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In the history of live-action adaptations of Batman, a total of nine actors have portrayed the Dark Knight (not including those who’ve only portrayed him as a child and those who’ve portrayed him in TV series and not in movies). Most of them have had at least two stints as the Caped Crusader, with some having more and some having just one stint. This article is going to be just one in our series on the Batman actors, where we are going analyse each actor’s tenure as the Dark Knight. Today, the topic is going to be – Christian Bale.
Christian Bale, who is considered to be one of the best live-action Batmans, appeared in a total of three movies – Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – directed by Christopher Nolan.
DC Comics, for those of you that are not familiar with the story behind the comics, is a major American comic book publisher founded back in 1934. Along with Marcel Comics, it is the most popular comic book publisher in the United States. DC Comics is a major player in the comic book business and is the “home” of many famous comic book characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and many others.
Now that we’ve given you a short introduction, let us discuss the topic of this article in more detail.
How many times did Christian Bale play Batman?
Christian Bale is the record-holder for most live-action appearances as Batman (not counting Adam West’s individual episodes and Ben Affleck’s cameo in Suicide Squad, while counting his two Justice League appearances as just one) – three. He appeared in as many movies as Michael Keaton was intended to appear in, had Tim Burton not been replaced with Joel Schumacher.
Bale appeared in Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
When did Christian Bale play Batman?
Now that we’ve established that Christian Bale played Batman a total of three times, let us talk about those appearances a bit more.
Batman Begins (2005)
Warner Bros. decided to revitalise the Batman series in 2003, hiring Christopher Nolan, then known for the movie Memento, as director. The project was highly ambitious and, knowing Nolan’s approach, would turn out to be an atypical superhero movie, which it ultimately did.
Christian Bale was confirmed as the new live-action Batman in September 2003. Along with him, Eion Bailey, Henry Cavill, Billy Crudup, Hugh Dancy, Jake Gyllenhaal, Joshua Jackson, Heath Ledger, David Boreanaz and Cillian Murphy were considered for the role; some of these people ended up playing different roles in Nolan’s trilogy.
This movie serves as an origin story for a young Batman, who travels to the Himalayas and trains with the League of Shadows and their leader Ra’s al-Ghul, who is actually posing as the benevolent Henri Ducard, unbeknownst to Bruce Wayne. When Wayne returns to his corrupt hometown, he has to fight against the mafia, the corrupt police and his former mentor, Ra’s a-Ghul, who, with the help of the supervillain Scarecrow, wants to destroy the corruption of Gotham and clean the city, but in a way that is very different from Batman’s.
The Dark Knight (2008)
As expected, Christian Bale returned to portray Bruce Wayne/Batman in the sequel, which was a direct result of the positive comments he had gotten for his interpretation, but also of the positive comments the movie itself received.
In this movie, as was foreshadowed in Batman Begins, Batman has to fight the Joker, a chaotic anarchist who wants to completely tear down Gotham City, while also dealing with personal issues and his role in turning Gotham’s “White Knight”, Harvey Dent, into the villain Two-Face.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Christian Bale finally achieved what Michael Keaton was supposed to achieve had Tim Burton remained director – he played Batman a third time, although he did say that it was going to be his last appearance in the role. Due to the eight-year gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, Bale played an older version of the character.
In this movie, Batman has to come out of retirement to deal with Bane, a mysterious new villain who wants to destroy Gotham in a manner similar to Ra’s al-Ghul. The whole plot begins to make sense when it is revealed that he is actually working with Ra’s’ daughter, Talia, who wants to avenge her father. Along with that, Batman has to deal with Catwoman, a burglar he takes much interest in.
How were these movies received?
Nolan’s live-action Batman trilogy is today considered not only the best Batman series, but also the best superhero movie series. Nolan did an amazing job in making Batman seem possible and despite dealing with comic book characters, all of the movies seemed realistic enough to be imaginable in a real-life context. Despite the somewhat controversial ending, the Dark Knight trilogy is still regarded among the best and here’s what the critics had to say:
Batman Begins (2005)
The first instalment in the trilogy, Batman Begins, was a huge hit for Nolan. The movie helped reshape the modern superhero movie and it set the tone for the whole trilogy, ultimately becoming one of the most influential movies of the 2000s.
James Berardinelli applauded Nolan and Goyer’s work in creating more understanding into “who [Batman] is and what motivates him”, something Berardinelli felt Tim Burton’s film had lacked. Los Angeles Times‘ Kenneth Turan, who felt the film began slowly, stated that the “story, psychology and reality, not special effects”, assisted the darkness behind Batman’s arsenal. The New Yorker‘s David Denby did not share Berardinelli and Turan’s opinion. He was unimpressed with the film, when comparing it to the two Tim Burton films, and that Christian Bale’s presence was hindered by the “dull earnestness of the screenplay”, the final climax was “cheesy and unexciting”, and that Nolan had resorted to imitating the “fakery” used by other filmmakers when filming action sequences.
Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune believed Nolan and Goyer managed to “comfortably mix the tormented drama and revenge motifs with light hearted gags and comic book allusions,” and that Nolan takes the series out of the “slam-bang Hollywood jokefests” the franchise had drifted into.
Comic book scribe and editor Dennis O’Neil stated that he “felt the filmmakers really understood the character they were translating”, citing this film as the best of the live-action Batman films. In contrast, J.R. Jones, from the Chicago Reader, criticized the script, and Nolan and David Goyer for not living up to the “hype about exploring Batman’s damaged psyche”.
Roger Ebert, who gave mixed reviews to the previous films, and claimed in his review for Batman Returns that he did not believe noir worked in superhero films, wrote this was “the Batman movie I’ve been waiting for; more correctly, this is the movie I did not realize I was waiting for”. Giving it four out of four stars, he commended the realistic portrayals of the Batman arsenal – the Batsuit, Batcave, Tumbler, and the Batsignal – as well as the focus on “the story and character” with less stress on “high-tech action”.
Film director Tim Burton felt Nolan “captured the real spirit that these kind of movies are supposed to have nowadays. When I did Batman twenty years ago, in 1988 or something, it was a different time in comic book movies. You couldn’t go into that dark side of comics yet. The last couple of years that has become acceptable and Nolan certainly got more to the root of what the Batman comics are about.”
Batman Begins was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, but did not win.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Considered to be superior to Batman Begins and the best instalment in the trilogy, The Dark Knight is considered to be among the best movies in history. Nolan’s realistic interpretation of the characters and the overall quality of the movie definitely contributed to that status and there is no doubt that The Dark Knight deserves the praise directed at it.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, awarding four out of four stars, described The Dark Knight as a “haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy.” He praised the performances, direction, and writing, saying the film “redefine[s] the possibilities of the comic-book movie.” Ebert stated that the “key performance” is by Heath Ledger.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that the film is deeper than its predecessor, with a “deft” script that refuses to scrutinize the Joker with popular psychology, instead pulling the viewer in with an examination of Bruce Wayne’s psyche. Travers praised all the cast, saying each brings his or her “‘A’ game” to the film. Travers says that the filmmakers move the film away from comic book cinema and closer to being a genuine work of art, citing Nolan’s direction and the “gritty reality” of Wally Pfister’s cinematography as helping to create a universe that has something “raw and elemental” at work within it.
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote, “Pitched at the divide between art and industry, poetry and entertainment, it goes darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its comic-book kind.” Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, “best-of” list, saying, “Every great hero needs a great villain. And in 2008, Christian Bale’s Batman found his in Heath Ledger’s demented dervish, the Joker.” BBC critic Mark Kermode, in a positive review, said that Ledger is “very, very good” but that Oldman’s turn is “the best performance in the film, by a mile”; Kermode felt Oldman was deserving of an Oscar nomination.
Emanuel Levy wrote Ledger “throws himself completely” into the role, and that the film represents Nolan’s “most accomplished and mature” work, and the most technically impressive and resonant of all the Batman films. Levy calls the action sequences some of the most impressive seen in an American film for years, and talks of the Hong Kong-set portion of the film as being particularly visually impressive. Levy and Peter Travers conclude that the film is “haunting and visionary,” while Levy goes on to say that The Dark Knight is “nothing short of brilliant.”
On the other hand, David Denby of The New Yorker said that the story is not coherent enough to properly flesh out the disparities. He said the film’s mood is one of “constant climax,” and that it feels rushed and far too long. Denby criticized scenes which he argued to be meaningless or are cut short just as they become interesting.
The movie was nominated for a total of eight Academy Awards, ultimately winning Best Sound Editing and Best Supporting Actor, which was posthumously awarded to Heath Ledger for his interpretation of the Joker.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Despite generally positive comments, the final part of the trilogy was not received by the fans – the critics still loved it – as well as its predecessors. The criticisms were directed towards the lack of creativity and the controversial epilogue, but it is still considered to be a great movie and a relatively fitting end to the franchise, even a great one if you ask the critics.
The Daily Telegraph granted the film a maximum score of five stars, stating that it is “a superhero film without a superhero,” comparing it with The Godfather Part II and praising Hardy’s performance as well as the film’s intricate plot and narrative. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times thought the film was “potent, persuasive and hypnotic” and that it was “more than an exceptional superhero movie, it is masterful filmmaking by any standard.”
IGN gave it a 9 out of 10, noting similarities in tone and theme to Batman Begins over the trilogy’s second instalment The Dark Knight, but also describing Bane as “that bit less interesting to watch” than Ledger’s Joker, despite praising his “menacing voice” and “body language-driven performance”. The Guardian scored the film four out of five stars, calling it a film of “granite, monolithic intensity”, yet also calling it a “hammy, portentous affair”.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars, stating “the film begins slowly with a murky plot and too many new characters, but builds to a sensational climax.” Film critic Richard Roeper gave the film an “A”, calling it “a majestic, gorgeous, brutal and richly satisfying epic”, and citing the final scenes of the picture as “the best five minutes of any film this year.”
CNN’s Tom Charity said the film was a “disappointingly clunky and bombastic conclusion to a superior series” and called it Nolan’s worst film. Anthony Lane of The New Yorker says that the “story is dense, overlong, and studded with references that will make sense only to those intimate with Nolan’s previous excursions into Batmanhood”.
How was Christian Bale received as Batman?
Along with Michael Keaton, Christian Bale is usually perceived as the best live-action Batman. His role in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was received with critical acclaim and the fans were likewise amazed, despite the somewhat controversial end to the trilogy. Bale, like Keaton, had it all – the charisma, the interpretation, the depth and the actual feel of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Nolan did an amazing job in adapting the character for his real-life feel of the movies and Bale delivered with his interpretation of the character. Is the best? We leave that question up to you, but we can help you by stating that you have a relatively easy job, since you have to chose between just two – Michael Keaton and Christian Bale.
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!