It’s been an all-out Batman month, I’ve reviewed all the movies, and ranked certain high marks from each film. This time, it’s going to be a ranking of all the actors that have played Batman in the theatrical movies. This is just my personal opinion on them, and aside from the performances, I’ll also be looking at them as characters in of themselves.
#8 George Clooney’s Batman from “Batman & Robin”
Before I get lost in the details of what either does or doesn’t (mostly doesn’t) work with this set-up, lets first look at the characters as is. Following right after 1995’s “Batman Forever”, Val Kilmer didn’t return to his signature role. Instead, we now have George Clooney fresh off his hit TV series “ER”, in the role of Batman. Now I hate to pick on a talented actor, especially one who’s frequently admitted that the film was terrible, but man oh man, his portrayal of Batman and Bruce Wayne was as boring and generic as they get. Every other talent that’s brought Batman life has always made the character feel real in some form, even in the movies I didn’t like. With George Clooney however, it really does feel like I’m just watching the actor in a Batman costume. That silly outfit didn’t help much either, as most other actors look like they could be one with the costume, but Clooney just looks like he’s having trouble moving around in it. The suit also has too much enfaces on a light blue color scheme, and need I even mention the nipples? Now Clooney dose have a natural charm that can just barely be felt when he’s portraying Bruce Wayne, but it doesn’t carry over as well with Batman as he smiles way too much, and never once looks imposing. Worst of all is that the movie makes no attempt to highlight our hero as an interesting character, he really is just there to go through to motions, fight the villain and save the day.
#7 Ben Affleck’s Batman from “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice”
Next is one of the more recent portrayals of Batman, and this was one of the most divisive elements of the film for me. This is arguably the darkest, and most dangerous Batman we’ve ever seen in a movie thus far. He has no moral code, he kills people without mercy or regret, his methods of fighting are intensely brutal and he even brands his victims, which we later learn is an invitation for other prisoners to kill the guy. In short, this version of Batman isn’t a “hero”, he’s just really messed up. Now I’m all for a different interpretation of Batman, but I feel this approach robs the character of his greatest strengths. Personally, I always saw Batman as a guy so skillful, he could take out a room full of criminals through stealth tactics, and not brute force. Also, seeing Batman use a gun felt very off putting, not just because of the moral implications, but because Batman was always skillful enough to take out his enemies without using something as basic as a fire arm. I also didn’t care for the design of the costume, as it just felt very plain and generic. Having said all that, Ben Affleck surpassed my wildest expectations in the role, not so much as Batman, but his Bruce Wayne was outstanding. It’s hard to describe, but Ben Affleck brought so much wait, grit and even a charm to Bruce Wayne. I actually think this is the very first time I was more engaged by Bruce Wayne’s presence then Batman’s.
#6 Adam West’s Batman from “Batman the Movie”
The original theatrical Batman is played by the late Adam West, and while I can’t say with a straight face that I’ve ever been a fan, he’s still undeniably an icon in the role. His voice is great, and he has this charm that’s all his own. However, his performance is less energetic then those around him, which makes his line delivery feel tired. Now to be fair, he must have used a lot of energy running around, doing all his physical actions. While his line delivery may seem a little dull, he certainly displayed a great deal of energy when doing the physical action. It should be noted that in this movie, Batman spends more time in costume than just about any other film in the franchise. We hardly ever see him as Bruce Wane, which is fine, I prefer watching him as Batman anyway. Having said that, Adam West dose turn up the charm when playing Bruce Wane, and actually delivers a more credible performance.
#5 Christian Bale’s Batman from “Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises”
Perhaps the most important thing with these films portrayals of the character is that it establishes Batman’s moral codes. While he’s still dark and maybe a little dangerous, he still has his limits. He will never use a gun, and he will never take someone’s life, as that's the line which separates him from his enemies. My favorite scene of the whole movie is near the end of his training with the League of Shadows, he surpasses their expectations and proves to be their greatest student, but there’s one last test … he has to take the life of a criminal. This is the moment when Bruce Wayne became a hero, not by dressing up like a Bat, but by refusing to kill, and turning on those who would do so without hesitation. When Bruce betrays the League of Shadows, I was cheering for him, and I knew this was going to be the film that got the character right. While he isn’t as mysterious as Tim Burton’s version, we can still get excited from the reactions of everyone else in the film who just have no clue of either who or what he is. Christian Bale is also excellent in the role, and while perhaps not the absolute best portrayal of Batman, this is my favorite performance of Bruce Wayne. He just feels the most human in this film, and its Bales devotion to the role that makes it work. Now as for the costume, well, I don’t hate it, but it’s far from classic. I think the head piece is to balky, the ears aren't sharp enough and the bat symbol on his chest isn't as noticeable, but that’s just me nitpicking.
#4 Val Kilmer’s Batman from “Batman Forever”
Batman in this film is played by Val Kilmer, and personally, I think he’s very under-appreciated in the role. He manages to bring some dimension to both Batman and Bruce Wane in his own unique way, and while he’s stuck with some really corny lines, he still delivers a perfectly passable performance. At face value, of all the actors to play Batman, Val Kilmer has a real-life personality that feels closest to the character, so you can almost make the argument that he really is Batman. With Kilmer, you can clearly see the two faces at work, one being the cool superhero, and the other being a tormented man who just wants a normal life. Also, ignoring the infamous nipples on the chest plate, I actually love how the costume looks in this film. It might honestly be my favorite looking Batman on film, as it keeps the classic image intact, but it also looks like a tougher, meaner skin. This is also the first time we see more technical details with the suit, like how his cape his resistant to heat, and how he can also use it as a parachute when leaping from great heights.
#3 Will Arnett’s Batman from “The Lego Batman Movie”
Will Arnett returns to voice Batman, and he’s actually very credible in the role. Truthfully, this might just be one of my top 3 favorite portrayals of the character. Will Arnett once again has great charisma in the role, but also looking at this character from a writing perspective, this film really nails the character better than most live action films. He’s still broody, like any version of the character, has his own internal conflicts, as well as a good reformation story, but he’s also exploding with personality at the same time, and it’s just a perfect fusion. Truthfully, I never thought a Batman, that’s basically just an animated brick, could be this entertaining and multilayered all at once. Then it hit me, these are two of my favorite child hood things coming together, it’s Lego and Batman coming together … of course it’s going to be special. On a side note, we don’t see too much of Bruce Wayne, yet we can still feel the presence of his alter ego under the mask.
#2 Michael Keaton’s Batman from “Batman” and “Batman Returns”
Michael Keaton previously stared in Tim Burton's “BeetleJuice” and has a great range of acting talents. Fans where very upset with this decision because he was an actor who did comedies like “Mr. Mom”. People wanted action stars like Sylvester Stallone, but Burton wanted someone unassuming for the role, and it works very well. As far as casting goes, Keaton is hands down my favorite live-action Batman. As Bruce Wayne he was sly, unassuming, but you can always see that little twitch, like he's hiding some personal pain. As Batman he was intimidating, and just plain cool. The costume also looked really good, fitting the classic image of Batman, while still looking very threatening. I also feel that this portrayal of Batman is truer to the source of the character than any other rendition. When he goes out fighting crime, he's really battling his own personal daemons, and when he inters a room ... the fights instantly over, he just hasn’t done anything yet. There's also a confidence and mystique to the character that thrills me every time he's on screen. I will admit that the actual "story" of the characters journey isn't nearly as multilayered as in other works like either the animated 90's series or the Dark Knight film trilogy. Because of this, I think this movies version of Batman has the most exciting screen presence, but doesn't have quiet as much under the surface ... at least when compared to other really compelling tales of a hero's journey. I'll admit I prefer my superhero movies to center around the journey of the hero, but I have four other Batman films that accomplish that. So, let’s just enjoy this stunning portrayal of the character, just for different reasons.
#1 Kevin Conroy’s Batman from “Batman Mask of the Phantasm”
Truthfully, despite being an animated movie, I think this is the most multilayered the hero has ever been represented on film. Everything that is Batman is on full display here. We see his humanity, his heroism, as well as his dark side, his pathos, his regrets, and finally we see him as a detective, slowly putting together a larger puzzle. Being a detective is actually one of Batman’s defining character traits, but it’s barely seen in the live action movies. In this film, it’s thrilling to see Batman as a crime fighter, but it’s equally engaging to see him solve a relatively challenging mystery, one that we the audience have to solve along with him. It’s also great to finally see the more tragic side of what it means to be Batman. There’s a powerful moment during an early flashback in which Bruce is happy about his current relationship and debates weather he really wants to be a crime fighter. Then he goes to his parents grave and begins to grieve, thinking that maybe his current happiness and new direction is betraying their memories. It’s an interesting exploration on what his life might have been like if he found happiness, and it adds another layer of tragedy to his eventual transformation into Batman.
This is also the first time in which I felt that Batman and Bruce Wayne were one and the same. There are moments in which we feel Bruce’s compassion under Batman’s imposing look, and in reverse we have scenes with Bruce out of costume, yet he still leaps into action without hesitation to protect someone from being mugged. Our hero by the way is voiced by Kevin Conroy, and in my opinion, he’s all around the best actor to ever portray the character. He has an incredible voice that carries so much wait, yet he also sounds both intimidating and heroic all at once. I don’t mean to bash the other great talents that have played Batman in the past, as they all have their own strengths they bring to the character. It’s just that for me, Kevin Conroy is so memorized in the role that it’s impossible for me to separate the actor from the character.