Saturday, February 5, 2011

11 Actors who played Batman

So I picked out a new background, plus, Blogspot added this thing where it's real easy to put pictures in your posts (I mean, I guess I always could have, but the interface is much simpler now) so I went a little nuts and found a bunch of pictures and...

What was I talking about? Right. Batman.

Anyway, here's a bunch of people who have played Batman through the years. I had to include voice actors as well, since there are really only like 5 guys who ever played live action versions of Batman (not counting fan videos on youtube). So here they are:

11. Actor: Lewis Wilson
Played Batman in: 1940's Batman Serials

I'm not sure I've ever seen a 1940's Batman Serial, at least not an entire one, I'm sure I've seen clips of the show, but I gotta give this guy credit for being the first actor to portray him on film (as far as I know). I kinda like the pointy mask, and the ears that look more like devil's horns than bat ears. That cape is probably made out of some thick material that's more like carpet than cloth.

I don't think he ever fought any of Batman's signature villains, though. I'm guessing it was a lot of bad guys in suits, mobsters, probably Nazi's since it was the 40's, and no end of hilariously stereotyped Chinese and Japanese bad guys, who were probably white actors with their eyes scotch taped into a ridiculous squint, and a jet black fu-manchu.

Lewis Wilson is also the only person to ever play both Batman and Iron Man (Ok, he played a character named Jerome 'Iron Man' Collins in a movie called Sailor's Holiday, which since it was the 40's probably wasn't gay porn) and his son, Michael G. Wilson, was a producer on every James Bond Movie since Moonraker (including the new Bond movies). Lewis was married, briefly, to Dana Broccoli, who later married Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli, who was the producer on ALL the Bond films, which is probably how his son got involved.

You had no idea James Bond and Batman were so intricately linked, did you?

Cell phones in the 40's were HUGE...

10. Actor: Val Kilmer
Played Batman in: Batman Forever (1995)

Poor Val. I like him in so many things: Real Genius, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Salton Sea, Willow...

He was unfortunately saddled with taking over the Dark Knight just as Joel "It should be neon and have nipples" Schumacher was taking over the Batman Franchise. Can't really blame him for that, or for a terrible script that included Robin (the movies are much better off without Robin) or the line "Holy rusted metal, Batman! I mean, really, this thing is metal and rusted and it has holes..."

Way to play off the jokes there writer guy.

Kilmer himself, however, wasn't bad. He did a great Bruce Wayne (I still think that's the key to a Batman actor, almost anybody can handle the suit and the stunt guys do all the fighting, you just gotta pull off insane rich guy). Too bad he couldn't have been in a better Batman movie.

Val Kilmer, as far as I know, has no ties to the James Bond franchise, though he was once in a great spoof of the spy genre called Top Secret. Man, Val Kilmer's been in a bunch of good movies.
And for Batman's next amazing trick...

9. Actor: Rino Romano
Played Batman in: THE Batman (Voice), (2004)

I had to capitalize all the letters in "THE" up there, because that was how this show was marketed and differentiated from other Batman shows, was it was called THE Batman. It followed a young Bruce Wayne/Batman, who I think was still in high school, and lots of people (Travis) hated it because they changed all the bad guys and he gets his butt kicked every week by guys like the Riddler and the Penguin, who are generally less physically violent criminals and more cerebral criminals.

I...didn't hate it as much as Travis did. It's got a catchy theme song, and I thought the voice actor was really good (that's the aforementioned Rino Romano, up there). But the central theme of the show was less Batman and more teen angstyness. Like someone was reading a lot of old Spiderman comics and said, "Yeah, Batman should go through more crap like this. Does he have a girlfriend who can break up with him and a bunch of friends and teachers who can be villains?"

He doesn't. But it didn't stop them from trying. They gave him a pseudo-love interest in this Gotham City cop who always seemed like she was just about to figure out he was Batman, or something. I can't remember, it's been a while since I watched it.
Not pictured: Angst.

8. Actor: Adam West
Played Batman in: Batman TV Series (1966)

Probably a lot of boos from the crowd for having this guy so low on the list. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love Adam West. In fact, I want a tv show where Adam West and William Shatner play Odd Couple type roommates. Maybe one of them is a retired cop, and the other's a con man who just got out of prison, and they're brothers, or something? I mean, who wouldn't watch that show? I'd TIVO that every week. Instead Shatner's doing some terrible TV show called *#&$ my Dad Says, which is based on a webpage and is apparently the worst thing on television, ever. It will probably never get cancelled.

Anyway, the reason I put him so low on the list is that he did some lasting damage to the Batman franchise (enough that it took Frank Miller and a bunch of other comic book writers most of the 80's to make Batman cool again and not campy). But still, I loved this show, watched it all the time when I was a kid. It just wasn't "cool" Batman.

I like Batman when he's the toughest, smartest guy in the room, when he appears from the shadows to knock bad guys out, when he's three steps ahead of the Joker, and when he disappears just as the Gotham PD shows up and leaves Commissioner Gordon scratching his head, wondering how he does that.

This Batman hangs out in Commissioner Gordon's office, has a bright red phone for the Commish to call him on, and lives with his aunt who makes sandwiches and has no idea Bruce and Dick are Batman and Robin. (Here's a question: Does she think they're a couple? Does the Aunt from the 60's show worry about that? I think she does).
Look at my belt buckle. LOOK AT IT!

7. Actor: George Clooney
Played Batman in: Batman and Robin (1997)

God, was it really that long ago? 13 years? It doesn't seem like that long. Again, I can't blame Clooney for Joel Schumacher running this franchise into the ground, kicking sand on it, spitting on it as he walked away. He had an even more ridiculous script than Kilmer had to deal with. And he had the most horribly miscast villain in Batman history (Schwarzenegger as Dr. Freeze). I won't even go into why that's such a bad idea, I'll just say that Dr. Freeze was a skinny, bald, aging doctor who used his genius in science to become a villain, and they cast the biggest, most muscle-bound actor known for quipping one liners in Hollywood. Then they let him quip one liners like "ICE to see you..."

Hang on, I have to throw up a little.

Ok, I'm back. Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I think Clooney would have made a great Batman in a GOOD batman movie. He definitely has the rich playboy thing down. He's versatile enough to go from charming Bruce to serious and insane Bruce, he's charismatic enough to carry a weak script, but the script they gave him wasn't weak, so much as it was dead, buried, and rotting.
I got paid a LOT of money...and I'm sorry.

6. Actor: Diedrich Bader
Plays Batman in: The Brave and the Bold (Voice), (2008)

The Brave and the Bold is just a great, great show. It's incredibly fun, it's got lots of cameos from DC heroes and villains, and it's like you gave some guys who really like Batman and the whole DC universe a chance to just shine. And when I figured out who Diedrich Bader was (the guy from Drew Carey) I was like, "Yeah, I recognize the voice now."

But what's weird is, it's almost pitch perfect. Bader's voice is right on par with the show. It's not a dark Batman, and it's not a campy Batman, it's stuffed itself comfortably in the Fun without being too campy category, and Bader's voice just goes perfectly along those lines.

He'd be higher on this list, probably, but like I said, as much as I enjoy fun Batman, I like dark, brooding Batman better.
Drew Carey's friends fight crime.

5. Actor: Jeremy Sisto
Plays Batman in: Justice League: The New Frontier (Voice), (2008)

Jeremy Sisto was in Clueless, a movie I unabashedly love. He was in Law & Order, a TV show that I unabashedly love. And he voiced Batman, a character that I unabashedly love. I have some unabashed love for Jeremy Sisto, somehow. Weird, right?

But the thing is, I really liked this movie. It's a sort of retelling of the formation of the Justice League, it's set in like the 50's or 60's (sort of blurs the line), it has Neil Patrick Harris as Flash, Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman, and David Boreanaz as Green Lantern. It's a great story, a lot of fun.

To begin fighting crime, simply remove baby from straps.

4. Actor: Michael Keaton
Plays Batman in: Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)

There was a lot of hate for Michael Keaton when he was announced as the Batman in Tim Burton's movie, and I remember hearing a lot of "Mr. Mom!? C'mon, seriously?!" But I always thought he was a great choice. He can definitely straddle the line between being funny and being seriously dark, and I thought that would be a great choice for a Bruce Wayne, you get your charming Playboy and you get your disturbed vigilante, and really the suit makes pretty much anybody in decent shape into Batman.

I hated the car, it looked too much like a rocket ship, loved Nicholson as the Joker (not surpassed until Ledger pulled a rabbit out of his hat and knocked it out of the park in Dark Knight), hated Danny DeVito as the Penguin (he would have been a great Penguin if they had done the more comic oriented "upper class criminal in a tux" but they opted instead for "disgusting mutant who bites the heads off of fish"), was ambivalent about Michell Pfeiffer as Catwoman (She's hot, but I didn't like the bizarre zombie Catwoman direction they took that character in), loved the Prince soundtrack for the first one, hated almost everything about the second one (culminating in the ridiculous "Penguins with rockets strapped to their backs") and thought Keaton acquitted himself well throughout both movies.

It's weird, but there's this thing they do in the comics and animated series where villains don't die, they just get locked up in Arkham Asylum and then they come back later, but *SPOILER ALERT* Joker dies at the end of the first one and Penguin dies at the end of the second one, so there's really no hope that either of those characters comes back (good for Penguin, bad for Joker). Not sure why they keep doing that in the movies.

What makes you think I can't move my neck?

3. Actor: Bruce Greenwood
Plays Batman in: Under the Red Hood (2010), Young Justice (Voice), (2010)

Most people probably know him best as Commander Pike from the new Star Trek reboot who convinces Kirk to join Starfleet, but he voiced Batman in a great animated movie called "Under the Red Hood" and came back for the "Young Justice" series (which really focuses on the younger characters of Robin, Aqualad, Superboy, and Kid Flash) and he's just fantastic.

His voice is kind of commanding and gravelly and when Batman shows up to tell anyone anything you kind of pay attention because he has a very serious voice that sounds confident and like he's seen a lot of things and knows what he's talking about, which is really where Batman shines. Batman is Batman because he's experienced, he's good at what he does, he follows his own rules, and he rarely gets outsmarted and I think Bruce Greenwood has a great voice for that.

Up to this point Bruce has done a lot of secondary character stuff, and I don't know that that will change any time soon, but he's definitely got a lot of great nerdy street cred with the Star Trek and Batman stuff going on. So good for him.

That's right, baby. I'm the Bat.

2. Actor: Christian Bale
Plays Batman in: Batman Begins (2005), Dark Knight (2008)

Of all the live action Batman actors, Christian Bale has been handed, by far, the best scripts. Batman Begins and Dark Knight are great, great movies. Christopher Nolan and David Goyer really put together good stories, and I'm still burned that Dark Knight didn't get a best picture nod in 2008. It's ridiculous how good that movie was.

Arguably the worst thing about the movies is Bale, whose gravelly voice as Batman (in an effort to hide his true identity) is, admittedly, a bit over the top. But the scenes where he shines are as Bruce Wayne: Falling asleep in a board room meeting, driving his Lamborghini around like a lunatic, showing up with two women to dinner who immediately start swimming in the fountain and undressing) I definitely get the whole "Rich playboy about town" vibe from him, but at the same time you can see underneath that a separate layer of seriousness and understanding about what's really going on around him, even while he looks clueless.

His interaction with Alfred is great, he has the charming smile and the some really great dialog that he delivers with precision. Overall, while he's had the best material to work with, I also think he pulls it off well, which not everyone would have been able to do.

Batman. Serious business.

1. Actor: Kevin Conroy
Plays Batman in: Batman The Animated Series (Voice), (1992)

Yes, the gold standard for Batman actors is a voice actor, and one that doesn't actually look like he could play Batman in a movie, but that voice, man, it's absolutely perfect. Spot on, 100%, dead on the money perfect.

There's a documentary on the Animated Series DVD's where they talk about the casting calls for all the characters and how they thought they had someone for Batman but then Kevin Conroy came in and they were just blown away.

I remember hearing that voice the first time I watched the cartoon and sort of half-jokingly thinking to myself "That's weird, they actually got Batman to do his own voice..." He's really that good.

Additionally, Mask of the Phantasm, the full length animated movie they made based on the Animated Series, which got theatrical release in 1993, was, up until Batman Begins, the best Batman movie released in theaters, so he's got the movie and TV angles down. And really, like Bale, he had a lot of good material to work with. Warner Brothers went all out for the Animated Series, and it shows, great voice talent, great scripts, great art direction. It's not the greatest art in the world, but it fits the Gotham universe that they were trying to create. I always thought it was interesting that one of the things they did was instead of using white paper to draw on and coloring it in for the night shots they just started with black paper and put color on it, which made everything look darker and really brought out the sort of "Batman" feel that other Batman properties were lacking.

**NOTE: I was reminded that Kevin also did the voice for Batman in the excellent Batman: Arkham Asylum video game, one of the best games ever. So he gets bonus points for that. Thanks Mr. Tact!

Batman as voiced by the eldest Weasley child.

So, that's my list. I'm sure no one will argue any of my choices and you'll all just go peacefully on your way.