Batman actors are like filtered coffee. Directors and producers choose them over the best of the best — even George Clooney seemed a good choice at the time.
Hardcore fans constantly debate who makes the best Batman (and the best Bruce Wayne for that matter), but for those who consider themselves “casual” fans of the caped crusader, here is a remedial reminder of who is who.
Adam West became the first Dark Knight of the silver screen when he starred in a 1966 titular “Batman” film. West portrayed a campy humorous kid-friendly bat, and a suave smooth Bruce Wayne.
Michael Keaton’s portrayal in the 1989 Tim Burton version of “Batman” had people initially worried. Keaton made a better Beetlejuice than Bruce Wayne, but he pulled off the Dark Knight perfectly. His two-tone voice, thousand-yard stare and armor style Batsuit were a welcome step away from West.
Kevin Conroy, the voice of most cartoon versions of Batman (yet lesser known), lent his vocal abilities to the 1993 animated theatrical release titled “Mask of the Phantasm” one year after the release of “Batman Returns” which starred Keaton. Conroy nails the persona of Bruce Wayne and Batman, but is always behind the microphone when doing so.
Val Kilmer took over the role in the 1995 “Batman Forever” film. Kilmer made a lukewarm Bruce Wayne and a split Batman, but he was a poor replacement for Keaton. Some loved Kilmer’s take, some hated it.
In the 1997 “Batman and Robin” film, George Clooney essentially built a coffin for Batman and hammered every nail into it. Here is where opinions begin to differ. Clooney made a good Bruce Wayne. He was sociable, warm and a natural playboy.
However, he could not seem to turn Bruce Wayne off after putting on the Batsuit. Perhaps he wanted a family friendly Batman. Perhaps he wanted to make homage to Adam West. Perhaps he wanted to destroy everything about the character. Whatever his ideas, he and Schumacher accidentally shut down the franchise for almost a decade.
Christian Bale took on the cowl after Director and Writer Christopher Nolan made a reboot of the franchise nine years later. The scary part about “Batman Begins” is that Bale is a spot-on yuppie playboy (think American Psycho) more that Nolan could have made a horrible casting decision. Everyone from Ashton Kutcher to Jake Gyllenhaal (and somehow Joshua Jackson from Dawson’s Creek) were considered. Try picturing that.
Sure, Bale’s Batman is in the limelight since he is the most relevant, the most “realistic” and the least campy, but that does not make him the best. Truth be told, the overly tactical Batsuit with the barely-present mouth opening combined with the progressive throat cancer voice made Bale lose points.
Arguably, the best Batman goes to the trendsetter. Michael Keaton (helped by Burton) made the best Batman in film by defining how the Dark Knight should carry himself onscreen. If only Keaton had worn stilts, he might have made a good Bruce Wayne. Still, it is possible that Bale’s performance will shadow all others on Friday.