Casting Batman Goes Deeper than the Cape and Cowl
Unless you’ve been living in a Batcave for the last few weeks, you’ve probably heard the news that Ben Affleck is stepping down as Batman. He’s hanging up the cape and cowl and moving on to the Wayne Manor in the sky. Okay, so he’s not dying, but you get the idea. In sad times like these we are left with a mere two choices; mourn the end of the Batfleck era or begin the search for his replacement. We’ve heard a lot of names swirling around in the rumour mill and there are some strong candidates. The problem is that the big names linked with the role are so because they look like Batman and little more. This is why we’ve gone deeper. We’re going back to look at what made the Batmen of old so beloved, specifically the traits that those portrayals focus on, and who could step into the DCEU as a spiritual successor.
The attribute that made Christian Bale’s iteration of Batman one of the standouts of all-time, is how his performance made Bruce Wayne just as compelling as the titular alter-ego. Up until that point, the story of the billionaire behind the mask always felt like a subplot compared to the exhilaration of his night-time antics (not that kind). Giving Bruce the depth and nuance to make him interesting made his actions as Batman weightier as a result and made for a portrayal of real substance – something the DCEU is in dire need of.
Adam Driver, who you’ll probably know as Kylo Ren in the sequel Star Wars trilogy, fits the bill perfectly. Driver’s performance as Ben Solo highlights all the complexities of the character. He comfortably plays a role which sits in the grey area between good and evil, conveying a believable inner struggle between the two. It’s not hard to see how this would translate over. Batman often has to go to extreme places for the greater good, usually at the expensive of his psychological or physical well-being. That requires an actor who can operate in the light and dark effectively.
I know that when you think of George Clooney’s tenure as the caped crusader, the mind instantly thinks of bat-nipples and an unavoidable layer of cheesiness. But if you can look past that (seriously, stop thinking about the nipples) there is some DNA worth extracting. Clooney’s adaptation showcased something that very few big-screen dark knights have – fun. Ever since the glory days of Adam West, every Batman seems to emphasize the broody and opaque. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy who fights crime, that is and should be fun, and Clooney’s performance embraced that.
Charlie Cox has made a name for himself on the other side of the superhero fence, where he became the definitive Matt Murdock in Netflix’s Daredevil series. From that show alone we know that he has the action chops to handle a blockbuster movie, and his arc over the three-season run takes him to some dark places. But, behind the scenes, Cox wreaks of a youthful playfulness, like being a superhero is the coolest thing you can possibly do. That attitude is what makes him a strong candidate to don the cape. He’s proved as Matt Murdock that he has the charm that is synonymous with Bruce’s character. All he needs is a Batmobile and his assured swagger and he becomes a lighter Batman with no sacrifice in the combat department. Don’t get me wrong, the over-the-top style of Clooney’s film would feel misplaced in a contemporary superhero movie. However, a depiction of Batman who feels like he’s enjoying himself would be a breath of fresh air.
Michael Keaton’s two film stint in the role was met overall with very positive reviews, even if he was upstaged by a remarkable Joker in Jack Nicholson. Keaton’s portrayal oozed with a darkness and seriousness that would feel right at home in the DCEU. His scenes in costume leaned heavily into the mystique that strikes fear into his enemies, delivered with a grit that fully embodies what makes Batman, and DC, so popular in the first place. Meanwhile, he played a more withdrawn and even grumpy version of Bruce Wayne, reminiscent of a man who understands that his life will never be normal.
With that in mind, Ryan Gosling has proven that he has the scope to step-up. For evidence look no further than the outrageously good sci-fi sequel, Bladerunner 2049. Gosling is tasked with investing the audience in a character that we know from the start is a replicant (android), something he does amicably. He does so by subtly conveying emotion through a seemingly stern appearance, often just by the way he looks or moves his eyes. It sounds trivial, but this means that when he lets go and all the emotional explodes out of him, it’s incredibly powerful and moving. This has all the makings of a sensational Batman, who over the course of the franchise will likely have plenty of emotionally weighty arcs. Plus, let’s face it, he’s a good-looking dude.
This brings us back to the man who inspired this whole article. It’s fair to say that during his time as Bats, Ben Affleck hasn’t had chance to fully spread his wings and give the performance that he threatened too. But in his turbulent stay in the role, he did show one quality that will define his Batman; a gruff, no-nonsense attitude. Whatever your thoughts on his contribution to BvS, throughout that movie he does anything he needs to do in order to get things done – even, controversially, resorting to killing. This drive is clear outside of the costume as well, with Bruce ignoring the judgment of his friends and allies in the name achieving what he believes is important.
In this sense, Charlie Hunnam could be an outside shot to make the leap from popular TV actor, to the most iconic role of them all. Most of you will know him from his time as Jax Teller on Sons of Anarchy, where he slowly derailed from compassionate family man, to ruthless gang leader. Jax’s character by the end of that show is a man hellbent on reaching his goals. He often comes across as cold, but Hunnam always subtly gives hints to the emotion under the surface that is driving his actions. He also happens to be quite the ladies’ man. Hunnam balanced the two perfectly, masterfully depicting the gradual descent before an inevitable snap. In a tonally dark franchise such as the DCEU, Hunnam would be right at home.
@nwarby_blog’s (me) Pick
One of the perks of this gig is that I occasionally get to throw my two-cents in. Whether it’s for better or worse, I’ll let you decide, but here goes. When I consider the one quality I find compelling about Batman, the first that comes to mind is his sheer brutality. The Dark Knight isn’t a squeaky-clean symbol of hope, he’s not a boy scout. What he is, is a vigilante who uses fear and pain to dispatch his foes. With this in mind, I have to dip back into the opposition’s ranks to pluck out the casting of a man who radiates brutality – Jon Bernthal.
As the Punisher, Bernthal showed that as part of his repertoire he can sell a character who genuinely believes that he is right, and the bad guys are wrong. When donning the iconic white skull, he visually has a total disregard for those he fights; he knows they’re terrible people, he knows they deserve what they are getting. Conveying this as underlying reason for the brutality that is unfolding makes for jaw-droppingly intense fight-scenes, where every punch, kick and slam lands with a heft, that other actors just can’t seem to replicate. We’ve seen him show range through his appearances in the Walking Dead and Wolf of Wall Street, making him far more than a one-note bruiser. If you’re looking for someone to slot in the DC Universe seamlessly, then Bernthal is the one.
So that's just a few casting suggestions for the future of Batman, but there’s plenty of other finely chiseled heartthrobs who would be equally at home in kevlar. Let us know who you want to see in the comments and on our socials!