When Warner Brothers announced that Ben Affleck was going to be the new Batman in the Man of Steel sequel, I had mixed feelings. Like Jenn said, I thought it was a very questionable casting choice considering his horrid display of acting chops in Pearl Harbor and Daredevil. Then again, I agreed with Keith that Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms, and I think that he has been slowly gaining street cred since he won the Oscar for Argo.
Then I immediately became nostalgic and pictured every single actor who has ever played Batman on the big screen. While their memorable Batman roles came to mind, I also thought of other films they have done that I really liked. As a nostalgic nerd of the ‘80s and ‘90s, of course those roles popped into my head first. A prime example is Michael Keaton, the first actor to grace the big screen as Batman in Tim Burton’s films from 1989 and 1992, respectively.
Although these aren’t my favorite of the Batman films, I like them for a few reasons. In the first Batman, Jack Nicholson as The Joker was perfect villainous casting and Prince’s “Batdance” was strangely hypnotic and, well danceable. And who could forget Billy Dee Williams as D.A. Harvey Dent (the only African-American actor to ever play the role). In Batman Returns Michelle Pfeiffer played Catwoman’s torturous, sexy persona flawlessly, Danny Devito was spot on as The Penguin and Christopher Walken was…well, he’s always awesome. Michael Keaton played the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman with a great seriousness and intensity in both films. But that’s also why I didn’t like him in the role. I had just seen him the year before play a loud-mouthed, psychotic, obnoxious bio-exorcist in Beetlejuice!
I’m sorry, but whenever I hear the name Michael Keaton, I immediately think of him as Beetlejuice (or Mr. Mom) before I even think of Batman. Beetlejuice, which was also directed by Tim Burton in 1988, has the darkness, weirdness and humor in it that I personally love in cinema, as well as the “undead” aspect that made me love comics like Tales from the Crypt. I would much rather see Keaton as a disgusting dead guy pining for a gothic Winona Ryder and taunting a very young Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis than as an iconic superhero, but that’s just me.
Next I thought about Joel Schumacher’s leading Batmen, Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Kilmer starred in 1995’s Batman Forever and Clooney in 1997’s Batman and Robin. I have to say that I was hugely disappointed in both of these films, and I think that there is nothing memorable about them (except for Jim Carrey’s bright red hair/horrible rendition of The Riddler and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accent). I am most disappointed in Schumacher’s directing because I loved his previous films, St. Elmo’s Fire and The Lost Boys, and I think he directed Kilmer and Clooney to look like lame ducks, not badass bats.
Instead of associating Val Kilmer with Batman Forever, I think of how great he was in Willow, or how amazingly despicable he was as “Iceman” in Top Gun, or how he played a dead-on impression of Jim Morrison in The Doors. However, before I think of those roles, I seem to always picture him in 1985’s Real Genius. Kilmer plays a sarcastic, self-assured college senior who happens to be a genius and who also happens to develop a chemical laser wanted by the CIA. I love this film because just like Revenge of the Nerds, it makes the smart, nerdy guy come out victorious and proves that nerds will always rule the world. Nerds unite!
Instead of picturing Clooney in the bat suit standing next to Chris O’Donnell in spandex, I like to think of him as the a vampire-stabbing, ass-kicking crook, Seth Gecko, in Quentin Tarantino’s 1996 horror film From Dusk Till Dawn. I love this film for so many reasons. Maybe it’s because of the huge tattoo that creeps up Clooney’s neck. Or it’s because of Sex Machine’s crotch gun. Or because Cheech Marin is a squirrely vampire and Fred Williamson is a bad mutha. Maybe it’s because of Selma Hayek’s snake dance or seeing Harvey Keitel’s Asian son killing vampires with a holy Super Soaker. I think it was a little bit of everything, plus the fact that it had such a multicultural cast. Even though it was probably Clooney’s least “good guy” character ever, I still think it was his best.
Finally I get to my favorite Batman actor, Christian Bale. Bale played the iconic character in three Christopher Nolan directed films: 2005’s Batman Begins, 2008’s The Dark Knight and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. Despite the questionable casting choices of Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes, and Bale’s hard-to-understand gruff, baritone Batman voice, I think the films got everything right.
Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine were devoted, well-respected characters. Liam Neeson and Ken Watanabe played good bad guys, Health Ledger was unforgettable as a demented Joker, and Tom Hardy was merciless as Bane. The films were entertaining and all-around legendary, and Bale played Bruce Wayne/Batman with a slight edginess and anger that made him more human than any other Batman I’ve seen.
However, I have to say that the first time I heard that Bale was going to be Batman, I immediately thought of 1999’s American Psycho. American Psycho is hands-down my favorite Christian Bale role ever, a close second being his big screen debut in Steven Spielberg’s 1987 film, Empire of the Sun. Bale plays the deranged ‘80s serial killer/investment banker Patrick Bateman (based on Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel of the same name), with such an exquisite darkness, and with such a maniacal sense of humor.
The perfect example of this is when Bateman hacks Paul Allen (Jared Leto) into pieces as Huey Lewis and the News’ song “Hip to Be Square” is blasting on the stereo. Despite the horror of what’s happening, you can’t help but laugh as Bale rattles of reasons why the song is the band’s “undisputed masterpiece.” Then you have the whole business card scene where Bateman is trying to control his anger toward Allen’s subtle off-white, watermarked card. The same controlled anger in Bateman is used by Bale in the character of The Dark Knight, just in a different way. Bateman IS Batman (minus the “E”).
So there you go. Those are my favorite films of the past big screen Batmans. My inherent nerd nostalgia will never let me forget these old school roles, and as long as I’m a part of NOC, I’ll never let you forget them either.
I’ll be open-minded about Affleck playing the Dark Knight, and will leave you with my favorite Ben Affleck role ever (since he technically is now a big screen Batman): 1984’s The Voyage of the Mimi.