’t want to start with a sequence where Batman and some other hero that’s from another movie are engaged in… something. And then finally you get to the story and they have these cross-throughs [ie: subplots linked to other DC movies]. Essentially, it was a standalone Batman movie. Those are hard enough in and of themselves. You have to find a way to justify and define why you’re doing a standalone, so it can stand in the history of Batman films. So, in that way, I thought it was too much to bear the weight to also service, at that point, the extended universe. I said I really, really, really want to focus on Batman.”

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FromEsquire UK

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