Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mere two weeks away and some micro reviews of the film have already hit the web. While I’m not going to discuss them here, now would be a good time to look titular roles. Many actors have played Batman and Superman, respectively, and it’s hard not to compare actor A to actor B. Some have done wonders for the role while others were forgettable.
We’ve seen Henry Cavill as Superman, but this time we will get to know him as reporter Clark Kent. Ben Affleck casting as Batman almost started World War III when it was announced almost three years ago. Rumors and trailer footage all points to Afflack giving us a remarkable Batman, but see the film in its entirety will paint a clear picture.
Going back to the comparing game, we have to remember that these are two different incarnations of these iconic characters. Superman is still coming to terms with being mankind’s savior, which is something he took to rather easily in previous films. Batman is older, grieving, and more brutal than ever before.
Without further ado, let’s look at some of the actors who’ve played Superman and followed by those who portrayed the bat of Gotham.
For a very long time, George Reeves was the man thought of when one heard the name Superman.
Reeves is the only actor to portray Superman and Clark Kent in both film and television. While Reeves’s struggle with the role behind-the-scenes is well documented, that didn’t stop him from entertaining millions of people for six years, in black and white and in color. Some might feel that Reeves gets more recognition than he deserves because he was the first mainstream Superman. The show was a huge hit during its time and the complex layers of pathos and mythos weren’t attached to the character like they are today. Superman’s direct approach to truth, justice, and the American way was just right.
Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Superman embodies two different philosophies. There’s the hero who flies in to save the day with an array of superpowers. The other is that Superman is an idea, a representation of what we look for in ourselves despite the struggle to find our place in the world. The Julliard-trained Christopher Reeve exemplified both principles with an uncanny charm and an earnest portrayal that has made him the quintessential man of steel.
Reeve was no-nonsense while saving the day, a faultless colleague as the bumbling reporter, and the epitome of a good friend in his down time. These ingredients made for a cinematic recipe that made you believe that a man could fly while easily lifting a helicopter with one hand.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 – 1997)
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was a goldmine for ABC in the mid 90’s. The show gained more traction and more viewers during first three seasons with Dean Cain playing Superman/Clark Kent. The title of the show is the perfect because it was primarily focused on the relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent with Superman showing up when needed to save the day. This explains why Cain was a much better Clark than Superman. Cain wasn’t bad in costume, but he is not one of the first names people think of when referencing the Last Son of Krypton.
This Iowa native was chosen to help usher the “Big Blue Boy Scout” back to cinematic prominence after a nineteen-year absence due to the horribly received Superman IV. Brandon Routh’s performance as Superman closely resembled that of Christopher Reeve while doing enough to make it his own. Routh’s Clark Kent was less bumbling and more unsure of himself which fell in line with the film’s subplot that questioned if the world needed Superman anymore. Routh would have served the role well if Warner Bros. continued with this incarnation of the character. Unfortunately, Superman Returns is a good movie that needed to be great and gave us nothing new and doesn’t hold up to the current status quo of comic book movies.
Man of Steel
The current state of affairs in the DCU gives us a Superman who is trying to find his way to eventually become that beacon of hope for humanity. While Man of Steel has divisive critical acclaim, most people feel that Henry Cavill fits the bill. Superman’s principles of right and wrong here are influenced by an era where things aren’t black and white. Cavill’s Superman struggled with the choice to take Zod’s life and it appears he will be haunted by it in some capacity in Batman v Superman. Cavil portrayal is the most-badass version of the character we’ve seen on screen, but his Clark Kent is a mystery since he only appeared at the very end of the last film. Once BvS has come and gone, we will have a complete vision of what Cavill can do with the lead role.
Batman TV Series (1966 – 1968), Batman The Movie (1966)
I can’t think of a show that logged in more reruns during my childhood than the Batman TV series from 1966. No matter which version of The Caped Crusader you prefer, Adam West had always stood out in one form or another. His over-the-top portrayal of Batman perfectly matches the show’s campy nature. The show is still revered to this day, with all sorts of merchandise released in its likeness. West is a big part of the show’s success, which he wasn’t always proud of because being cast in the role of Batman caused him to be typecast for many years following the end of the series. With pop-culture/geek/nerd, whatever you want to call it, being the cool kid in school these days, West has embraced his icon status making him and the show all the more popular.
Batman, Batman Returns
Director Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film was a modern-day box office phenomenon. Michael Keaton’s casting caused an uproar with over 50,000 letters sent to Warner Bros. in protest. While Mr. Mom wearing the cape and cowl was a scary proposition to fathom, Keaton’s explosive range as an actor was unbeknownst to most. It was never questioned again, however, after the film’s release in 1989. Keaton garnered positive reviews for his performance as the Gotham City vigilante and cemented himself as the definitive Batman for a new generation of fans as the dark and brooding Dark Knight had finally come to life via the silver screen. Keaton would come back to play Batman in the sequel Batman Returns but would not return for the third installment once Tim Burton dropped out and the studio approved director Joel Schumacher’s more “light hearted” script.
With Keaton out, the franchise needed a new actor to don the Bat symbol. Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday in Tombstone caught the attention Joel Schumacher, and ultimately earned him the role. There was nothing wrong with Kilmer’s performance as Batman, but there was nothing memorable about it either.
As years have gone on, anything of merit that Kilmer brought to the role has been lost in translation to do Batman Forever’s critical bludgeoning along with the stories of his behind issues with Schumacher and company. Plus, when Jim Carey and Tommy Lee Jones receive the majority of the film’s publicity for their roles of Two Face and the Riddler, how could anyone in the 90’s compete with that?
Batman & Robin
While Batman & Robin put the Batman franchise on life support, George Clooney’s career came out of the experience relatively unscathed. In 1997, Clooney was in the infancy of his movie career and a plethora of bad criticism he received for his performance at Batman was only dwarfed by the overwhelming disapproval of the film. The biggest thing that hurt the perception this particular role is that George Clooney didn’t play Batman or Bruce Wayne, he played George Clooney.
Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Batman Beyond and just about anything else that requires Batman’s voice.
It’s safe to say that if you could inject Kevin Conroy’s voice into any actor dressed as the Bat, you would have the perfect Batman in almost any scenario.
The 90’s animated Batman series is a touchstone of children’s television that even us grown folks still remember fondly. Conroy sounds like a playboy and savvy business person that Bruce Wayne is known for, and struck fear into the hearts of villains as Batman. Over the years, just as it looked like Conroy finished with the role, he gets pulled right back in with a slew of commercials, animated movies, and the critically acclaimed Arkham Asylum series of video games.
It doesn’t matter what medium you apply it to, Kevin Conroy’s voice carries a gravitas that makes you believe every syllable that came out of his mouth.
The Dark Knight Trilogy
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy changed the complexion of superhero films while giving fans the Batman they’ve always wanted. While Bale’s hoarse Bat-voice boarders on parody and was the wrong choice in retrospect, the actor took to the role like a duck takes to water. He was brutal, precise, brooding, and truly the world’s greatest detective.
Bale helped bring the Batman franchise back to prominence with Batman Begins in 2005 and set the cinematic world on fire with The Dark Knight (with some help from Heath Ledger) in 2008. The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 was a step back creatively, but Bale was still on point in the role. Just like Adam West and Michael Keaton before him, Christian Bale is the definitive Batman to a generation of audiences.