Monday, April 30, 2012

The Common Core

The live action picture portrayals of Batman have been undeniably different in every movie, which is a given considering the fact that the character had many different faces in its long comic book history. There is no such thing as the "right" portrayal of Batman, but that has been touched upon in the 'Batman in 2000s' article, among others. This time lets take some time to briefly shed some light on the similarities between those different portrayals. While there were different approaches and characterizations, in some portrayals the signature core characteristics of the Batman character are preserved, mainly in the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan movies, while others shine away from general outlines of the Dark Knight, the modern age definition of the caped crusader. The TV series is left out from this article since its been targeting a vastly different approach, reflecting Batman of only one specific era period, whilst the motion picture movies took something from various portrayals, even if primarily focusing on one era or another (while adding their original touches as well). While there's a few similarities as far as gadgets, batcave, the depiction of the city and even some basic story ideas, let's focus solely on Batman only.

Even including the cheerful Silver Age, Batman has moved, stood or took poses like a bat, since it's earliest days (although  in the Silver Age when he did took spooky vampire poses as well, he did it comparatively rarely). His cape was often spread to resemble bat wings, and his silhouette often looked like that of a bat. Such approach is clearly taken by both Burton and Nolan..

Spreading and casting a shadow to strike fear

and the cape spreading and forming a batwings shape when gliding through air

..however discarded by Schumacher. In his movies, we never see Batman with a wing span or a shape of a bat during his flight. Schumacher took a more superheroic approach and portrayed Batman in a flowing cape. The one instance where Batman spread his wings was in Batman & Robin in so called "pose" shot

Batman often stayed in the shadows, which is very fitting for a creature of the night.

..and has been very often portrayed as a shadow, silhouette or a descending bat

Schumacher did not share those features and presented Batman who had no problem showing in bright public places among the crowds and cameras,

nor did his Batman took any dramatic or Gothic poses

Modern Batman has also been known to casually watch over the city from the rooftops, waiting for a crime to happen

This was completely absent in Schumacher's movies
The common ground isn't just limited to the visuals. Perhaps one of the two most recognizable features in Batman character is his hard to constrain fury that he keeps locked inside. There were many moments when Batman was close to snapping, and times where he needed someone to stop him. If he didn't his unmatched fury could go extremely far.

Christian Bale: I just went with as much aggression and rage as I could, bordering on appearing like a bad guy when he’s got the suit on. That you should be unsure when you’re faced with him
He could do good things but man, he could just as easily flip over and become like the ultimate villain. (Rebecca Murray int. 2005)
Batman's anger and occasional lack of control appears in both Keaton's and Bale's portrayals...

and even Adam West's version had his moments of madness


..however is completely absent in Kilmer's and Clooney's takes. Kilmer specifically remains unusually stoic and in control, unlike any other incarnation of the character. He remains absolutely relaxed and calm in almost every situation, not even showing any emotions after his cave had been devastated and his love interest kidnapped or when facing people responsible.

Clooney, by his own admission, wanted to completely go past pain and anger, and he did

It is then no surprise that Christian Bale's favorite portrayal of Batman is that of Michael Keaton, since, even though they reflected different worlds and genres, shared important core characteristics of the Modern Age era Batman


  1. Two most iconic batman images - the shadow with spread wings and watching over the city on a gargoyle

  2. Also, both Keatons and Bales Bruce acts like a rich goofball when in public. Kilmer and Clooney played rich entrepreneurs

  3. This is why I was so happy about Batman Begins and what Nolan did. I was a big fan of the Burton movies and latter movies went into the direction of the TV show. Nolan brought back so much of what made Batman great

  4. Actually to give credit where credit is due, I do remember one time in Batman and Robin where they actually make Batman spread his wings like a real bat, the scene where he captures Mr. Freeze the first time. It actually manages to make Clooney look kinda cool, sadly the rest of the movie ruins this moment.

    1. then he says something like "hello, freeze. i'm batman" and ruins it.

  5. Thats true, but I did mention it in the article saying "The one instance where Batman spread his wings was in Batman & Robin in so called "pose" shot"

  6. Shumacher, what have you done?

  7. I think Schumacher was a bit gay. He put nipples on the Batsuit. And he gave it an enlarged cod-piece.

    1. "I think Schumacher was a bit gay" That's like saying Charles Manson is a bit crazy.

  8. Schumacher has taken a mostly unique way of depicting Batman However,I personally do not appreciate Keaton's, Bale's and Adam West's portrayals of Batman being prone to fits of fury and losing control.A great hero of his stature should be depicted like what Kilmer and Clooney did.

  9. Love the shot and musical cue from Batman, where he opens his cape for the first time. Scary.

    "He could do good things but man, he could just as easily flip over and become like the ultimate villain" -- never got a sense of this from Bale's Batman. Keaton's - definitely, he was a nigh-on, full-fledged psycho. He managed to convey this without ever raising his voice. An inspired performance.

  10. Really Valaquen?

    You didn't get the sense that Bale's Batman was a demonic outlet for his inner turmoil and rage? Sure his Batman growled, but to say his performance wasn't inspired or nuanced is crazy. Keaton and Bale both owned the role. Bale's Batman doesn't look like an anti-hero much the same way Keaton's Batman was? Did you miss the parts where he's pancaking cop cars, beating the hell out of SWAT officers, using Gordon's interrogation room for his own personal torture of a clown killer? and basically just generally all around walking a fine line of being extremely violent and rage filled, yet always before the breaking point being reeled in by father figures or reminders of his father's philanthropic ideology? I think you weren't paying attention. Both Keaton and Bale nail the role. Keaton the urban boogeyman, 1930's Bob Kane vision of the character, and Bale the gritty, real world, contemporary Frank Million vision of the character.

    As a true fan of the character, without a bias ... I can say both did a damn fine job.