There’s a famous tale that Batman & Robin director Joel Schumacher settled on George Clooney as his second and final Batman after sketching the superhero’s cowl with a Magic Marker over Clooney’s face in photos. I’m sure there was actually much more involved in the casting, but the story underscores a basic truth about playing every superhero, but especially Batman: No one really cares who wears the suit.
At least that was true for a long time. But Christian Bale, who reminded everyone this week that the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises will be his last tour of duty in Gotham City, changed things. His Batman/Bruce Wayne was much more complex than his modern cinematic predecessors’ (Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and Clooney). I think it had something to do with the fact that Bale’s hero wore his responsibilities of protector as a burden and Bale the actor never took that role lightly — even for a winking instant. His Bruce Wayne doesn’t seem to enjoy his work, and that made him the perfect hero for Christopher Nolan’s dark and gritty Gotham. Some folks derided his character’s relentless gloominess — and that hoarse whisper — but Bale makes you believe that Bruce Wayne’s dressing up as a bat-freak is an inevitable consequence of his life experiences.
Bale’s dedicated Bruce Wayne rivals Christopher Reeve’s Superman when it comes to an actor whose talent, physicality, and disposition best reflect their superhero character, and even though he hasn’t yet donned the Batsuit for Nolan’s third and final film, I’m already bummed that the end is in sight. I sympathize with the poor actor who’s eventually asked to replace him, be it on television or another film, but thanks to Bale, at least no filmmaker will ever again be so blithe to cast his successor with a Magic Marker.
Is Bale your favorite Batman, or do you have a soft-spot for one of the other actors’ Caped Crusaders? Where does Bale’s performance rank all-time in the comic-book genre, if you take into account the likes of Reeve, Tobey Maguire and Robert Downey Jr?