To the average movie-goer, being cast in a blockbuster film as a world famous comic book superhero seems like the greatest opportunity an aspiring star could hope for - and in many ways, it is. But with the recent developments surrounding Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and its casting of Ben Affleck (Argo, Jersey Girl), the doubts of any superhero casting take root almost immediately.
While Michael Keaton (Batman, Batman Returns) recently stated that he's still proud of his version of Batman, both Val Kilmer (Batman Forever) and George Clooney (Batman & Robin) would rather the world forget their time under the cowl (with Clooney recently apologizing for ruining the hero altogether). Understandably, Keaton doesn't seem too nervous about a new Batman tarnishing his past work.
In an interview with ShortList, Keaton elaborates on his pride for the original Batman (1989) and its sequel; offering more praise to director Tim Burton - whom he says is often denied the credit for making 'dark' superheroes work. However, Keaton acknowledges that the reality of superhero films has changed since the pair's risk happened to pay off handsomely:
"Tim changed, or started, everything. And I’m proud of the choice I made, in terms of how to play Batman. It’s probably easier now because Tim paved the way, and if I did anything to pave the way, I’m proud of that, too.
"You can step into it more easily now, is my guess. Technically, [superhero movies] do everything for you. They create a world where all you’ve basically got to do is show up, not f*ck it up too much and you’ll come off OK."
When Keaton was asked if he shared Christian Bale's envy at hearing Affleck had been cast in Dawn of Justice (Bale claims he "stopped and stared into nothing for half an hour") his response was... direct:
"No. Do you know why? Because I’m Batman. I’m very secure in that."
To be fair, it's easier to look back on a role without regrets when an entire generation (or two) finds little to criticize. In Christian Bale's case, the endless ridicule of his 'Batman voice' is at least an annoyance; stealing attention from the fact that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were both hailed by many at the time as the most faithful adaptations of the Batman myth yet.
Perhaps Bale will have the freedom to speak as freely as Keaton many years from now, or Ben Affleck years after him. But whatever your thoughts on Keaton's crime-fighter, it's wise to look at the deeper message in his words, and the perspective they offer on the often far-too-heated debate raging among online comic fans.
For millions, Michael Keaton will forever be Batman. The speedy shift from Bale to Affleck makes such a distinction more difficult for now, but if Dawn of Justice should fumble its treatment of Bruce Wayne, don't be surprised to see popular opinion swing back around - claiming Christian Bale really was the 'better' version all along.
Maybe then the actor will be able to sweep jealousy from his mind, and like Keaton before him, the passage of time will bring more and more recognition that his performance was perfect for the time in which it was made... despite the inability to believe for a second that Mr. Mom could play Batman. But with this much baggage for any adaptation, the most promising aspect of Zack Snyder's upcoming reinvention of the Dark Knight is that doing things differently seems to be the top priority.
Where do you fall on this discussion? Do you have a favorite out of the ever-growing roster of Batman actors, or do you value them for different reasons? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on March 25, 2016.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce for updates on Batman V Superman as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.