Batffleck is coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. While many are hotly anticipating the March 2016 blockbuster to be Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (I know I’m not the first to think that sounds like a Law and Order spin-off am I?) others have seen the trailer, looked at the images, and thought… really? That’s the direction you went in? Overly armored costume, overly muscled physique, overly auto-tuned voice. While this film has a 100% chance of making money it’s anyone’s guess if it will be any good. Will this be the Batman for all time? Is Ben’s Bruce Wayne going to define the role? I really can’t tell yet but if history has any bearing there will be fanboy celebration, and fanboy angst, no matter what. I can’t begin to contemplate who my favorite Batman would be but I’d love to hear which is yours. How about we take a look at the actors who’ve donned the cowl in the past…
Batman at War?
We often attribute the screen depiction of the caped crusader to Adam West but Batman, not unlike his inspiration Zorro, appeared in Republic Serials in the 1940’s. A fifteen part series it introduced things like “The Batcave”, the entrance through the clock in Wayne Manor, and Alfred as skinny older gent, instead of the rather portly depiction previously in the comics. Series star Lewis Wilson played both Bruce and Batman to the hilt. His lackadaisical millionaire playboy was spot on for the era, reminiscent of William Powell’s Thin Man, though not nearly as well written. His Batman didn’t lose much of that playboy swagger and seeing Batman and Robin taking their masks off in public adds to the camp nature of these films. Another interesting tidbit is that in the serials, which were made during WWII, Batman was a US government agent and like all “good young people” of that era he was willing to lay down his life for his country.
Here’s episode 1: “The Electric Brain!”
Batman, the Policeman’s ally!
1949 saw the second serial adaptation of the Caper Crusader in the form of “Batman and Robin”. A fifteen part series, starring Robert Lowery as Bruce/Batman and Johnny Duncan as Dick/Robin, it followed Batman’s assault on crime and played up his relationship with the police. I wasn’t able to view much of this series but from the brief glimpse I got they seem to have cast Robert Lowery as a Victor Mature lookalike. Victor had the starring role in Cecil B Demille’s 3 million dollar production of Samson and Delilah that same year. To its credit Batman and Robin ran 15 installments and looks like it took the subject quite seriously…
Holy Catchphrase Batman!!
Nineteen Sixty-six saw what is arguably the most well-known adaptation of the Dark Knight. Adam West’s portrayal of a scenery-chewing, over emoting caped crusader is forever entrenched in pop culture. The abundance of meme’s throughout the internet show there is still much love for Adam West’s over the top alliteration and style. The show’s success didn’t just hinge on Mr West, as we saw recently with the death of actress Yvonne Craig (who played Batgirl in the ’66 series), people still have a place in their hearts for the campy style, not to mention the amazing array of guest stars including Ceasar Romero, Vincent Price, Lee Meriwether, Julie Newmar, Eartha Kit, Eli Wallach, Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, John Astin, and Victor Bruno the series.
The series was so popular that there was even a full-length feature film, check out the trailer,
Where Does He Get Those Amazing Toys?!
Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) has the distinction of having one of the two modern actors to don the cape and cowl in more than one film. Micheal Keaton had a varied career before Batman playing in dramatic movies and comedies, Batman marked his foray into action and possibly because of his height, he’s only 5 feet 10 inches, he played it a bit crazy. His characterization of both Bruce and Batman was more than a little manic. A choice which may have been influenced by the identity of his arch-nemesis. Jack Nicholson’s turn as the Joker has been heralded as one of the best, usually second only to Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight (2008). This Batman was also the first to use bat-gadgets that although comic bookish in nature actually made sense. The Batmobile was a huge hit as well and still maintains a large fan-base.
Val Falls a Little Flat…
After Batman Returns we all figured Keaton had the role sewn up. Both films did pretty well at the box office, even though Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman in the second film was disturbing, to say the least. Then Val Kilmer took over the role in the 1995 film Batman Forever, the first major film to include Robin The Boy Wonder since the 1966 series and movie, this should have been a great film. With Kilmer, coming off a very successful turn as Doc Holiday in Tombstone, in the title role and Chris O’Donnell as Robin, Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, Jim Carrey as The Riddler, and Nicole Kidman as the love interest. This is a slam dunk yes? Though breaking box office records the film received mixed reviews, mostly due to Kilmer and O’Donnell’s performances, and well Bat-nipples. It was pretty obvious to the fans Kilmer’s flat portrayal wasn’t garnering him a sequel.
Oh Batman Where Art Though?!
After the mixed reviews of Kilmer’s Batman Forever the studio thought they’d go in a different direction. Why not pick and actor that nearly everyone loves? George Clooney’s smug almost nonchalant performance in Batman & Robin (1997) was maddening. Even when he tried to appear angry or intense it just didn’t play. And add to that another cough stellar cough job by Chris O’Donnell and an avalanche of bad acting from Alicia Silverstone (Batgirl), Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy), and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mister Freeze and you have the final (failed) attempt by Joel Schumacher to give us the Batman we deserve.
After the last debacle that was Batman & Robin Warner Bros. decided to put the franchise on hiatus for a bit. Between 1997 and 2005 there would be no Batman in cinema. Which brought an end to Batman’s campy era.
But then there was…
The Batman for a Generation!
The only actor to star in three Batman films, Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Christian Bale wore the cowl for over seven years (if you count filming and promotion then it’s closer to 10 years.) Bale’s interpretation of the character, as well as the films themselves, proved to be the closest anyone has ever gotten to bringing the true Caped Crusader to the screen. When Warner Bros announced Christian Bale as Batman director Christopher Nolan commented, “What I see in Christian is the ultimate embodiment of Bruce Wayne. He has exactly the balance of darkness and light that we were looking for.” Were there issues with his performance, of course! Fans will always find things to pick at, but no one disagrees that this is probably the best Batman film (Batman Begins) ever made.
A New Era…
2016 brings us a brand new Batman, Ben Affleck has donned the mask. According to speculations Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will deliver a Batman that is a seasoned hero, one akin to the older version seen in the classic Frank Miller graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns.” Can Affleck pull it off? We’ve seen him play drama several times most notably perhaps in 2014’s Gone Girl and action, albeit in Reindeer Games back in 2000. Can he play the Bat?
I think it’s safe to say that no matter where your allegiances lie this movie looks amazing, I for one can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
Hey look! There’s a poll! Take a moment and vote for your favorite Batman!