With the release of The Batman, we have a new actor playing the title role with Robert Pattinson taking over from Ben Affleck. There is a great deal of debate over who is the best Batman and while I have my own preference it’s true that each actor and each director brought something to the character.
Tim Burton & Michael Keaton – The Oddball Bruce Wayne
Michael Keaton is absolutely the best Bruce Wayne, playing him as an odd eccentric who understands his billionaire life is already somewhat ridiculous before he adds the superhero part. The brilliant “you wanna get nuts?!” outburst from Wayne is one of the few moments in the entire series of Batman films where Bruce Wayne really stands out and does something memorable.
Joel Schumacher & Val Kilmer
It is difficult as there are two Batman films that are almost universally hated, the first being Batman Forever, which saw Val Kilmer become Batman. This is a bad film and overall a bad performance but there is a moment I love in this film. In the beginning, Two-Face plans to blow up a circus if Batman doesn’t reveal his real identity, rightly assuming that in the audience someone will know who Batman is. Kilmer’s Bruce Wayne immediately stands up and declares he is Batman, but in the ensuing panic no one hears him.
Joel Schumacher & George Clooney
The nadir of Batman undoubtedly came with Batman and Robin with George Clooney taking on the role. This film saw the complete collapse into ridiculousness and absurdity started in Batman Forever. It was entirely possible a good film could come from that. The Adam West Batman TV show worked but Batman and Robin had none of that charm and so every silly thing just became stupid. What I will say of Batman and Robin is that they really went for it. It had henchmen on ice skates, it had ridiculous costumes (as Adam West points out in The Simpsons, he didn’t need moulded plastic to improve his physique – pure West), and the infamous Bat Card. There was no pulling its silly punches and I admire directors who will go full throttle with their concept as that can lead to greatness. Admittedly, this film did huge and, in some cases irreparable, damage to everyone involved and is often cited as the worst film ever made.
Christopher Nolan & Christian Bale
My personal favourite Bale’s Batman brought a veneer of reality to the films with half-decent explanations of where Bruce Wayne got those wonderful toys of his. Bale is also the best at playing Batman, bringing a physicality to the role lacking in the earlier films. Fights in previous films were done very differently – in the Burton-Keaton films Batman wasn’t so much about throwing punches, Schumacher’s films the combat became silly. This trilogy contains not only great fight scenes but some of the greatest action sequences of all time.
Zack Snyder & Ben Affleck
Of all the Batmen mentioned this one is the most violent, branding people and very casually killing them when that was essentially always the line that he wouldn’t cross. The problem being I don’t think this was a well thought out move and didn’t dwell on the implications of murder. The Affleck Batman films start with the idea that Batman has been active for years and this is an older and past his prime Batman. This is a great idea and is lifted from the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, the better twist in that being Batman essentially retired and starts with Bruce Wayne being drawn back into being Batman.
The Perfect Batman
So to me, the perfect Batman has the weird eccentric billionaire Wayne character perfected by Keaton, the gritty vaguely realistic setting of the Nolan films and the most imposing superhero of Bale. It would have the more idealistic Kilmer portrayal and Joel Schumacher’s huge swing at greatness. The Affleck Batman would put twenty years on Batman, giving us a superhero struggling with decades of fighting. In brief, the Perfect Batman is a middle-aged idealist in a gritty realistic world of amazing action with a director turning it up to 11. I’ll be waiting for the Bat-signal from Hollywood to start work on this new film.
Also Read: Was It Really That Bad: Batman and Robin