Get Tickets THE BATMAN opens March 4th
Ask any Batman fan to name their favorite cinematic interpretation of the DC superhero so far and they will have their answer immediately, likely accompanied with a comprehensive list of reasons why. Among that criteria might be a few jabs at the Batman actors that preceded (or even succeeded) them, but is that really necessary to get the point across?
With THE BATMAN heading to theatres, comparisons to previous iterations of Bruce Wayne’s alter ego are inevitable. However, instead of dwelling on all the reasons why one Batman might be better or worse than the rest, why not celebrate what makes each of them great - or, at least, unique in their own way? Let’s head to the Batcave and investigate the matter, beginning with the star of his first live-action, feature-length adventure.
Debuting as the Caped Crusader in his own self-titled TV show before appearing on the big screen in 1966’s BATMAN: THE MOVIE is the late, great Adam West. Admittedly, his “Bright Knight” is a far cry from the character’s modern definition, having a cartoonishly self-aware tone and lacking any inner turmoil to motivate his fight for justice. Yet, West’s portrayal of Batman is still one to be inspired by - and not just from a performer’s perspective - for how he inhabits an indomitable will and bold, earnest demeanor in the face of evil no matter how ridiculous the threat may be.
Mainstream audiences never took the Dark Knight quite as seriously as when he first went truly “dark” in Tim Burton’s 1989 smash hit BATMAN. Despite facing initial backlash from fans for his comedy star reputation, Michael Keaton proved he was worthy of the cape and cowl with his choice to be a brooding man of few words with a taste for the theatrical and, sometimes, a morbid sense of humor. He also has what might be the best cinematic Batmobile yet and his chemistry with Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman in 1992’s BATMAN RETURNS is something Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz hopefully took a few notes from.
After Tim Burton left the franchise and Michael Keaton followed, Joel Schumacher cast Val Kilmer in the title role of BATMAN FOREVER. The 1995 hit sees the Dark Knight go just a bit brighter and talkier, too, which leads to some epic speeches against his adversaries - Jim Carrey’s Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face. What really makes this iteration special is how deeply it dives into Bruce Wayne’s “scarred psyche” - as Nicole Kidman’s Dr. Chase Meridian describes it - rooted in his own belief that he is truly to blame for his parents’ death.
Batman’s scarred psyche was apparently cured by 1997 when George Clooney took over the role in BATMAN & ROBIN. The “ER” star’s interpretation of the superhero is something of a throwback to the days of Adam West with a dramatically lighter tone - and cartoonish costume design, as well - but his Bruce Wayne is a spot-on portrayal of the character’s philanthropic reputation and playboy façade. Plus, his chemistry with Chris O’Donnell’s Robin perfectly represents their dysfunctional, father-son dynamic.
Batman fans owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to director Christopher Nolan for helping revitalize, not only the character’s popularity, but his reputation as a brooding, unstoppable force of justice with the DARK KNIGHT trilogy. The key was placing Christian Bale’s humanizing approach to the character in a more grounded Gotham City, overrun with disturbing crime in every street corner and damning corruption in every position of power. Bale’s interpretation is also, thankfully, the first cinematic iteration to really emphasize his detective skills and make his aversion to killing most apparent. Plus, his Batmobile, while not so batty, is still a genuine work of art.
Despite how often he breaks his own no-killing rule and that he could have brushed up on his detective skills just a bit better, Ben Affleck’s portrayal in 2016’s BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE combines most of what makes the hero a great character in the movies and in the comics, especially visually. Batfleck might even be the greatest live-action representation of his illustrated form, particularly Frank Miller’s muscle-bound design from his seminal graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns.” What really sells the DCEU’s interpretation, though, is his excitingly brutal combat skills, cynical philosophy and trouble “playing well with others” after so many unforgiving years on the job, until his refreshing reformation in ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE.
Rarely has a parody of a comic book superhero still managed to represent its key characteristics so honorably than the iteration voiced by Will Arnett. He first appeared in 2014’s THE LEGO MOVIE before returning in his own 2017 spin-off, which sees Bruce Wayne struggle to come to terms with his parents’ death, be a worthy father-figure and crime fighting companion to Michael Cera’s Robin and, especially, understand his unique give-and-take relationship with archnemesis The Joker - voiced by Zach Galifianakis. No one would have expected to call THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE one of the best Batman movies ever, but Arnett’s tastefully hilarious performance earns the animated instant classic that distinction.
Despite initially facing the same sort of premature backlash that Batman actors before him know all too well, sneak peeks of Robert Pattinson in THE BATMAN has mostly silenced the haters. Some DC Comics fans have already been quick to point out what they like about the former TWILIGHT star’s portrayal from the trailers, including his relentlessly unforgiving fighting style, well-tuned, gruff voice and the realistically amateurish design of his costume. Plus, in one trailer, he shows some expert skills behind the wheel of the Batmobile while in high-speed pursuit of Colin Farrell’s The Penguin.
Who knows? Perhaps, after THE BATMAN - releasing in theatres Friday, March 4 - there will be people calling Robert Pattinson the best Batman actor of all time. Of course, the great thing about a character like Batman is that, decades after Bob Kane and Bill Finger created him, he still cannot be defined by one portrayal, which is why he has no limits.
Get Tickets THE BATMAN opens March 4th