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The many faces of Batman


Tomorrow, the long wait is over. The Dark Knight Rises is released, and Christian Bale takes his bow as Batman. He has been associated with the character for seven years, so it's easy to sometimes forget that there have been many attempts at the character over the years, most notably in the big screen franchise whose back slide in quality led to Christopher Nolan's much lauded interpretation. Because I'm a nostalgic kinda guy, I'm going to take a look back at the actors who've donned the cowl on the big screen, seeing what they brought to the role, and what made their versions unique.

There's a saying amongst Doctor Who fans that the first Doctor you are introduced to is your favorite. For me, that's true for Batman as well. While I won't call Michael Keaton the best Batman ever, he popped my big screen Dark Knight cherry, and for that he will always be my favorite. He brings a well worn interpretation to the character, one of someone who is as damaged as the crazed maniacs he fights, but makes it all his own. He doesn't seem comfortable as either persona. He's at odds with himself, trying to figure out which is the mask he wears: Batman or Bruce Wayne. You get this from his first scene as the billionaire playboy, when Vicki Vale asks him if he knows who Bruce Wayne is, and he answers, "I'm not sure". It's a fun take on the character, and Keaton plays it perfectly.

One aspect of Keaton's Batman that doesn't sit right with me though is something that was only recently pointed out to me: He murders people! It's a major part of the Batman mythos that he doesn't kill. If he does it is something he has no control over. But Keaton goes kill happy, sending scores of nameless goons to their graves. It's glossed over in Batman (Jokers goons could have escaped the explosion at Axis Chemicals, right?), but in Batman Returns we see him straight up murder The Penguin's circus henchmen, even going so far as to strap a bomb to one guys chest and chuck him off a building.

While you could practically hear the nails starting to be nailed into Batman's coffin with Batman Forever, Val Kilmer's take on the character is probably one of the best things about it. He runs with what Keaton did with the character, but brings some separation to the two sides of the character, adding an air of smugness to the Bruce Wayne persona, making him feel like a billionaire playboy for the first time in the series. There is even some character development in there, with Bruce choosing to be Batman, seemingly accepting his parents death, and reconciling the two persona's. While this was great at the time, and really made the franchise feel like a series, it would lead to be one of the many, many things wrong with Batman And Robin.

Uggh.....Batman And Robin. Even writing about it makes me feel wrong. O.K., I'm going to keep this brief. George Clooney was an awful Batman. With the death of his parents no longer clouding Bruce's mind, his version of the character lost everything that made him Batman. He could have been anyone underneath that cowl. An awful interpretation to go with an awful movie.

So we come to Mr. Bale. For a different take on the Batman mythos, we needed a different take on Batman. He is certainly the most psychically imposing Batman to grace the silver screen, which really pushes that the Batman is something to be feared. There is also a sense of fallibility to the character missing from the other versions. This has been something I've seen seeping into super hero movies for the last couple of years now, a sense of realism, that the heroes are human too. The one thing that really sets his take apart from the rest is the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman. The fact that his Bruce accepts that Batman is who he really is, and Bruce Wayne is the mask, adds so much to his interpretation. This Bruce Wayne plays to peoples expectations of his playboy status, just to ensure he doesn't hurt anyone. It's a take that has never been seen before on film, and is a real credit to Nolan and Bale.

So there you have my take on the men who donned the bat suit and fought crime on the big screen. Agree? Disagree? Have your own opinion? Feel free to sound off below.

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The Movie Bit: The many faces of Batman
The many faces of Batman
The Movie Bit
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