Can Edward Cullen save Gotham City? When news hit last night that formerTwilight star, Robert Pattinson, was in talks to play Bruce Wayne in director Matt Reeves’ forthcoming film The Batman, social media erupted. While some fans quickly lobbied for or against Pattinson’s presence in the superhero universe, most reacted with a degree of surprise. Though the role had been vacant since Ben Affleck’s departure from the DC Comics Extended Universe back in January, Pattinson was, you night say, a left of field choice.
The actor who has spent the last decade honing his skills in indie fare with auteurs like Claire Denis and David Cronenberg may have moved past his broody vampire beginnings, but the internet never forgets. As the much meme-ed antihero of Stephanie Meyer’s once inescapable YA franchise, many found it hard to imagine him shaking off his character’s sparkle and taking on the grittiness associated with modern incarnations of Batman.
Like Sherlock Holmes, Jack Ryan, and James Bond, the role of Batman is always in search of its next actor. With a reboot or sequel seemingly always in development, new actors step in regularly to offer their take on the caped crusader with varying degrees of success. For every generation-defining win—Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed, The Dark Knight trilogy—there is an equally prominent failure—George Clooney in 1997’s franchise killer Batman and Robin. Affleck’s older, gun wielding version of the character was somewhere in the middle with many deriding “Batfleck”’s confusing dream sequence heavy storyline in Zac Snyder’s in Dawn of Justice while begrudgingly respecting his Justice League action scenes. A polarizing choice from the beginning of its tenure, Affleck’s superhero days were plagued with personal setbacks (a high profile divorce and a trip to rehab among them) and conflicts behind the scenes. Originally set to act, direct, and produce The Batman, he left the project over creative differences.
While Affleck physically fit the bill—you’ll be hard-pressed to find an actor with a squarer jaw or broader shoulders—he never managed to capture the spirit of the character. Sure, Bruce Wayne can fight and has money to throw around but the reckless billionaire playboy façade is only one part of the Batman myth. There’s a fair amount of tortured weirdness in a grown man who chooses to dress as a giant bat and indulged in vigilantism instead of say, spending a few hours a week in therapy. Perhaps it’s fitting then that the actors who’ve managed to inhabit the role best have always been the oddballs; Michael Keaton’s deadpan line delivery and offbeat looks made him ideal for Tim Burton’s noir-ish 90s version, while Bale’s method actor intensity added realism to Nolan’s vision; the guy who whittled himself down to 110lbs for The Machinist probably would be crazy enough to take the law into his own hands.
Which brings us back to Pattinson. Already adept at playing capitalist caricatures thanks to a fantastic turn in Cronenberg’s Don DeLillo adaptation, Cosmopolis, he has the Bruce Wayne side of things down pat but is untested when it comes to the action choreography and green screen fighting side of things. Still, he’s shown a willingness to get weird onscreen whether it’s delving into intergalactic infertility in High Life or chewing scenery as Lost City of Z, which bodes well for his time in Gotham. Of course, Pattinson isn’t the only young British actor in the running. Moments after his name was announced Deadline reported that The Favorite star, Nicholas Hoult—whose experience as a member of the X-Men has to count for something—was also a contender. At 33 and 29 respectively, either would be the youngest to ever take on the part and hopefully bring renewed energy to a part in need of it. With Reeves rumored to be developing an Alfred Hitchcock noir-inspired film that will emphasize the comic’s connections to detective fiction, it’s likely that this new Batman will be completely different than anything we’ve seen before.
Departures don’t always work (see: Suicide Squad) but the speculation is cause for excitement. Outside the box casting opens up the door for even further experimentation, something the DCEU could benefit from. DC’s biggest onscreen successes—Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam—have all benefited from unexpected casting and a playful willingness to experiment. It’s time to bring that energy to Batman; even at franchise’s lowest point, it’s managed to rebound, so all risks are welcome. A millennial Batman could ditch the cave in favor of a WeWork desk or use his inheritance to invest in alternative fuel for the BatMobile. If stunt casting is your thing, Kristen Stewart could be coaxed into playing a very blasé Catwoman or Taylor Lautner might show up in a well-timed cameo. In the most unlikely plot twist of all, Batman might even work out those crippling abandonment issues on a couch instead of on the streets of Gotham.