There’s a parallel universe out there somewhere, in which the news of Robert Pattinson reportedly being cast as Bruce Wayne in Matt Reeves’ The Batman isn’t particularly controversial. This parallel universe is exactly the same as ours, but with one key difference: Pattinson never starred in the Twilight movies.
As it stands in our current reality, Pattinson (or, “R-Patz” if you’re a late-’00s tabloid journalist) became a household name when he took on the role of Edward Cullen, and like many the star of a kids/YA franchise, he’s spent every year since leaving the role trying to distance himself from it.
While the arthouse movie crowd have been more than willing to go on this journey with the actor, nerd-dom at large has been far less forgiving, culminating in the virtually instant — and boringly predictable — backlash against Pattinson purportedly taking on the cowl. More than a decade after male fans declared that Twilight “ruined” Comic-Con International by attracting a largely female fanbase in record numbers to the annual pop culture convention, it seems the scars from that apparent trauma have yet to heal. Barely a day passed before petitions against the casting sprang up on Change.org, with Pattinson’s star-making role at the center.
“Please stop this from happening I do not want twinkle the vampire [as] my Batman! […] So disgusted by my DCEU,” one signee commented. “He has zero business playing Batman, so many other better actors who deserve this role, no glitter boy,” another added. Others had an even harder time disassociating the actor from Edward Cullen, citing the character’s fictional history as a “Volvo-driving creep” (not wholly untrue) as Pattinson’s own. Despite the character he once played being almost solely defined by his romantic relationship to a female heroine, homophobic jabs are scattered throughout these complaints, propped up by questions about whether Pattinson is “man enough” to play a superhero.
Back in Twilight’s heyday, images and film footage of screaming girls (and their mothers) were held up as picture-perfect representations of everything that was wrong with female-focussed fandom: unbridled hysteria ill-befitting of the calm and measured spaces that male-orientated fandoms occupy. You know, like all these petitioners. “This will ruin my childhood and my dreams,” one person
calmly writes in a measured tone. Ah, so reasonable! “You people desecrate the mantle of the Batman,” says another. Nope. No mass hysteria here! “End this joke before I keep puking and die.” No, you’re the one being a drama queen.
Naturally, the names of Christian Bale and Ben Affleck, the most recent actors to play the Dark Knight, have also come up, demonstrating yet again the strange, cultural amnesia that cycles round whenever a new live-action Batman is christened. Just six years ago, petitions to remove “Batfleck” mirrored those asking the same thing of “Battinson.” One was even submitted to the White House’s “We The People” petition portal, demanding that President Obama make it illegal for Ben Affleck to play any movie superhero for the next 200 years, the very definition of “calm and measured.” Now, many are begging Affleck to come back.
Even Christian Bale — perhaps the most highly-regarded of all the Bat-actors — didn’t escape scorn when he was cast in Christopher Nolan’s reboot trilogy in 2005. This history of hating Batman casting goes back to the very beginning. Michael Keaton, who is also fondly remembered in the role, was trashed by 500,000 angry fan letters in the ’80s.
As in Pattinson’s situation, past movie “sins” have always been the driving force for this eprotests — sins that have a discernibly gendered connection. For Keaton, it was his turn in the gender role-reversal comedy,= Mr. Mom and as the gothically camp title role in Beetlejuice. Similarly, news that Heath Ledger was to play Nolan’s version of the Joker came under fire because of his part in Brokeback Mountain, as well as his reputation as an established rom-com lead. Even Affleck’s back catalogue of blockbuster action movies wasn’t enough to prevent the creator of the leading petition against his casting questioning the actor’s masculinity. “He’s not intimidating enough for the role of Batman.”
By this line of criticism, it seems that no less than a 6ft tub of protein powder covered in biceps and stained with the blood of its enemies is the only thing worthy of Bruce Wayne’s machismo. And if a middle-aged man willing to tattoo a dragon across his entire back ain’t man enough for the Bat, what chance did Pattinson ever have? Twilight’s legacy as the ultimate supernatural “chick flick” series was always going to negatively color his latest career move more than, say, his intervening years taking on gritty characters in dark and subversive indie movies.
A lot of fans, of course, won’t have watched any of these, which is totally fine. But, even if Twilight is your only window onto the kind of actor Pattinson is, and what kinds of characters he can handle, it’s not hard to understand the potential Warner Brothers sees in him. Given the shaky source material, both Pattinson and co-star, Kristen Stewart — who has also grown into a very well-respected actress, post-Bella Swan — did the best with what they had to work with. As Edward, Pattinson oozed the kind of “pretty boy” charm Bruce Wayne turns on for his public appearances. (Because, yes, Bruce Wayne IS a pretty boy. It comes with the whole “playboy” thing.) Crucially, Pattinson embodied the introspective angst that female fans responded to so much in Edward; qualities that, funnily enough, also define Bruce and appeal to his male-oriented fanbase. Considering how often comic book creators enjoy merging Batman with vampirism — not a big leap, after all — there’s also a nice synergy in the actor’s transformation from vamp to bat.
Drawing a line between the two characters also underscores the ways that Batman, and the “Bat-family” — a Tumblr favorite — specifically appeals to women, something that could also be on the minds of Warner Brothers executives. Brooding antiheroes have been at the center of romantic fiction for hundreds of years, archetypes that Batman stands on the shoulders of. While female fans enjoy watching the vigilante dangling criminals from rooftops and growling out interrogations as much as the next guy, they also feel a distinct attraction to his emotional vulnerability as a tortured soul and adoptive dad. With women beginning to outnumber men at the cinema, why not tap into that appeal?
Adding to all of this is the continued goodwill towards Twilight. Yes, continued. Those outside of the community are likely unaware of the recent “Twilight renaissance” that sprang up on the back of the movie series’ tenth anniversary. Fans took to Tumblr and Twitter to affectionately meme-ify the franchise’s most ludicrous moments, reassess certain characters and plot points, and generally bathe in the bare-chested, sparkly nostalgia of a world that engulfed their younger years. Twi-haters might be having a hard time letting go of their vitriol towards teenage girls for enjoying something they’re supposed to, but “Twihards” have long moved on and grown a sense of humor.