BATMAN VERSUS BATMAN: Keaton Or Bale?
by Jon Dunmore © November 2005

The Alter-Ego / The Batman / The Butler / The Car / The Cave / The Chick / The Chin / The City / The Commissioner / The Costume / The Logo / The Music / The Opening / The Statement / The Villain.

It now seems safe to conclude that the two best "modern" portrayals of the Caped Crusader have been Michael Keaton's and Christian Bale's Bat-Men. But in those hypothetical universes where you are asked to make One Choice - who would be left skulking Gotham's rooftops? Does Keaton make a niftier Knight? Is Bale the better Bat Man? Blow by blow, let's find out:











The Costume:

Both Keaton's and Bale's costumes have been radically altered from the Giordano/Aparo halcyon days of the 70s comicbooks. The comicbook costume was gray with dark blue cape and yellow snatches. Keaton's and Bale's costumes are "none more black." For them to get any blacker, they'd have to be wearing Djimon Hounsou.

Though Batman's cowl was seen pulled back many times in the comics, almost like a cloth hood, the movie batsuits make this cowl a kevlar and rubber neck-brace. Not even George Clooney could do his esteemed head-waggling in this prison.

Though we hardly see Bale's full batsuit after a few initial glimpses, we are made privy to its wondrous utility, with Lucius Fox's descriptions of its gadgetry. Keaton's suit kicked it Old School, though exhibited constricting flaws (i.e. how scary can a dark night avenger be if he has to turn his whole body sideways just to look at the right side of his dashboard?).

Both actors' fight scenes in the suit are defined by the directors who orchestrated the camerawork. Keaton's fights seem stilted, due to his immobility in the rubber suit, whilst Bale is given hard closeups to alleviate this visual problem. Thankfully, neither of them wear their undies over their pantyhose.

Yes, Keaton's suit may be all-black (except for the chest logo), but Bale's is, like the title of a Chris Rock feature, Bigger And Blacker.

Outcome: BALE
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The Statement:
Gulp down some of that car-oil, think of the nastiest clam chowder you've ever eaten, ingest as much root beer as possible and belch until you're hoarse - maybe then you'll have the necessary gravel in your throat to intone: "I'm Batman!" with enough feral portent to make your enemies' pants turn brown.

Both Keaton and Bale voice this ominous locution in answer to, "What ARE you?" Keaton answers a mugger whilst dangling him off a rooftop; Bale answers a crime boss after dragging him out of a car sunroof. Keaton's mugger scene was powerful - because it was the first time we'd been exposed to the power of that statement (after having survived through Adam West's comically melodramatic fiendish deliveries) - but Bale's crime boss scene, in addition to weighing in with a more potent criminal, was better staged.

Outcome: BALE
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The Chin:
Keaton's characteristic lip structure actually spawned similar-looking merchandise and artwork in its wake. Though it took getting used to, his visage grew very impressive behind the cowl.

Bale becomes indistinguishable behind the mask and though this is probably what a real-life incognito vigilante crimefighter would aspire towards, it's hell on product recognition.

Outcome: KEATON
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The Car:
For the aficionados, it will always be Keaton's famously-styled Batmobile.

But Bale's design team boldly stepped out past the fringe and came back with a "batmobile" hewn from the hides of a Hummer and an F-14 Tomcat. My personal choice is to bow to the technology.


Outcome: BALE
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The Commish:
Dependable character actor Pat Hingle was Keaton's Commissioner Gordon.

The budget and star power of Bale's film catapults his pre-commissioner Jim Gordon into the upper reaches of the breathable atmosphere. Dare we speaketh his name in vain? Gary Oldman. Nolo contendre.

Outcome: BALE
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The Alter-Ego:
As much as Bale sympathetically gave us a spectrum of human emotions for his Master Bruce, Keaton nailed that billionaire's absent-minded contempt for the lesser folk.

We dig it when rich people treat us like byoches.

Outcome: KEATON
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The Opening:
As all rock bands know, the Opener is the throat-grabber or the deal-breaker. Opening sequences for both movies are remarkably ingenious.

Keaton's opening features the camera slowly moving through a labyrinth which is revealed to be a three-dimensional interior of the bat-logo.

Bale's opening features hordes of bats against an ochre sunset, their swarming bodies coalescing to teasingly reveal, almost imperceptibly, the bat-logo.

Considering the emotive appeal of both openings, the organic, blood-furred, bat-winged opening evokes a more feral intent than the singular gloom of the labyrinth. The technical term would be, "it's more icky."

Outcome: BALE
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The Butler:
Keaton's Michael Gough makes for a respectable, typecast Alfred Pennyworth, liege to the Wayne Foundation, but there are two words to describe Bale's Alfred: Michael. Caine.

And I bloody well mean that.


Outcome: BALE
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The Chick:
Bale's insipid Katie Holmes versus Keaton's smokin' Kim Basinger?!

Firstly, Holmes possesses about as much acting talent as Kim Basinger's ham sandwich. Need we even mention that Basinger is still regarded as one of the finest specimens of regal womanhood walking this green planet on those luscious, luscious legs, whilst Holmes is defining herself by the cult-worshipping douchbag she is dating.


Outcome: KEATON
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The Cave:
Bale's actual batcave houses real bats and a subterranean waterfall; by movie's end, he has still not raised the dank fixer-upper to the level of hi-tech sanctuary that we have grown to take for granted.

Though it yet does not resemble the rising platforms and cyberlight élan of a KISS concert (like Clooney's Batcave), Keaton's cave has found the perfect balance between a computerized crime-fighting headquarters and Chick-Magnet.

Holy DNA-Splicer-Exactly-When-We-Need-It, Batman!

Outcome: KEATON
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The Logo:
Bale's logo, with its razor-sharp cutting surfaces and pointy jagged steel reflects a harder-edged, streetwise, more lethal dark knight.

Keaton's is refined classicism. I'm a sucker for the classics.

Outcome: KEATON
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The City:
Keaton's Gotham was gothic. Moody and foreboding, perfect for a moody and foreboding schizo vigilante to prowl the rooftops - and for Batman too.

Budget and computer graphics have definitely worked in Bale's favor here, with the New Gotham retaining its seedy underbelly, veiled beneath tiers of monorail trackway, but made apparent through the course of the film.

In essence, Bale's city's dichotomy marries it conceptually with the Bat Man's dichotomous psychosis more so than Keaton's bleak cityscape.

Outcome: BALE
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The Villain:
In Bale's film, though Liam Neeson is fantastically complex and duplicitous; though effete Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow was a frightful oddity; though Tom Wilkinson's crime boss was necessarily insouciant about his power over life and death, Keaton's film had… JACK.

Jack Nicholson is cemented as the grandest Batman villain when Jerry Hall says to him, "You look fine." And he replies, "I didn't ask…"

Outcome: KEATON
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The Music:
Keaton's Danny Elfman score and Prince music had a lot going for it - hell, it's DANNY ELFMAN and PRINCE! Though the score is darkly rich and perfectly suits the nocturnal para-detective, the Prince songs lend nothing positive to the production, and in some cases, fall incongruously flat, as in the art gallery scenes and the air-balloon parade sequence.

Bale's Hans Zimmer score enriches the lustrous quality of what came before and is headily breathtaking. The swells and swoons draw your breath from your lungs, make your temples throb with the expectation of Legend in the making, and induce one to beating of breasts in fervor. Anyone's breasts.

Outcome: BALE
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The Batman:
Who makes a better Batman in toto?

Keaton comes to the Dark Knight by way of clowning and dramatic Everyman roles (Beetlejuice, The Dream Team, Clean And Sober), whilst Bale's roster includes roles which seem perfectly congruent with the dark avenger he is portraying (American Psycho, Equilibrium).

Keaton's Batman came to us in 1989. If you were young enough to be at that magical age when it was not egregiously fey to don a towel and swish about the garden as Superman, rose-colored memories of that period will forever residue your recollection of this movie.

Being old enough to be inured to rose colored memories (yet still occasionally donning a towel and swishing about the garden as Superman whenever I feel like it), I place Bale as the more "realistically realized" Batman. Maybe that's the wrong criteria for a fantasy character in the first place, and maybe the more unrealistic should properly be deemed the "better" of the bunch…

But who is truly qualified to judge the Better Batman - except maybe Superman? And he won't return my calls.

Outcome: BALE
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BATMAN Movie Reviews by Poffy The Cucumber:
BATMAN 1989
BATMAN FOREVER 1995
BATMAN AND ROBIN 1997
BATMAN BEGINS 2005
THE DARK KNIGHT 2008


Update: 2005, Dec 10


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