Gotham City, home to the Dark Knight and his associated rogues’ gallery of villains, has been seen on screen – and on the pages of comic books – for decades. The latest film to bring these famous characters to life sees Robert Pattinson don the iconic cape and cowl as he stomps around a decaying city in ruins. Here’s how two cities in the UK became the unlikely stars of ‘The Batman’.
James Chinlund faced the task of bringing one of the best known fictional locations to life for the latest big screen outing of the Batman. The production designer has worked on superhero films before, The Avengers (2012) was a global box office hit and fans will remember the climax which saw a large scale battle on the streets of New York. Ten years on, Chinlund now gets to tackle a grittier story, which is a huge tonal shift from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Creating an urban cityscape
‘It all starts with Matt Reeves [director of The Batman],’ Chinlund says when asked about how he came about creating the new Gotham. ‘Matt and I had many interesting conversations about this place early in the writing process. It was important for him for it to be super-visceral, but grounded, so that the audience would feel existed’.
Chinlund, worked with Reeves on two of the most recent Planet of the Apes films, and the pair started collaborating on creating a playground for the Batman characters a lot sooner than expected. The spirit of the comic books and hopes of fans were paramount, and a character study of the location was developed to assist the process.
‘Cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago of the period [of the first comics] were part of a pre-war architectural boom where architects could run fast and loose with their style choices. We knew we wanted that layer of gothic ornaments on crumbling facades, because Gotham has gone through that but now has corruption and unfinished skyscrapers. This skyline is real and grounded whilst simultaneously haunting.’
‘Our Batman is an urban Batman. He doesn’t live in a mansion in the country, he is right there in the heart of the city. Gotham Square would be a hugely important part of this film map and we started hunting for that. I came across Wellington Square in Liverpool – a beautiful place surrounded by amazing historical buildings – and that was our starting point. We radiated out from there and went to St George’s Hall, which is adjacent and served as Gotham City Hall. Both cities, Liverpool and Glasgow, capture those rich ornaments. The weather helps to tie it all together too,’ Chinlund adds, highlighting the greys and darker pallets we see in the finished film.
The real-life locations of ‘The Batman’
‘I had never been to the north of England and the UK before, so it was a chance to discover this rich world.’ says Chinlund. ‘We got to look all over in places like Manchester too, but we narrowed it down to those targets we had in the end.’
A number of scenes in the movie take place inside a club owned by mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and managed by his chief henchman, the Penguin (Colin Farrell). The distinctive interiors are instantly recognisable as ones from a famous venue in London.
‘That is Printworks London,’ Chinlund confirms. ‘This was an especially exciting location for me, as I have a history of going to clubs in New York and wanted to deliver a real and grounded take on a Gotham club. There was so much possibility there, and we also did a huge chunk of the film on the backlot of Warner Bros, just outside of London. I wanted to recreate something of a party I went to earlier in my life in Brooklyn Bridge, Anchorage which was something of a cathedral-like structure. Printworks early on became a huge inspiration.’
London features again in the movie in an even more unlikely manner. One of the old disused tram tunnel entrances in Holborn along The Kingsway is seen as the entrance to the Batcave in the film. ‘We shot that scene and used nearby Central Saint Martins [on Southampton Row] to capture the incredible architectural diamonds you have lying all over London. We made our Gotham PD headquarters here, it is so eccentric! There’s a scene where Batman escapes that police station, heads to the roof and jumps off what is actually the Liver Building’. Chinlund reveals. We’ll forgive a few geographical inconsistencies in the case of a fictional Gotham!
‘The Batman’ is on general release from 4 March.
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