After more than seven decades of watching countless films featuring Batman, audiences might believe they’ve seen every side of the DC Comics superhero. But the caped crusader shown in Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” has very little in common with his predecessors.
Of course, that’s no coincidence, and stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo played a large part in redefining Batman. “Matt and I had a lot of conversations about wanting this to be different, to be really raw and visceral and grounded in all of the action sequences,” Alonzo says. He’s calling from a remote mountain in Italy, where, believe it or not, he had yet to see his own creation at the time of the interview. “I really studied the character and the past versions of Batman, and we focused on the human quality.”
Best known for his work on “Deadpool” and “American Made,” Alonzo helped design the heart-pounding action sequences that put “The Batman” on another level, both narratively and visually. From the first nocturnal showdown that opens the film to a BASE jump off a high-rise, the stunts propel the film to a realm of gritty realism occupied by exceedingly few other DC flicks. After “The Batman” opened in theaters on March 4 of this year, many reviews have noted that Reeves and his creative team have delivered on the elusive superhero movie that, finally, feels fresh and new.
For one thing, Robert Pattinson’s broody portrayal is far from the arrogant, untouchable billionaire of Batmans gone by. He takes nearly as many punches as he throws, and due to Reeves and Alonzo’s direction, viewers can all but feel how much those blows hurt. “Even though he’s in this superhero suit, he is not actually a superhero,” Alonzo says. “He does feel pain; he does mess up. And not only does he feel the pain, he withstands it. His feeling and experience of pain is drowned out by his persistent desire to right the wrongs.”
As for Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman, who serves up plenty of hard hits in addition to her snappy one-liners—that’s another story. “Catwoman goes in and out; she’s constantly evading movement,” Alonzo says. “She’s not standing there taking hits. She’s like Floyd Mayweather and [Batman] is more like Mike Tyson, someone who stands there and takes punishment, but also dishes out a lot more. It was such a joy to work with Matt on that, and Rob and Zoe.”
Regardless of which character we see on screen, each fight, chase or stunt proves more than exciting to watch. Although much of the action genre has become devoted to impressive, but often irrelevant visuals (looking at you, “Fast & Furious” franchise), the kind of action seen in “The Batman” isn’t just there for show. “We treated each sequence as its own little film,” Alonzo says. “It has its arcs and its character through-lines, and it has the ability to go, like the rest of the movie, on an emotional ride, so you’re more drawn in emotionally as opposed to the aesthetic visual of what you see. It’s not giving you the big explosion in the beginning.”
Speaking of explosions, that fiery car chase glimpsed in the film’s trailers? Alonzo describes that as his favorite scene to coordinate. “Designing a car chase sequence that was so emotionally driven was super challenging, but also super fulfilling,” he says. He explains that the creative team found inspiration in classics like “The French Connection” and “Christine.” “We looked at how these cars became characters. I said, ‘Let’s do a fight with cars,’ because fighting is emotional. ‘Let’s not do a car chase, let’s do a car fight.’ That really helped me shape this sequence.”
And in case anyone was wondering, yes, the Batmobile has received just as much of an update as Batman himself. To see more of Alonzo’s work in action, follow the Bat-signal to the nearest theater.