The Batman, arguably DC’s most iconic character, has taken many forms over the years. The Caped Crusader turns 80 in a couple of years and with the Justice League movie ready to hit our cinema screens in a matter of weeks there are no signs of him slowing down just yet.
Batman is a character incredibly close to people’s hearts. So much so that when an actor is announced to play him it usually causes a cyber-meltdown of epic proportions. People are still stewing about Ben Affleck. But the pressure doesn’t just fall on the actors, the directors are also fully responsible for channelling their vision of the Dark Knight to the big and small screen. Some have been great, some not so great and some have been downright criminal. Two words, bat-nipples.
Today I’m wading through the early years to the current day to uncover who did it better. A Bat-alogue, if you will. And yes, expect many Batman puns throughout.
It would be wrong of me, when writing about Batman, to not mention the late, great Adam West. The 1960’s Batman series was the scripture to many a childhood memory, my own included. The show was chock loaded with sitcom style acting, slapstick fight sequences and camp aesthetics which was both completely ridiculous and hilarious in equal measures.
Needless to say, West became a pop culture icon but his rendition left a distinctive stain on the reputation of the Batman for years after the show was cancelled.
A number of creators tried to embellish Batman’s status over years but it wasn’t until Frank Miller’s 1986 series of graphic novels, The Dark Knight Returns, that saw Batman come back to his dark roots. A series which has become the most referenced article of Batman canon and paved the way for more ominous versions of the character.
Tim Burton’s vision paired with Michael Keaton as Batman was a match made in heaven. More favourably, in my opinion, was Burton’s 1992 sequel Batman Returns which really saw them both in pinnacle form.
The original, in it’s own right, was a major success and highest grossing film of the year, it gave us Jack Nicholson’s Joker and even won an Oscar for Best Art Direction. That’s what made Burton’s Batman so appealing; from a design perspective Burton really captured that Gothic world.
Unfortunately, Warner Bros. persisted with the continuation of the Batman movies without Tim Burton and passed the Bat-ton to Joel Schumacher who desecrated the Batman name.
Schumacher brought Batman back to the 60’s and infused corny one-liners and over the top characters. Notably, Jim Carrey’s Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face and, le piece de resistance, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze being significant representations of Schumacher’s ego, resulting in Warner Bros. cancelling any future Batman movies. Seriously, Bat-nipples?
Almost 10 years pass before enigmatic director Christopher Nolan appears out of nowhere to deliver a grounded, serious and theoretically sound superhero movie. Not to mention introducing us to Heath Ledger’s Joker; another casting that outraged fans in the beginning.
Nolan brought Batman back to his original roots, introduced by Bob Kane and Bill Finger all of those years ago as the world’s greatest detective. Nolan’s Batman movies are notoriously contrived, and in some ways it really works here. However, during the latter part of the trilogy, Nolan indulges in some of the fantasy elements which included Aaron Eckhart as Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent. No one could survive having half of their face being severely burnt off. I mean, come on.
Christian Bale made a great Batman (aside from the weird voice) but he was not a very convincing Bruce Wayne. Whereas Keaton’s Wayne was a tortured soul, Bale was all about the mission at hand, which left little time for philanthropy.
I’ve got to say, I really like Ben Affleck’s Batman. His only Achilles is that Zack Snyder decided to introduce him to the DCEU years after he was established leaving out a significant amount of his backstory and instantly eliminating any connection with the audience.
Snyder’s reasoning for this was that he did not want to give the audience yet another origin story and, even if he did, he could not compare with Nolan’s version which he considered as definitive.
What I can say is that Snyder’s version of Batman has shown us some of the most exceptional fight sequences in his entire cinematic history. A lot of the fighting choreography for previous Batman movies was very rigid and, well, fake looking. Mainly because of the cowl stopping the actor from moving his head and looking like he was wearing a neck brace.
Following the success of Tim Burton’s Batman and in conjunction with Batman Returns, Warner Bros. released an animated series with Kevin Conroy as the voice of the titular hero. Aptly named Batman: the Animated Series, it has received substantial critical accolade and a number of Emmy’s for the trouble, including Outstanding Animated Program.
The Animated Series had the luxury of adapting the thematic styling of Burton’s Gothic world and produced a well scripted, artistic rendition of Batman with film noir aesthetics and ominous tones. Due to it’s success, it spawned a series of movies as well as paving the way for various spin-off TV series; including Superman: The Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.
It stands to reason that this has to be the best rendition of Batman brought to the screen. Noted as the best animated series of all time, it arguably captures the true essence of Batman and his universe. A modern re-imagining which harnesses his comic book roots and, yet, can deliver characters like the Joker, Scarecrow and Mr Freeze respectably. Which is a lot more than can be said for Schumacher. I mean, come on, Bat-nipples?