Batman On Screen Through The Ages

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Batman Columns


Batman was originally published in 1939. It was barely four years later that the Dark Knight made his TV debut. Since then, the role has progressed into a virtual buffet of Bruce Wayne impersonators from 1943 without an end date in sight. Indeed, the role is one that has been reprised a multitude of times. Who was your favourite Batman?

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Lewis Wilson: 1943
The very first man ever cast in the role of Batman, 70 years ago, was Lewis Wilson. The bad guy was Dr Daka, a Japanese wartime mastermind who created a deathray that could annihilate anything he pointed to. The suit Wilson was given was the original grey and black design (bearing in mind the screen was black and white back then) – plus Bob Kane hadn’t broken in the latex and rubber yet – but all the same, for a 1943 role, Wilson was a fabulous Batman debut.

Adam West: 1966
Adam West, oddly enough, is cited as the first TV Batman, even though Wilson had already been there twenty years prior. Still, West managed to portray the Dark Night in a brilliant and very memorable fashion – complete with quirky punch lines and highly onomatopoeic fight scenes. West was also a very dashing and debonair man, so being the face of Bruce Wayne worked pretty well for him. There’s a reason has been acting since 1954 to present – he’s that good.

Michael Keaton: 1989 – 1992
What do you get when you mix Bob Kane with Tim Burton? Awesomeness! Fast-forward 23 years until first in the “modern” Batman franchise began, starting with Michael Keaton as Batman. Villains he faced during the two movies included The Joker (a stunning performance by Jack Nicolson), Catwoman (played by the delicious Michelle Pfeifer), and the Penguin (Danny DeVito – naturally). This modern adaption actually had the great Bob Kane on the set to appease people like me who yell at the TV when they get the origins wrong

Val Kilmer: 1995
Michael Keaton made the decision to step out of the role of the Caped Crusader, and Val Kilmer moved into the position in 1995 for the movie Batman Forever. Starring with Nicole Kidman (Chase Meridian), Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face) and Jim Carey (The Riddler), this Batman movie seemed more of a spoof than a real representation of the original storyline. Kilmer was also apparently quite the diva on this movie set, making life fairly difficult for other crew members and the then-franchise-director Joel Schumacher. Needless to say, he was not signed on for the next installment – which suited me just fine.

George Clooney: 1997
While George Clooney may make a very good Bruce Wayne, his Batman impersonation wasn’t the very best performance for this award-winning actor. Clooney starred opposite Chris O’Donnell (Robin), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Mr. Freeze), Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy) and Alicia Silverstone (Batgirl) in the 1997 Batman Forever movie. The plotline was great, the villains were fabulous, Robin was Robin, and even Batgirl made an appearance in this flick.

Christian Bale: 2005 – 2012
Christian Bale broke former records when he signed on for a trilogy deal with Warner Brothers and Chris Nolan. Chris Nolan’s direction, according to many die-hard Batman fans including yours truly, saw the movie franchise reach epic new heights of fan fiction in this three-part series which developed and maintained a very cool storyline. Villains included Ras al Ghul (Liam Neeson), The Joker (Heath Ledger’s famous last role resulted in a very well-deserved post-humous Oscar), Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart), Bane (Beautifully portrayed by Tom Hardy), Talia Head/Al Ghul (Marion Cottilard) and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). Bale was an awesome Batman, and it’s a major blow to the franchise that he refused to take on the last movie (at least for now): Batman vs. Superman.

Ben Affleck: 2015
Hard to say… will he be amazing or will he suck? There’s absolutely no way of knowing at this stage, but his record has been pretty good up to date (chick flicks excepted). I’m waiting to be pleasantly surprised, let’s see what Ben Affleck can do in the role of Batman. A great deal of very loud nay-sayers have taken to ridiculing the decision to cast Affleck, some of them outright outraged by it. All I can say is… we’ll see.

Of all the many men who have portrayed Batman on the silver and grey screens, I’d argue the single most effective rendition has always been Batman: The Animated Series. Eliminate the politics of Hollywood role casting, get back to basics and enjoy the humour, drama and adventure of the Dark Knight the way it was always meant to be enjoyed: technicolour.

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