We’ve had a number on on-screen Batmen since the 1960’s and here we ask…were any of them accurate representations of the Caped Crusader?
There are seven contenders to look at from Adam West 1960s camp portrayal to Ben Affleck’s dark and brooding (and murderous) Dark Knight. I’m also going to throw in Kevin Conroy who’s voiced Bats in the animated series and Arkham video games from Rocksteady. Because it would be sacrilege not to.
Just a quick note before you begin, I’m basing this more on characterisation of Batman rather than acting chops.
Lets begin in the 1960’s
Adam West (Batman, 1966)
Adam West, famous for his camp and over the top performance of the Caped Crusader, brought Batman to our TVs in the 1960s. His performance was certainly a reflection of the times when comic books were light-hearted affairs mainly targeted at children. Of course, it’s all tongue in cheek but is it accurate?
Admittedly, 1960’s Batman comics aren’t really my forte but I did spend many afternoons as a student watching West parade around Gotham City on ITV 4. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel. Great stuff. It is hard to take this stuff seriously, although you’re not supposed to. Lets try anyway. He does do a lot of detecting; a lot of time is given to showing us how he works out who this week’s bat-criminal is by collaborating with Commissioner Gordon and Robin for much of the show’s run-time. However good his detective skills are, lets face it, he’s not winning any fights with any of the other Batmen. The guy looks like a grey sack of potatoes with underpants on! But thankfully he always has a bat-gadget at hand to get himself out of any sticky situations.
Just not scary enough but he gets a point for comedic value and at least trying to do some detective work.
Michael Keaton (Batman 1989, Batman Returns)
YOU WANNA GET NUTS?!
Keaton’s Batman was directed by Tim Burton and therefore has a quirky darkness about him. He’s miles way from Adam West but not really at the point where you expect him to actually win a fight. He’s that sort-of 90s fit, which is fitter than most people admittedly, but he just looks like someone’s dad who’s taken up karate during a mid-life crisis. He doesn’t look like he’s actually any good at it. His fighting style mainly consists of floating slowly down towards his enemies before lifting them up by the scruff of their necks. It’s almost Vader-ish. It works in the world he’s in though and Burton does play around with the idea that Batman is a terrifying prospect for his advisories more so than some other directors.
This won’t be the last time I mention this on this list, but Keaton’s Batman is responsible for a lot of deaths. Just because it’s ‘indirect’ doesn’t mean he didn’t do it! He bloody sets somebody on fire with his jet-engine things on his bat mobile. He also puts on bomb on someone and throws him down a manhole. Points off for that, Keaton.
It’s a cliche, but Bruce really is ‘the mask’, not Batman, and that’s evident in Keaton’s portrayal of the character. But he goes a bit too far for my liking. His Bruce is pretty goofy, almost Clark Kent-ish, in fact. But Keaton plays the dual role well and there’s a distinct divide between Batman and Bruce which is more than can be said about some other people on this list. He does some detective work spending a lot of time at his bat-computer and you genuinely get the feeling he’s an obsessive, needing to find the answers. You get the idea the guy can do a sudoku pretty quickly.
Keaton loses points for his overly goofy Bruce Wayne and for the murder. But his Batman and ‘secret’ Bruce are pretty convincing. You could do worse. And we have. Much worse. Over to you Kilmer.
Val Kilmer (Batman Forever)
Tim Burton stepped down as director leaving Joel Schumacher to take over directorial duties with Keaton also stepping aside for Kilmer to take on the cowl. The tone also changes, from Burton’s quirky darkness to a lighter, cheesier tone. It doesn’t suit the Dark Knight. Maybe in the ’60s but not in this post-Dark Knight Returns era.
But I think that main issue with Kilmer’s Batman, although being physically more imposing that Keaton, is that he’s just boring. There’s no real distinction between Bruce and Batman. He’s doesn’t have the same charisma that Keaton has. We won’t really get the impression that he’s obsessive or a genius, being constantly upstaged by his over the top villains. We don’t really get a sense of what his Batman or Bruce is really about.
Like Keaton, he also does a spot of murdering so he loses points for that.
He’s just a bit boring really. There’s too much camp, also.
George Clooney (Batman & Robin)
Do we need to say more? I suppose so. Much like Kilmer, Clooney is overshadowed by campness and over-acted, ridiculous villains. While Clooney’s charisma is perfect for Bruce, it doesn’t really fit Batman. Clooney fails to distinguish the roles in a convincing way and you don’t really get the sense that Batman is a psychologically damaged being. He seems to get a kick out of being Batman, he seems to find it good fun. Way off the mark Mr Clooney.
The guys has nipples on his suit, how are you supposed to take that seriously?
Christian Bale (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises)
My generation’s Batman. Bale embodies the character and explores the psyche more than any other actor has done. Obviously, this is thanks to Nolan, Nolan and Goyer’s scripts but Bale seems to really get who Batman is. We get the obsessive nature of his character, both as Batman and Bruce. We get the ‘public’ Bruce Wayne, CEO of Wayne Enterprises and we get the Batman Bruce, brooding in his Bat-Cave.
Bale’s Batman is pushed physically and emotionally to his limits in a way that no other Batman has been and that allows the viewer to gain an insight into his motivation and his inner thoughts. We truly get a sense that Bruce needs Batman and without him he feels he is worthless. We get what drives him to become, and remain, as Batman even though he has a chance of a ‘normal life’ at various points in the trilogy. Most notably in TDKR when he becomes a recluse because Batman isn’t needed. We also get a true sense of the selflessness of Batman as he repeatedly sacrifices himself for Gotham. And it’s his relationship with Gotham that’s explored in these films so much more than in the ones that came before. Batman’s greatest love is Gotham and that’s his obsession.
His performance as Batman is brilliant. He embodies the suit brilliantly, almost becoming animalistic in the process. He’s physically imposing, clearly a martial arts expert (something also seemingly lacking from previous incarnations) and one of his main weapons is ‘fear’, particularly in Begins. The voice, while it divides opinion, I think helps reinforce the animalistic idea behind this Batman. He puts his gadgets to good use without going over the top and it’s cool to see how he comes up with new ideas to improve his suit and weaponry.
His Bruce persona is borderline obnoxious and selfish yet charismatic enough to be likeable, especially as we know it’s an act. He doesn’t go caricature like Keaton. The way he uses Bruce as part of his investigations is a classic Batman technique and Bale’s incarnation does have more detective work to do than the others but there’s still not enough for my liking. I’d love a more crime based Batman film.
Back to the murder thing and while Bats doesn’t exactly ‘murder’ people, he does let people die, which is all the same in my book. He saves the Joker and yet is quite happy to let Ra’s al Ghul die. Double standards.
Bale embodies the dual role perfectly but doesn’t quite find the balance between vigilante bruiser and world’s greatest detective for my liking.
Ben Affleck (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Upcoming: The Batman (rumoured title) and Justice League)
The guy has his own Batman related nickname already, which should tell you that pretty much everyone agreed that Batfleck’s Batman portrayal was excellent.
Bale got in great shape for Batman but Affleck pushed that to a whole new level by getting as pretty much as close as you can get to actually looking like the comic book drawings. The guy is an absolute monster and you get the feeling he could take on every other Batman without breaking a sweat. That scene of him in the abandoned warehouse in BvS is one of my favourite Batman scenes. The way he cuts through the armed guards with such brutality yet with a touch of grace was phenomenal to watch. The way he uses his nouse and pure strength to take down is enemies (including the Man of Steel himself) feels like it’s straight from the pages of a Batman comic. Great stuff Batfleck.
The theme in BvS that Batman is a mythical creature feared by everyone, while pushed to the extreme with the ‘branding’ of criminals, is a classic Batman theme. Again, there’s a problem here with the murdering (why does he have a minigun?!) but here it feels a bit more deliberate than previous versions, which is a sticking point. I’m blaming Snyder for this though.
Affleck’s Bruce is fantastic. He gets the character. He plays it similarly to Bale with the cocky alter ego on show for the public with the brooding, obsessive man saved for the Bat-Cave. Affleck’s portrayal of Batman is spot on but again there’s issues with the characterisation from Zack Snyder. Bruce is a genius but here he gets fooled by a crazy man sending him notes in the post. He jumps to conclusions and is extremely irrational. That’s not Batman.
Affleck is excellent in the role and with some better writing by somebody who can write/ understands the character, we could be on to our best ever on screen version of Batman.
Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series, Arkham Video Game Series, various other voice performances)
Kevin Conroy is at an advantage here but I couldn’t not mention him. His advantage is that he obviously only has to provide Batman’s voice. He doesn’t have to physically embody the character. Given that a large part of Batman is his physicality, Conroy has the benefit of having his character drawn exactly as he should be.
Conroy is the perfect Batman, not least because in animation/ video games he can do stuff exactly as he does them in the comics. But his voice work is brilliant. He plays the divide between Bruce and Batman so well and makes the characters so distinct with subtle changes of his voice and tone. His voice work as both characters exudes charisma and commands respect.
The writing for his roles are generally excellent. In the animated series, he’s the perfect Batman. World’s Greatest Detective and all. In the Arkham games, it’s the same. He’s a genius, a brawler and a detective all in one and that’s exactly what Batman is. It’s a blend we haven’t really seen in live action, although Bale got closest, and that’s a shame.
Conroy is aided with classic comic book source material as apposed to adapted material like his colleagues. He’s also at the advantage of not having to physically embody the character. But that doesn’t take away from Conroy being the perfect Batman.
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