Recently, we got our first glimpse at Robert Pattinson's Batman from director Matt Reeves' upcoming The Batman. And it seemed pretty cool! Even the set photos wherein he's driving through a cemetery on his Bat Bike, presumably while very sad, are awesome. I'm all about a Batman who looks like he's gonna fight crime in Gotham, but only when he's done flipping his ATV through a burning hoop at the X Games.
But this feeling of "Ayyy, we got a new Batman that looks dope!" isn't destined to last. Because as history has shown us, no one hangs up their Batsuit satisfied with the work they've done.
Few actors like to obsessively evaluate their performances after production has wrapped, because you end up looking kinda silly. Whenever I'm on a podcast or whatever, I think I sound great while doing it and that I've kept my slight redneck accent in check, but if I listen to it later, I sound like Jeff Foxworthy yelling his anime opinions from the window of a pickup truck. It's just something we have to live with.
However, with actors who have played Batman, there seems to be a very specific breed of discontent with the work you've done (or the work you never got to do), so much so that it's kind of become a curse. Take Adam West from the '60s Batman -- a wonderful, hilarious series that took the Caped Crusader from comic book VIP to worldwide pop culture icon. His impact on the character and the franchise was immense and appreciated.
And yet he always seemed kinda bitter that he never got invited back, especially when the 1989 Tim Burton film rolled around. Obviously, no one at Warner Bros. would be eager to cast the 61-year-old man who had represented the opposite tone of what they were aiming for, but he was still "angry." Hell, he apparently wrote an entire new Batman movie for himself and shopped it around, to no avail. Eventually he got to voice the character in two animated movies based on the '60s show, but he always wanted to find a way back into the live-action realm.
Cool fact, though: For a PBS documentary about superheroes, he got to read some dialogue for the mean old Batman from The Dark Knight Returns, and he sounds fucking terrifying:
The next actor, Michael Keaton (BEST BATMAN EVER, PLEASE @ ME), left the franchise after director Tim Burton straight up asked Warner Bros. "You don't want me to make another one, do you?" and Keaton became disappointed with the creative direction of the Joel Schumacher films. And though he seems super into reminding people that he's Batman, seemingly whenever he's in public, he also wishes that he could've done a third one with the tone that Christopher Nolan imbued in the series. (Keaton also said that a third one would've given them the chance to "fix whatever we kind of maybe went off," which is the real tragedy here. Which one of y'all told Michael Keaton that Batman Returns wasn't good? You should be ashamed of yourselves.)
Val Kilmer wished that they could've Nolan-ized things a bit too, even if his reasons for leaving the series are a little more muddled than Keaton's. Warner Bros. fast-tracked Batman & Robin to be made in just two years after Batman Forever, rather than the standard three-year wait between films, which left Kilmer with scheduling conflicts. But considering how much he disliked the direction they took his character in (and how much he was disliked by the director), his departure seems less like a "Oh no, how could they?" and more of a "Welp, should'a seen that coming."
Though more movies were planned with George Clooney as Batman that would've tried to course-correct the series away from looking like they were shot in the back of a Spencer's Gifts, he never got the chance to redeem himself. He regrets the role entirely, and it made him more selective about the roles he takes. Other actors who had bad first rounds in the superhero genre have dived back in for a more positive experience, but not Clooney. Though considering that some Marvel Cinematic Universe films are shot without the actors even knowing what movie they're in, I imagine that inevitably, Clooney is gonna play the president or something and then have to say, "Wait, fuck, that was for Thor?"
Even Christian Bale, who most people would say did the most consistent job as the Dark Knight, isn't 100% happy with his time as Batman. After seeing Heath Ledger's iconic performance as the Joker, he realized that he never brought his A-Game and didn't portray the "very, very dark, messed-up character" he should have. He was initially jealous when Ben Affleck took over the role. What "being a better Batman" would've entailed (growling ... louder?) is anyone's guess. It just goes to show you that your movies can be nearly universally beloved by critics and make over a billion dollars each, and you can still watch them and think you didn't go hard enough.
But the saddest Batman of all has to be the most recent one. Ben Affleck told The New York Times that he was afraid he'd drink himself to death if he kept playing the role. He was the Bat in Batman v. Superman, Justice League, and for about four seconds in Suicide Squad, but then went from writer/director/producer/star of The Batman to star, and then dropped out entirely, as behind the scenes issues on the DC films, his drinking problems, and his divorce became too much to handle. That's, um, quite a bit more depressing than "My Batman wasn't as pissed off as he should've been."
In short, I wish the best for Robert Pattinson, and I hope he plays Batman a dozen times, because the dude's a good actor. But I won't be surprised if a few decades from now, we get a Guardian article wherein he reveals that he wishes his Dark Knight had been taller (and also maybe in the X-Men).
Daniel Dockery is a writer and editor for Cracked. He talks about Batman on Twitter. Probably too much.
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