So, Robert Pattinson may be our new Batman. The rumour had been floating around for a while before Variety published a story confirming the whispers, but most of the chat surrounding the story was cynical at best, both regarding the veracity of the story and for how well-suited the casting was. Surely Pattinson is too young to play Bruce Wayne, many critics said, forgetting that he’s two years older now than Christian Bale was when Batman Begins came out. Maybe he just doesn’t have the physicality for the role, although he totally does. Okay, but come on, it’s the Twilight dude. How could anyone take him seriously? Putting aside the fact that Mr. Mom, the lead kid from Newsies and the Razzie winner from Gigli have all played the role, oh come on, are we seriously going through the sparkly vampire spiel again? I get it, Pattinson will forever be defined as the dream undead man of teenage girls and middle-aged women everywhere in the eyes of a certain generation. He knows that will be a major part of his legacy and has joked about it frequently. Still, the message behind that snarky joke feels quite obvious: to constantly return to Twilight as your entire understanding of Robert Pattinson is to loudly declare that you think he can’t act.
Let’s be blunt here: Robert Pattinson isn’t hurting for work, nor do any of these jokes seem to hinder his growing career or critical legitimacy. However, it still feels reductive at best (not to mention so damn lazy) to keep pushing this idea that he’s not good at his job. Doing so reveals a lot about how we view actors who inhabit roles that pander to adolescent female fantasy as well as questions about what general audiences see as good acting.
We could be here for days on end dissecting the cultural, historical, social, and industry-wide context that gave us Twilight and the myriad responses the success of those books and movies elicited from us. Hell, I myself will probably never be able to entirely figure out my feelings on the subject matter as a feminist, former YA blogger, professional pop culture writer, and full-time vampire fangirl. Twilight was an all-consuming force for a solid couple of years and the fervent adoration for it was almost as overwhelming as the sheer visceral hatred it inspired. When the first film came out, I doubt anyone involved knew what they had signed up for and it shows in those performances, which evolve as the franchise becomes bigger and the expectations higher. It’s easy to conflate Bella and Edward with the actors who played them, in large part because they had a relationship off-screen for several years. Their obvious chemistry clearly benefitted the performances but independently these were two people going a great job with a near impossible task. For all the jokes about Pattinson being wooden in Twilight - criticism Kristen Stewart also unfairly faced - he’s actually really good fun in that central role. Pattinson is marvellously self-aware in his role as The Perfect Man, puncturing some of the more portentous moments but never downplaying or dismissing the feverish emotional intensity of the material. He’s also much funnier and charming than Edward Cullen is on the page, although Melissa Rosenberg’s scripts should also be thanked for that. Say what you want about those movies but there is a reason so many auteurs cite them as a reason they wanted to work with Pattinson.
As The Twilight Saga was wrapping up, Pattinson began to develop striking collaborative relationships with both established auteurs and rising talents. He made two movies with David Cronenberg, played T.E. Lawrence for Werner Herzog, starred in the directorial debut of Brady Corbet, and got the best reviews of his life with the Safdie Brothers. He’s one of the savviest actors of his generation in terms of picking directors who will become long-term critical darlings, like the Zellner Brothers and Robert Eggers. When asked why she cast him in High Life, self-confessed Twilight fan Claire Denis said, ‘he is a very mysterious actor, a very secret actor, and he has something dangerous in him, you know?’ That’s a key quality that made him so alluring for sparkly vampire fun and auteur driven darkness alike: he is enigmatic but not dull; a mystery to be solved but not so opaque that the audience loses interest. He can be unnervingly still but also frenetic and sardonic when the occasion calls for it. Look at his performance in Good Time, as a desperate thief steeped in his own uselessness, then contrast it with the contemplative guilt of his role in High Life. Dude’s got the range, you can’t deny it.
We tend to view former heartthrobs differently from actors who were never the object of women’s affection. This is partly because of old-school misogyny and society’s love of sh*tting on everything that girls like, but it also speaks to notions of masculinity that we desperately adhere to, even now when we have more and better options available. Pattinson was part of the non-threatening teen crush mould that we know best for boybands. He mocked Twilight mercilessly but he also defended it from unnecessary cruelty when required, and he never derided his fanbase when it came time for him to become a ‘real actor’. That’s a depressing rarity, and it’s still refreshing that he didn’t reject the elements of his persona that made him so well-known. Handily, all those parts of him are really fitting for a Batman movie.
So, would Pattinson make a good Batman? I say yes. He’s played a spoiled rich playboy before in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. We’ve moved beyond the crushingly serious Batman, the Crossfit muscled up masochist who is so overwhelmed by his trauma that you’re surprised he can even leave the cave. It’s time we got back to the Bruce who is troubled but dealing with it like an adult and gets sh*t done. If the DCEU ever want to bring in the extended bat family then Pattinson would be a fitting choice to be the Bruce who is just on the right side of dad corniness. Nothing is set in stone - Pattinson is apparently up for the role alongside Nicholas Hoult and Aaron Taylor-Johnson - but if nothing else, I hope the mere possibility of this casting encourages people to look beyond the sparkles.