Back in 2005, superhero films were still viewed with derision by most serious cinephiles and Hollywood bigwigs. Though a few superhero films had won Academy Awards in the past, most filmmakers, with any serious ambitions of ever winning one, never gave a second thought to a superhero film being the route to take.
Still considered relatively niche back then, while the genre was still seen as the realm of geeks and comic nerds, DC Comics, in particular, suffered an immense backlash from their role in tarnishing the image of superhero films with the atrocious Batman & Robin. Seeking redemption for that awful fiasco of a movie, DC and Warner Bros. turned to a relatively unknown entity for their next attempt. However, far from just being a success, Christopher Nolan’s legendary Dark Knight Trilogy went on to cause a seismic shift for superhero films.
It has since reinvigorated what once felt like a dying film category, made icons out of its cast, and most importantly, provided desperately craved vindication for one of the most popular superhero characters in history. As the face of these monumental films, for millions of fans globally, Christian Balealso cemented himself as the messiah that saved the character for them.
For superhero films in general, and Batman fans especially, Christians Bale’s rendition of the Caped Crusader was basically perfect, and one that launched comic book characters on film into the stratosphere. Most fans agree Christian Bale was without a doubt the greatest Batman there ever was, and likely ever will be. This is our take on why that is.
10 Realism and Minimal CGI
By the time Batman Begins was released, the cinematic world had long been steeped in the use of CGI as its go-to effects fallback. Ever since Steven Spielberg revolutionized filmmaking through its use in Jurassic Park, every film from action to sci-fi movies, horror, fantasy, animated films, and everything in between has been clamoring to include CGI in ever-evolving modalities. While time and time again, CGI has proven how limitless its applications can be in film, there’s also been a growing argument against its overuse and the fact that it’s become a crutch for filmmakers.
With most directors never missing an opportunity to deploy CGI as a means of augmenting their films, Christopher Nolan’s bold choice to only use minimal CGI for TheDark Knight films was another example of just how outside the box he is as a director. Even though superhero films are probably one of the most natural candidates for CGI use, the result of Nolan’s decision was a more realistic feeling portrayal that required greater depth from Christian Bale to carry the character instead.
9 The Intricacy of the Plots
Christopher Nolan almost never made the films, but his ingenious plots for them, full of multidimensional characters, and labyrinthine twists ended up giving Christian Bale an opportunity to shine as the most complex character of all. Between his duel life as Batman and Bruce Wayne, his tragic past, his tortured motivations, and his sense of duty toward Gotham and its citizens, the Batman of this universe ran through the full spectrum of the character’s classical tropes.
It’s true that even Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer’s portrayals tried to touch on these things too. However, Christian Bale brought an added layer of authenticity to these aspects of the character that became a microcosm of the plots themselves.
8 That Iconic Voice
Most actors who’ve played Batman have tried to do the classic voice modification that distinguishes him from Bruce Wayne. Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the character even went as far as using a voice modulator to enhance the fearsome gruffness that his Batman spoke with. However, none have mustered the same kind of raw appeal that Christian Bale did with his version of the Bat voice.
The differences between Batman’s speech and Bruce Wayne’s in the films were striking. Bale brought a visceral intensity to the voice that seemed to roar rather than simply inflect. The voice has now become legendary, while the reason behind how Bale managed to give it such a feral quality makes perfect sense once you know the story of how he came up with it.
“I got there. They put me in Val Kilmer’s suit. It didn’t even fit properly, and I stood in it and I went ‘I feel like an idiot.’ What kind of guy walks around, dressed like a bat? And is then going to go ‘Hello, how are you? Just ignore that I’m dressed as a bat.’ Of course, he’s meant to be doing this. If you look at the history of the guy and the pain that he went through. I went ‘I can’t do this in a normal voice. I have to become a beast in order to sell this to myself.'”
7 The Tumbler
One of the coolest aspects of Batman is the fact that even though he has no superpowers, he’s still a virtually unstoppable force because of his brilliant mind as an inventor. His arsenal of machines, the kind of gadgetry that make James Bond’s seem like IKEA products, and his fleet of land, sea, and air vehicles have become a renowned part of the character’s intrinsic appeal.
Of all of his fancy toys though, none have ever been more iconic than the Batmobile. In keeping with Christopher Nolan’s vision for a more realistic tone for The Dark Knight films, even the Batmobile received a radical, but brilliant makeover that took it away from the gimmicky versions from past films that sported cringe features like pointy wings.
Bale’s version of the Batmobile came in the form of the now revered “Tumbler.” Grounded in reality through Lucius Fox’s description of it as a military concept vehicle designed for urban warfare and built by Wayne Enterprises’ R&D department, the Tumbler oozed coolness in every. The way it looked, sounded, moved, and felt was a fresh new upgrade on the tired old versions of the Batmobile that felt uninspired in other films.
Christian Bale’s Batmobile became the new standard and obliterates any that came before or after it. Since it wasn’t originally designed for Batman, fortunately for his fans everywhere, it did come in black.
6 Banter and Comedy
One of the most lamentable parts of why other superhero films, like many from the DCU, and others like the Venom movies wind up being panned by comic fans, is how badly they do comedy. When a film from the genre gets this part wrong, it invariably comes across as forced, cartoonish, too on the nose, or uninspired. In contrast, Christian Bale’s Batman films featured comedic scenes in moderation.
However, when there were funny scenes, they were comedy of a different caliber, usually jokes that subsisted on superbly timed and delivered wit. The best examples usually came from the banter between Bruce Wayne and Alfred, or Bruce and Lucius Fox. Lines like when Bruce tells Lucius he needs a new suit, and Lucius’ response is, “Yeah, three buttons is a little nineties, Mr. Wayne,” became timeless aspects of the films and Bale’s multilayered persona as Batman/Bruce Wayne in it.
5 The Unbelievable Supporting Performances
Whether it was sublime performances from likes of Michael Caine’s Alfred, Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, or Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, Bruce Wayne and Batman were never short of memorable characters to interact with. The stunning portrayals of these characters and others like the minimalist ones of Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman and Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Robin elevated Christian Bale’s own rendition of Batman since there was so much acting depth around him and the films.
The fact that Bale himself epitomized everything that was extraordinary about the acting caliber to be found throughout The Dark Knight films made him its true lead, rather than someone who just got the first credit but was overshadowed by his cast mates. Bale was of course already highly rated before these films, with his previous roles like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho earning him well-deserved acclaim, but his famous dedication to his role as Batman elevated his status into a true A-lister.
4 No Guns, No Killing
There were many amazing examples of how Christian Bale’s Batman stuck to classical aspects of the character’s legendary history in perfect ways. His deconstruction of crime scenes and high-tech investigations harked back to the popular Batman Detective comics, while his training with Ra’s al Ghul showed us that Batman was a ninja. The fact that he stuck to rules like not killing or handling guns (unless he was using his bare hands to twist rifle barrels), were also reflective of the universal persona of Batman.
However, Batman is known among his fans for being a character defined by layered complexities. Bale’s Batman showcased these through aspects like his willingness to break the rules for the greater good when he breached the privacy of every Gotham citizen to locate The Joker. His vigilantism, iconic interrogation of The Joker, unlawful extradition of Mr. Lau, were all great insights into the fact that Batman isn’t perfect, but is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his city.
With an all-new look and feel, classical elements were all kept intact, while updated things like Batman’s suit also became iconic for its gritty and bold new look. Thankfully, this one had no nipples on them.
3 The Iconic Villains
Whether it was Tom Hardy’s visionary Bane, Cillian Murphy’s superb Scarecrow, Aaron Eckhart’s scintillating Two-Face, Liam Neeson’s majestic Ra’s al Ghul, or Marion Cotillard’s enticing Talia al Ghul, no other renditions of Batman on-screen has ever had such a stunning quality of villains. All that and we haven’t mentioned Heath Ledgers eternal performance as The Joker, which earned him a posthumous Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actor.
For a Batman fan, after suffering through the mediocrity of Batman Forever, and the sickeningly bad Batman & Robin, the quality and caliber of every villain and the actors who played them in The Dark Knight Trilogy was heavenly.
2 The Mastery of Christopher Nolan
Of course, everything that was immaculate about The Dark Knight Trilogy, including Christian Bale’s Batman, can all directly or indirectly be attributed to the cinematic genius of Christopher Nolan. What Nolan managed to achieve with the films was simply astounding. Everything from the writing, directing, cinematography, direction, casting, sound editing, performances, and the films’ goosebump-inducing score bore the hallmarks of his visionary style.
Nolan created truly immersive films that left behind the world of superhero films and nestled themselves into a league of their own. His attention to detail and the wonderfully creative ways that he delved into all the classical features of the character while crafting impossibly intricate plots, and nursing so many career-defining performances out of his cast was outrageously good.
1 Perfect Duality
While fans consider every aspect of Christian Bale’s Batman virtually flawless, Batman was only half the role. One of the best parts of the performance came from the fact that his portrayal of Bruce Wayne was also exceptional. His willingness to let Bruce be vilified as a spoiled brat who gets drunk and kicks out his own guests, falls asleep at board meetings, or crashes his Lamborghini, seemingly without an inkling of what’s going on in the city, were all brilliant ways of making Bruce Wayne useful while keeping distance between him and Batman to maintain the secret identity.
What Bale did with his Batman was let everyone finally know what comic fans have always known — the superhero genre is so much more than just characters with cool powers, they’re reflections of our own moralities and represent the best of humanity’s spirit. His willingness to put his body on the line, sacrifice his own happiness, his wealth, reputation, and eventually, even his own life for what he believed in, is what always made Batman the greatest superhero of all to his fans.
Christian Bale’s Batman became that for Batman films by going so far beyond conventional superhero films that its greatest achievement was how it transcended boundaries and made comic book characters capable of being spoken about in the same breath as the greatest films around. In films packed with so many unforgettable lines, one in particular defined why Christian Bale’s Batman will always be the greatest.
“Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.”