By Editor in Chief: Natalie Dunn
Though Batman is a character commonly passed from actor to actor, it’s always a controversy when the next descendent is chosen to take over the role. This time around, Ben Affleck is getting the bad press for being cast as the iconic superhero in the Man of Steel sequel, scheduled for release in 2015 as Batman vs. Superman.
Before Affleck steps up to take the plate, take a look at who he has to follow, and why he has such big wings to fill.
Adam West: the original
Though the most recent movies depict Bruce Wayne/Batman as a lonesome soul, this was not originally the case. Adam West, who played the title character in the original television show (1966-1968), and in the movie based on the series (1966), showed a light, cheesy side of Batman. It reflected the comic books, sometimes even throwing “POW” or “KABLAM” on the screen when the masked vigilante took a swing at the Joker. Always accompanied by his sidekick Robin (played by Burt Ward), the puns and wordplay were unrelenting. Any sticky situation was followed by a “Holy Polaris Batman!” (as a rocket with the word Polaris painted on the side shot off into space over their heads).
The example set by Adam West for all future Batmans was not one that was followed, unfortunately. Aside from Robin’s line in Batman Forever, when they’re climbing on the rusted out metal island built by The Riddler, when he says “Holy rusted metal, Batman! …Look, these iron grates are full of holes,” Adam West’s Batman isn’t addressed much in the later movies. Whether this is a step towards quality or a step away from tradition, it’s for the viewer to say.
Michael Keaton: the first ‘dark knight’
In the 1989 Batman, the first blockbuster Batman since the 60s, Michael Keaton set a new precedent, as did Tim Burton in directing the movie.
Keaton was questioned when he was chosen for the part as well, due to his filmography up until that point consisting of comedies, such as Beetlejuice. And although he did bring a bit of his comedy to the part – he told Vicki Vale that he didn’t know where Bruce Wayne was – his work as Batman was loved by audiences in Batman and Batman Returns (the sequel from 1992, in which he reprised the role). He also succeeded in portraying the dark and mysterious Batman which Burton desired and which attracted wide audiences to the theaters. This was a new look at a hero not many took seriously, and gave The Bat a bit of legitimacy.
Val Kilmer: one hit wonder
Batman Forever (1995), featuring the most packed supporting cast of all the movies (Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, and even Drew Barrymore), brought a new face to Batman: Val Kilmer. This casting decision was more positively supported than the decision to cast Michael Keaton, thanks to Kilmer’s experience as a serious, action movie actor.
Kilmer didn’t disappoint, either. He pulled off both the suave and mysterious, yet vulnerable Bruce Wayne, as well as the vengeful-turned-accepting Batman. Unfortunately for viewers, Kilmer did not get an opportunity to return to the franchise (although Chris O’Donnell, Batman Forever’s Robin, did return in the next movie).
George Clooney: a flaw in the plan
Every streak must be broken. After three box office smash hits, the Batman franchise had to take a hit. It came in the form of Batman and Robin (1997), and was lead boldly by George Clooney, who donned the Batsuit for the first and most definitely last time.
Clooney’s failure was not entirely his fault. Though his acting was not superhero-quality, the entire situation was a nightmare. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared in the movie as Mr. Freeze, and this casting disaster only got worse with the addition of Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy.
Everything from Batman, frustrated with Robin, exclaiming “This is why Superman works alone,” to the classic “I’m Batman” getting butchered by Clooney add more and more to the trainwreck that is Batman and Robin.
Christian Bale: Bruce yes, Batman not so much
It took a decent amount of time for someone else to dare to make another Batman movie. The previously described failure meant that Batman would need to take an entirely different approach to appeal to audiences again. It wasn’t until 2005 that Batman Begins began the most recent series of Batman movies, bringing in Christian Bale to take over the role.
This was a side of Batman no one had ever seen before. Never before had he been perceived as the bad guy on the big screen.
Bale, a drama actor, was able to play the part of the always smooth Bruce Wayne with perfection. However, the positive results didn’t quite transfer to his other character. While his Wayne interpretation was exactly what the movie desired – business man with secrets to keep, but good at keeping them – his Batman interpretation ended up coming across as an incredibly awkward man with a sore throat.
Batman Begins was followed quickly with The Dark Knight in 2008. Christian Bale once again pulled off Bruce Wayne without flaw and struggled in the superhero department. He then returned for one more (and also the most recent) film, The Dark Knight Rises.
From Adam West to Christian Bale, Batman has come a long way in 47 years. It’s impossible to tell if Ben Affleck will take after Michael Keaton or George Clooney, but it’s worth giving him a chance.
To decide for yourself which is the best Batman, check out this compilation video: