Writer-director Matt Reeves and production designer James Chinlund were inspired by Adam West's Batman, 'Christine,' and Ash Thorp's illustrations for their Batmobile.
Typically sleek, black, turbocharged, tricked-out with an array of crimefighting tools, and above all else, in line with the Dark Knight's branding, the Batmobile endures as one of the most coveted rides in pop culture.
Batman has employed a series of ever-evolving Batmobiles all the way back to his very first year of existence in the comic book pages back in 1939; as the character eventually became a staple of film and television, each new iteration of Batman has come with a new Batmobile to meet the moment. And the caped crusader of The Batman, played by Robert Pattinson, may have built the ultimate Batmobile, a monstrous muscle car that takes center stage in one of the movie's most thrilling sequence.
"I think the Batmobile is the key you put in the lock as you open the door to the world of Batman," The Batman production designer James Chinlund, who crafted the latest take on the car — and the entire environment of Gothan City — alongside writer-director Matt Reeves, tells Metacritic.
"'What is the car going to be?' is the first conversation I had with Matt early on," Chinlund continues. "The design [of the film] basically radiates from all the choices we make in that car. I think it's an incredibly intimidating that to find new space after so many amazing designs that come before — we knew we needed to find our own place in that world. And it really was born of Matt's take on Bruce: that Bruce is basically a self-made man. He's turned his back on Wayne Industries and his new project fighting crime is his and his alone. And the car needed to reflect that."
Unlike, say, the Tumbler of the Christopher Nolan take on the DC Comics hero, this Batmobille wasn't a creation of the military-industrial complex; it was painstakingly hand-built, piece by piece, by Bruce Wayne for his war on crime.
"It's an entirely bespoke build," Chinlund explains. "Matt and I were looking at muscle cars and talking about Bruce as a gearhead Maybe as he was coming up, he's just always been a tinkerer and loves getting his hands dirty. It's basically form following function, that he had a mission, that he's in relentless pursuit of criminals, and so the car had to be an unstoppable for force, always driving forward."
The frame was conceived a "a blunt hammer" driven by a massive rear engine — a loud, powerful 627 horsepower Chevy V8 — and clad in the necessary add-ons, including the roof of a 1969 Dodge Charger, to achieve Batman's aims.
"We wanted it to feel like you could see the evolution of the design and why we made those choices," says Chinlund. "And then at the same time deliver a vehicle that was exciting and new and something that would generate intimidation and excitement in the fans. It was a very daunting and significant undertaking, but so exciting as a Batman fan."
"In our early conversations, we were talking about Christine, the Stephen King movie, and 'How can we make this car feel alive?'" he reveals. "We were excited about out these grills and vents opening up and feeling the sort of furnace inside. You really do feel like you're being strapped into some sort of fire-breathing dragon, and that was the goal. It was designed to intimidate, and it really, really did."
The design process took over a year, and Chinlund says the most exciting part came when they "cracked the rear view." Conceptual illustrator Ash Thorp is who he credits with that design, in which you see not only the rear engine, but also "he found this incredible sophisticated take on the tips that come off the back that reflect the design of the cowl. Right then and there, we knew we had our car."
Chinlund reveals that much of the vehicle's DNA can be found in the iconic 1960s TV Batmobile designed by legendary car customizer George Barris. "Matt's a huge fan of the Adam West Batman, and I was, too," he says. "We wanted to bring [our Batmobile] back to that tradition."
It was also Reeves' mandate that the Batmobile be built to execute the lion's share of its on-camera stunts practically.
"He knew we had to have this unbelievable chase, and so Dom Tuohy, who is the special effects coordinator, who undertook the build of this car, and his team, they knew that was the mission from day one," Chinlund recalls. "And boy, did they grab it with both hands."
"We built four distinct cars, there's an electric version and three gas combustion engine cars," he adds. "I've never seen a bespoke build perform the way it did. The stunt drivers were so excited to get their hands on it because it's an incredibly powerful car that really can do what it needs to do. And obviously, that chase sequence speaks for itself: everything you see on screen that car did. It was jumping and blowing through things and spinning out. No Batmobile in history has ever performed like that."
Like all Batmen before him, it was crucial that Pattinson form his own unique bond with his particular Batmoblie.
"I might have wept, to be honest with you, to have gotten to the point where you could basically hand the keys to Rob Pattinson and say, 'Please take this car,'" chuckles Chinlund. "He was pumped, and to be able to give him that jolt and that lift, I think we all knew at that moment that we were making something special."