Figuring Out Which Batman Actor Got The Most Right
For over 80 years, Batman has evolved and changed while still being one of the biggest forces in pop culture. This week, Cracked is doing a deep dive into the Dark Knight.
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Playing Batman is no easy feat; it requires discipline, physical fitness, and the ability to stretch your bladder control to the absolute breaking point while you’re stuck in a rubber onesie for an entire workday. A lot of great actors have played the Caped Crusader over the years, and before we add yet another one to the pile this month, let’s take a moment and try to evaluate the cinematic Batmen.
We’re only going to take into consideration the live-action movie actors, and also we’re excluding the two actors from the 1940s serials in which Batman wears a costume that looks like it was made by his mom the morning of Halloween and works behind a desk as if the Batcave were a small law firm. Every other movie Batman, though, from Adam West through to Ben Affleck, is on the Bat-table. So how do they compare in their …
Being a brilliant detective is obviously a hugely important component of the Batman character, hence why he didn’t debut in the pages of “Some Big Rich Dummy Comics.” But Batman’s sleuthing skills often fall by the wayside in favor of fight scenes and the occasional surfing competition. First off, Adam West’s Batman leans pretty heavily on his borderline-magical Batcomputer, but Michael Keaton’s Batman was able to figure out that Joker’s tainted hygiene products were only deadly if used in a certain combination.
Though, to be fair, we don’t get to see a lot of his leg work in the film; Bruce basically just flips through Jack Napier’s police file, notices that he has a background in chemistry (which somehow the police overlooked), and soon the case has been cracked.
Val Kilmer was really only tasked with solving riddles that could have been pulled from an escape room for preteens, and George Clooney didn’t really have any mysteries to solve beyond his own self-defeating horniness. Affleck’s Batman was able to locate the superpowered future members of the Justice League … but only because he hacked into a shockingly conveniently-organized hard drive.
Christian Bale’s Dark Knight, on the other hand, was out there planting marked bills to foil bank robbers and, most creatively, conducted an elaborate experiment that allowed him to pull a fingerprint off of reconstructed bullet fragments. It may be unrealistic, but it’s the kind of high-concept plan we’d imagine Sherlock Holmes might come up with between coke-fueled violin sessions.
So really Bale is at the top here – although you’d think such a pro investigator would have given “Miranda Tate” more than a cursory Google and avoided a whole mess of trouble.
Winner: Christian Bale
Obviously, a big problem with Michael Keaton’s Batman is that he couldn’t actually move his head – which seems like a pretty significant impediment when you’re trying to fight hordes of evildoers at night. In order to see what was happening next to him without “shredding” the rubber cowl, Keaton had to turn his entire body, which just looks weird.
Amazingly this was a problem for nearly two decades. It wasn’t until The Dark Knight in 2008 when Bale’s Batman finally got a headpiece separate from the suit that was “modeled after a motorcycle helmet.” And while Bale is pretty imposing, Affleck’s Batman (who could also turn his head) is a hulking beast of a superhero.
So Affleck’s the winner? Not so fast. While all of these Batmans are weighed down in bulky outfits, Adam West is just wearing tights. If it came down to a fight between all of them, West would probably win through mobility alone. And, like Affleck, he’s no stranger to brutally beating the crap out of a room full of crooks. It may seem fun and goofy, but that “CRRAACK!” sound effect? That was probably some poor guy’s tibia bone shattering.
Plus, there should be added consideration made for West’s bat physique, which wasn’t augmented by faux-rubber muscles. Affleck’s suit wasn’t even created using his body; it was molded on some other guy, a personal trainer and gym owner from Michigan. And we haven’t even mentioned the time West’s Batman walked away from a vicious shark attack.
Winner: Adam West
Unlike some other superheroes – we’re looking at you, Hugmaster – intimidation is an extremely important characteristic of Batman. He should be able to at least strike some fear into the hearts of evildoers. Right off the bat, then, West and Clooney are out – unless you consider randomly dancing with hippies and whipping out branded credit cards to be intimidating. Keaton’s introduction is one of the all-time great Batman scenes; despite being just 5’9'', he acts like he’s two Dolph Lundgrens in a bulletproof trench coat.
Bale is intimidating too, and genuinely threatening. When he drops by a nightclub, instead of breaking into the Batusi, he dangles a mobster off of a building.
But at a certain point, Bale’s voice arguably becomes more silly than menacing. To solve that problem, Affleck’s Batman uses some kind of voice modulator, perfect for terrifying criminals or prank-calling Neve Campbell.
And remember, in the world of Gotham City, Pearl Harbor and Gigli don’t exist, so you have to imagine that this giant dude who sounds like electro-Tom Waits would genuinely be pretty damn freaky.
Winner: Ben Affleck
Playing Batman is really a dual role – actually, it’s more like a triple role; there’s Batman, Bruce Wayne, and Bruce Wayne’s public persona. One of the most memorable Bruce Waynes is in Bale’s take. In private, he’s solemn but also flawed, while to his society pals he’s basically a cross between Patrick Bateman and Clark Griswold’s uptight neighbors.
Bruce is also where Clooney and Kilmer really shine, as does West who plays the part with matinee idol zeal.
Ben Affleck basically just plays Bruce Wayne as Ben Affleck (while also providing incredible Bruce Wayne hair), but Keaton may be the best of all of them (despite having the worst hair), giving his Bruce both a believable eccentric rich guy vibe and the vulnerable nuance of a guy still working through a life-changing trauma. And the discrepancy between the badass nocturnal antics of Batman and this awkward, pampered socialite is one of the most plausible arguments for how Bruce is able to retain his secret identity.
Of course, Keaton’s Bruce also pulls some downright creepy, total dick moves – but in retrospect, that makes him all the more believable as a millionaire businessman.
Winner: Michael Keaton
Every Batman has an impressive array of gizmos and doohickeys, Adam West perhaps most of all – although he is automatically disqualified from this category for powering his Batmobile with “atomic batteries” and possibly giving his teenage ward radiation poisoning. Bale built a sophisticated sonar-based spy network out of cellphones – but that is both highly unethical and … kind of confusing.
As for Kilmer’s Batman, he somehow figured out a way for the Batmobile to grapple onto one of Gotham’s many gargoyles and drive up the side of a (remarkably flat) building.
But Keaton’s gear was so impressive that even the Joker couldn’t help but comment on it.
And, perhaps most impressively, Keaton found a way to hack into a PA system and pipe damning audio recordings of The Penguin over the speakers, making it seem as though he were badmouthing the people of Gotham despite the fact that his lips clearly weren’t moving at all.
Also, bonus points for the fact that he somehow figured out how to scratch a CD and make it sound as if it were a vinyl record.
Winner: Michael Keaton
So in the end, by taking down two categories in our exhaustive, inarguably definitive system of evaluation, Michael Keaton is the actor who most nailed the part of Batman, especially if you ignore all of the needless murders. This works out nicely for Warner Bros. now that Keaton is returning to the role for at least two more movies, presumably about how Batman now likes hanging out at bingo halls and watching problematic cable news shows.
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Top Image: Warner Bros.