Christian Bale: The hero Batman deserved and needed

Stephen Vaughan

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?

Read more:
Christian Bale says ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ will be ‘the last time’ he plays Batman
‘Batman 3′ rumor tracking: Will Tom Hardy be playing Hugo Strange in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’?
‘The Dark Knight Rises’: Which superstar actresses should Christopher Nolan cast?
Who will be Batman’s next movie nemesis? Catwoman? Clayface? Maybe even… Superman?
‘The Dark Knight Rises’; the Riddler doesn’t
The Christopher Nolan Flowchart
Batman 3 to begin in April

Comments (62 total) Add your comment
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  • Mr. Holloway

    “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…”

    I wouldn’t be so sure.

    Anyway, even though I make fun of Bale’s Batman voice like everybody else (I get that he’s disguising his voice, but it IS over the top), I think he’s criminally underrated, especially in “Batman Begins.”

    Never really found Bruce Wayne all that interesting until he started playing him and (as you mentioned) he was the perfect match for Nolan’s vision.

  • HD

    I think I was 11 when the Tim Burton version came out and even that young I remember the fury when it was announced Michael Keaton was going to be playing BW/Batman. It was a solid performance as was all the ones that followed but the character wasn’t really there until the 2005 version and Christian Bale knocked it out of the park. Can’t wait for Batman Rises.

    • Cara

      @HD, I was going to mention that people certainly did care about who was Batman when Keaton was cast! There was a huge outcry, and obsessive overanalysis of every second of the trailer… In the end, I think most of the fans decided Keaton was good, but they sure as heck did care! (I’m wondering if the author of this article is too young to remember, and so blithely makes blanket statements that don’t make sense…)

  • Mike N.

    I think you’re severely underrating Michael Keaton’s performance. It was under a different director with a different spin, but I think he inhabited his Bruce Wayne/Batman in Tim Burton’s world even better then Bale has. Bale is a better overall actor, but in this individual role, I think Keaton performed better.

    • Mathieu

      I agree 100%. Keaton is seriously undervalued as a performer, and he was the first actor to bring any kind of psychological depth to the character. Easily my favourite Batman to this day – and he doesn’t have the cringe-worthy ‘cancer voice’ when he dons the cowl, either. Also, I don’t believe he’s ever been accused of assaulting his mother in real life too, which is a bonus.

      • Krystal


    • blueyes78

      That’s not what the author was saying. He’s not saying that Keaton performance was underrated it worked for Burtons vision and Bale works for Nolan vision and in my opinion the 2 performances/actors would not translate into each others movies

  • California

    I absolutely agree that Christian Bale is sorely under appreciated in the Batman movies. Batman has always been my favorite super hero. I feel bad the first movies no longer seem to get very much respect since Nolan’s have come out. Personally, I loved the first three Batmans. Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer, imo, were very good at the role. To me, Schumacher ruined the series (Chris O’Donnel, as Robin helped). Batman and Robin was terrible. Batman Forever was a so so movie that was saved by Kilmer and Kidman which is why I both love and hate that movie.

    • Kevin

      Nicole Kidman lounging on a bed under white silk sheets = the only reason to watch Batman Forever.

  • Caiti

    Bleh, why is Tobey McGuire counted among ‘the greats’? As if.

    And Christian Bale -Batman voice included- is THE batman.

  • Mole

    Christian Bale’s casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman was important and notable, as I remember him being “fantasy cast” in the role among geeks/film buffs for years beforehand, as early as “American Psycho.” He and Tobey Macguire getting cast as their respective superheroes really changed the superhero movie paradigm, proving that you shouldn’t hang the character just on a movie star, but rather an actor who also happens to be right for the character (be he high school nerd or billionaire pretty boy/troubled soul). How else would we ever have gotten Robert Downey Jr playing a superhero?

    • Kevin

      Tobey is terrible as Peter Parker… Topher Grace would’ve been the PERFECT Spiderman at the time and they screwed it up.

  • Abby

    Michael Keaton will always be my favorite – he brought a dark humor to the role that I’ve always liked. I think the first one was the best, and the last one with Heath Ledger was second.

  • Burt Ward

    When you think about it, Bale in the suit is not a whole lot different than his predecessors. In that scene with the Joker in the interrogation room under the florescent lights he looks downright goofy at times. It has been Bale’s compelling performance as Bruce Wayne that has made the overall portrayal so fantastic….

    p.s. the Schumaker rumor extends to his magic-markering the nippled batsuit over Clooney’s body (which would explain the close-ups)

  • Marie

    I LOVE how you people at EW LOVE Christian Bale!! Two posts about him today and so many other ones in just this month!! You make me happy because you keep me updated about my favorite actor and you seem to really appreciate him too!!

  • B

    Michael Keaton was very good, but I prefer Christian Bale, and Christopher Nolan’s take on the series. Christopher Reeve will always be the only true Superman, IMO.

  • LOL

    The Nolan/Bale team has made all of the other Bat flicks obsolete (although I admit that I do like Keaton).

    • Emilio

      I wouldn’t say obsolete. Batman returns has aged perfectly to me. DeVito’s Penguin and Walken’s Shreck are great as villains. I also love the tone in the darkness of all four main characters (Batman, Penguin, Catwoman and Shreck): it is quite complex.

  • MCS

    I think Bale’s success as Batman has less to do with Bale’s acting skills and more to do with the script, style and direction of Christopher Nolan. The stories told in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are obviously the best Batman stories, and I think some people may confuse the reason for that success with Bale’s acting skills.

  • TQB

    As much as I love Bale and the new movies (and believe me, I do), Keaton as Batman was awesome. Very different movie, very different time. The fact that people remember his performance at all considering it was up against Nichelson’s Joker just goes to show you how great he was.

  • Pauline

    Christian Bale really is the perfect Bruce Wayne & Batman! He is a brilliant actor, a chameleon, he gives 500% to every role! His Batman voice never bothered me, and he also looks the part! Mr. Bale is one of the greats in my book, not just as Batman-but also he is amazing in all his other movies! A private man that does his job and entertains us at the highest level!! Love him!

  • Amelia

    I feel the need to point out that, in The Dark Knight, Bale’s voice was digitally altered as Batman. I think that is what put it over the top. His voice alone was fine (like in “Batman Begins”)

    I didn’t realize that the upcoming film will be his last as Batman. But I think three (hopefully all awesome) Batman films with Mr. Bale is fine.

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