With Warner Bros.'s Comic-Con announcement that Zack Snyder's Man of Steel Superman follow-up will be inspired by Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, pitting DC Comics' two biggest heroes against each other in a 2015 summer blockbuster, Christian Bale can expect to field a new wave of questions about his involvement with the Batman franchise. To be fair, he's put them to rest several times, most emphatically when he recently told EW that he'd really-really retired the cowl. "We were incredibly fortunate to get to make three [Batman films]. That's enough. Let's not get greedy," Bale said. "[The role of Batman] is a torch that should be handed from one actor to another. So I enjoy looking forward to what somebody else will come up with."

Of course, that won't stop months and months of hopeful speculation that it will ultimately be Bale's grip around Henry Cavill's throat — until the day TMZ finally posts the first on-set images of some new actor as Batman. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bale's Bruce Wayne explained his M.O. to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's mysterious cop: "The idea was to be a suit. Batman could be anybody. That was the point." If only that were true. For a generation of moviegoers, Bale is Batman, and the idea of Gordon-Levitt or Armie Hammer — who was poised to play Batman in George Miller's canceled Justice League movie in 2007 — behind the mask simply lacks the same amount of credibility and excitement. Warner/Legendary/DC could try and lure Bale back with a Robert Downey Jr.-Iron Man financial offer, but if he declines, they need to think big, because even if the Dark Knight battles Superman in the next movie, the real rival is Disney/Marvel. The new Batman can't be a build-our-own star like Andrew Garfield or Ryan Reynolds — not when the other side has Downey leading the Avengers. Cavill capably wore the cape in Man of Steel, but he's not yet on the same fame footing as Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans, much less Downey. The new Batman not only has to fill Bale's shoes, but he has to go toe-to-toe with Downey in the cool department. The list of actors who could do both is pretty short, and it basically starts and ends with Ryan Gosling.

Gosling would make a fascinating Bruce Wayne/Batman while changing the conversation from who isn't playing Batman to, "Oh. My. God, Ryan Gosling is playing Batman!" (Do we need to show his abs again?) Look no further than 2011's Drive and Crazy Stupid Love to see how Gosling could deliver both sides of a vigilante/playboy, and though he's never starred in a movie that cost $100 million or grossed $100 million, no one would argue that he isn't a star in both the old-fashioned Hollywood mold and the 21st-century Internet meme sense. Two years ago, there were reports that Gosling was talking about playing the Lone Ranger and he was once attached to a Logan's Run remake, but for the most part, Gosling has brushed aside efforts to join his peers in the summer blockbuster sweepstakes. Instead, he's opted for the art-house, frustrating — and whetting — the industry's appetite with one eclectic role after another. He's like mid-1990s Johnny Depp. "I think [Gosling's] making really interesting career choices, but I don't know if he wants a Dark Knight," a studio exec told EW last year. "But let's put it this way: If I had a Dark Knight, if I were working with a Chris Nolan type and I had a big marquee franchise character, I would go to him."

Of course, Depp eventually found a way to work within — and eventually manipulate — the machine without compromising his artistic eccentricities, and Bale himself had an indie-heavy career path similar to Gosling's when he agreed to team up with Christopher Nolan for Batman Begins. Playing a superhero certainly hasn't hindered Bale's ability to land choice dramatic roles nor curtailed his motivation to exercise his range, winning an Oscar for The Fighter, partnering with auteur filmmakers like Terrence Malick and David O. Russell, and maintaining a general aura of mystery and anticipation around his projects. Gosling might be reluctant to "sell out," but he could do a lot worse than Bale's post "sell-out" roles. In fact, after three consecutive box-office disappointments (Gangster Squad, The Place Beyond the Pines, Only God Forgives), Gosling might be more willing to consider some gold-plated superhero handcuffs today than ever before.

Of course, Gosling is an original artist, and you could understand his reluctance in following up Bale, a revered actor so identified with an iconic role. Does he really want to be Roger Moore to Bale's Sean Connery? But that shouldn't prevent Warner Bros. from backing up the Brink's truck to Gosling's front door (and then sending over the Tumbler and the Bat to sweeten the deal.) Gosling is six years younger than Bale, he's a ready-made star who can become the face of the entire DC Comics universe, and casting him as Batman would send interest in the next Superman movie through the stratosphere.

Plus, don't underestimate the competitive fire of alpha actors: if there's even a 1 percent chance that Bale is simply playing hardball, merely talking to Gosling about playing Batman might persuade Bale to answer the Bat signal one more time. He might claim he's looking forward to passing the torch to another actor, but Gosling isn't just "another actor." It's a win-win scenario for Warner Bros. Should Bale insist he's done, Gosling is the hero Warner Bros. needs, and the hero a Supes/Batman mashup deserves.

Man of Steel
  • Movie
  • 144 minutes