There Can Be Only One…Batman!

Batmans

If there’s one thing Hollywood loves more than multi-billion dollar blockbuster franchises, it’s rebooting multi-billion dollar blockbuster franchises. The webbing was barely dry on Tobey Maguire’s Spidey suit before Marvel and Sony decided to “re-imagine” its famous webcrawler in the form of rising star, Andrew Garfield. And how did they decide to make it distinctly different from the previous trilogy that had just ended five years earlier? Stick “The Amazing” in front of it. Comic book fans will love the reference, and the studios get another franchise reboot. Not that I’m complaining. To be honest, by the end of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy, the storylines were getting weighed down by too many characters, a convoluted plot, and well, this abomination of a scene. And the less that can be said about Joel Schumacher’s stewardship of the Batman franchise, the better.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at Hollywood’s hits and misses when it comes to creating icons of our favorite heroes/villains in the first installment of “Who Wore It Best:  Nerd Reactor Edition.”

 

Who Wore It Best? The Batsuit

Note:  Apologies to Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery, who were the first two actors to play Batman in the DC Batman serials in the late 40’s. Since they were both well before my time, I’m not going to include them in my list. Also, apologies to Kevin Conroy, who voiced Batman in both the superlative Batman:  The Animated Series, as well, as various Batman video games.  Also, I’m reserving judgement on Affleck’s Batman until the movie comes out.  But right now, I’m thinking he has a shot at #2, but will likely slot in at #3 or #4.  

 

george clooney batman5. George Clooney (Batman and Robin):  Is this really a surprise? Is there a list that doesn’t have Clooney’s single turn in the Batsuit as the superhero travesty to end all superhero travesties? This film was so bad, that even Clooney himself makes fun of it. Burdened by cornball dialogue and a script filled with plot holes big enough to drive a Batmobile through, this was without a doubt the nadir of the Batman franchise. Oh, and let’s not forget “The Nipple Suit”.

 

valkilmer batman4. Val Kilmer (Batman Forever):  As much as I decry the two Schumacher films between Burton’s Batman and Nolan’s Batman, I will admit that Batman Forever was… not terrible. Yes, it’s damning with faint praise. But those who weren’t into the dark, gothic tones of the original films did get at least a different take on the Caped Crusader in this film. And Val Kilmer did what he could with the material, playing Batman a little more campily, a little more cheerfully. And maybe that’s what turned people off to Kilmer’s Batman. So yes, the film’s color palette seems like something out of a Jackson Pollack painting. And Jim Carrey was in peak, scenery chewing form as The Riddler. But at the end of the day, when life hands you a green, question-mark bedecked unitard, make lemonade. Or something like that.

 

adam west batman3. Adam West (Batman TV Series):  I’ll always have a soft spot for the Batman TV Series. And some may find it hypocritical to criticize Shumacher’s films for being too campy, when the TV show was the absolute height of camp. But that was kind of the point. TV’s Batman was never about trying to tell a high stakes parable about the nature of good and evil. This was a show where “Blam” and “Pow” were vividly displayed on screen on a weekly basis. And how about that wall climbing? TV’s Batman was an earnest attempt to give audiences a chance to see a superhero beat a villain and teach a lesson on a weekly basis. And no one could play up this camp masterpiece better than the incomparable Adam West. His deadpan delivery of some of the most ridiculous lines on television is hysterical to this day. The show never took itself too seriously, and the actors followed suit.  Adam West may not have been the best Batman, but he is certainly among the most memorable.

 

michael keaton batman2. Michael Keaton (Batman, Batman Returns)Keaton gets bonus points for launching the Batman franchise into the modern era with his brooding take on the Caped Crusader, with a major assist from visionary director, Tim Burton. This was the way Batman was always meant to be played on the big screen. Dark colors, gritty themes, the deaths of parents. Nothing about the movies was “fun”. But that was kind of the point. Keaton shed his Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice comedic roots to fully embrace the dark, conflicted personality of Batman. Fully immersed in his Batsuit, it was hard to even remember a time when Keaton was wearing a completely different suit. Keaton’s Batman was somber, without being joyless. He was a tortured soul that bore the scars of his childhood on his psyche. And he took it out on those who sought to do harm to Gotham.

 

christian bale batman1. Christian Bale (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises): It would have been easy to put Bale at number 1 simply on the strength of the films themselves. Under the talented direction of Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Trilogy is in the pantheon of all films, let alone superhero films. But Bale made the most of the script and direction, adding a deeper layer to Bruce Wayne that had been somewhat missing in previous movies. Keaton had the dark brooding side down pat. And Clooney nailed his “billionaire playboy” scenes (and really, wasn’t that just him playing himself?). But Bale was the first actor that somehow managed to fully envelop both personas, giving each of his alter egos a distinct voice. He also had the added benefit of acting against one of the most iconic villain performances of all time in Heath Ledger. Let’s be honest, did anyone really think that we’d ever be describing Jack Nicholson as having the second best Joker performance in the Batman films? Ultimately, when it comes down to who best captured all the complexities inherent in this iconic comic book character, Bale is The Batman.

 

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Brian Chu
Brian Chu 221 posts

Brian Chu is a Staff Writer for Nerd Reactor and aspiring Jeopardy contestant. He thinks Picard is the best captain, Cumberbatch is the best Holmes, Bale is the best Batman, and Tennant is the best Doctor. Follow him @chumeister