When it comes to comic-book characters, DC Comics character Batman holds the distinction of being the one with most adaptations. It appears as though there is at least one Batman for every generation. This character has been played by Hollywood superstars like Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Christian Bale, and most recently, Ben Affleck. And we are done with even Batfleck, and Robert Pattinson is all set to don the cape and cowl.
Today is Batman Day, and on the occasion, let us have a brief look at the Dark Knight’s complicated journey through live-action television and cinema.
The first major adaptation of the character was the Batman TV series in the 1960s, which starred the legendary Adam West as the caped and cowled crimefighter. Even now, more than half a century later, the series remains funny and colourful, although Batman’s onscreen persona has transformed rather drastically. West’s Batman was not afraid to laugh, crack jokes and make puns, and together with his ward/sidekick Robin, he fought criminals. To a modern Batman fan, this series would seem like a parody, and in a way, it was. The suit was ill-fitting, and Adam West would not be anybody’s idea of a ripped Caped Crusader. But who cares about such trivial matters when you had lines like these deadpanned by the great West? (Watch the video below)
There was a movie on Batman too in that era, but it was just like an overlong episode of the TV series. Entertaining and funny certainly it was, but it added little to what the TV series had already done.
The next major adaptation of the character came in Tim Burton’s movies. Michael Keaton was cast in the role in a choice that surprised many. In 1989, came Batman, and the character became the one we know. All you fans of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, you have Burton to thank.
While Batman was always a dark, complex superhero with more depth than your typical comic-book superhero, it was with Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 comic-book story The Dark Knight Returns that Gotham City’s protector became the man we know — dark, brooding, tactically brilliant and, when needed, utterly ruthless. While Burton’s Batman did not have an old, jaded Batman like in Miller’s story, it was strongly influenced by it.
Tim Burton followed Batman with a stellar sequel in 1992, called Batman Returns, which also received positive reviews and commercial success. What happened afterwards, however, is shameful. Warner Bros, the studio that owns DC, decided that while Burton’s Batman movies were a success, they did not make enough money. Joel Schumacher was brought in to direct the follow-ups to Burton’s films but Keaton dropped out, not liking the direction the franchise was going. While Batman Forever (1995) was a box office success, it received mixed reviews. Its sequel, Batman and Robin, starring George Clooney after Kilmer’s exit, was a straight-up disaster, and is still considered the worst superhero movie of all time. And that is saying something about a genre that has had Daredevil and Catwoman.
A young filmmaker Christopher Nolan, then most well-known for his low-budget indie film Memento, pitched his take on Batman in 2003, and Batman Begins was scheduled for release in 2005. Starring Christian Bale in the titular role, the film introduced an origin story of the character, something that was not done in film before. The fans saw how the man we call Batman came to be. With an unusually strong supporting cast for a superhero movie, Batman Begins was commercial comic-book filmmaking wedded with solid screenplay and direction.
Batman Begins was an out-and-out success, but its last scene teased the future appearance of Batman’s archvillain, the Joker. Fans were eager to see what Nolan’s Joker would look like. Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Burton’s movies was still the gold standard back then.
The Dark Knight came in 2008 and changed superhero movies forever. Heath Ledger’s casting in Joker’s role had been controversial. The film released, and nobody complained. Ledger infused the role with a deadly charisma and eerie mannerisms that, Nolan later admitted, were devised by the actor himself. This was no goofy prankster. This was a malevolent, murderous agent of chaos. Batman, that world’s greatest detective, struggled to understand the enigma of the Joker. He sought a rationale, and was horrified to discover that there is none.
The conclusion, The Dark Knight Rises, featuring Tom Hardy’s hulking Bane as the Big Bad, was even more successful, commercially speaking, though less so critically. By then, DC was building its own cinematic universe à la the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nolan and Christian Bale left DC. Ben Affleck was cast in the role for 2016’s Batman v Superman, as a grizzled, Frank Miller-esque Batman. Even though the movie divided critics, Affleck’s take on the character was praised almost universally. However, a few fans took exception to his trigger-happy ways. Batman in comics and everywhere else generally abstains from killing people. Batfleck had no such misgivings. Affleck reprised the role in last year’s Justice League, which ended up being his last turn as the character.
Matt Reeves, known for directing Andy Serkis starrer Planet of the Apes series, is making a Batman movie, titled The Batman with Robert Pattinson. All we know about the plot is that the film would be based on a younger Batman and will focus on the character’s detective abilities. Currently, the film is in the pre-production stage, and Reeves is penning the script. It remains to be seen how Reeves-Pattinson’s Batman turns out to be. One thing is certain — there is nothing like too much Batman.