For ‘Batman/Superman,’ Who Should Take Up the Mantle of the Bat?

By July 22, 2013
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After years of waiting for some kind of team-up film featuring the icons of DC Comics, fans will finally see their patience pay off in the summer of 2015 with the arrival of a Man of Steel sequel that also features the Dark Knight himself, Batman. While many fans understand that the next iteration of Batman on the silver screen will be played by a new actor, there is still a sect of fandom out there that is convinced that Christian Bale will step back into the cape and cowl for such a momentous outing.

I hate to be a buzzkill, but that’s just not the case.

Both Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale have said repeatedly that their story of Bruce Wayne has reached a satisfying conclusion for them, and although a rumor a few months back seemed to indicate their involvement in some kind of Justice League outing, those rumors were quickly put to rest. The world of The Dark Knight Trilogy, they have assured us, will not be seen on film again. This understanding brings with it a new set of exciting possibilities, though: namely, the speculation on who will actually become the new Batman. If it proved anything as it relates to this conversation, Christian Bale’s 2003 casting for Batman Begins has proven to be definitive in relation to anyone that follows the comics with any sort of regularity. Bale was the first actor to embody the Batman that so many fans read about in periodical comics every month, and if it sets the tone for the future casting of the Dark Knight, then that will likely be it’s greatest impact on who the new Batman will be.

When trying to make a guess at who might be right for casting, I’m falling back on my knowledge of the character as a Batman fan, and the kinds of things the character needs to evoke in a story, especially if he’ll be standing either beside or against the raw symbol of power that Henry Cavill’s Superman stands as in Man of Steel. While Batman won’t be as physically powerful, one element that he has to have is the appearance of formidability, and this counts in everything from the way that he speaks, to his build, to even the way he moves. So, if I had five candidates right now that I could see as stepping into Batman’s mask as a representation of the character from the comics, and as someone who needs to be able to stand with/against the Man of Steel, these would be the top five.

5) Karl Urban

Look, with this choice I have to make it clear that perhaps more than this casting, I want a Dredd sequel. That being said, if Karl Urban was cast as the Dark Knight in a future film, I would be doing anything but crying about it. Urban first got onto my radar in a big way with his unforgettable performance as Dr. Leonard McCoy in the 2009 Star Trek film, and from that point on I started paying a lot of attention to him and to his work. It was only at that point that I learned that his role as Dr. McCoy was the exception to most of his filmography, not the rule, since he takes a lot of action-centric parts. From playing the cavalry leader of Rohan, Éomer, in the latter two films of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, to an ass-kicking Russian security agent in The Bourne Supremacy, to Judge Joseph Dredd himself, Urban is no stranger to high-octane impact in a lot of films he’s appeared in.

The good thing about him, in addition to his acting experience, is that he’s a pretty damned good actor. Urban has a great sense of nuance and wit, but he also has a highly emotive face that really helps to emphasize whatever emotional turmoil he’s going through. As a plus, he also has experience with acting from the mouth to the chin in Dredd, and that was a character that could possibly be construed as “less human” than the Dark Knight. All in all, I think Urban would be a great choice, but realistically, a rather unlikely one.

Hopefully he’ll be busy with Dredd 2.

4) Wes Bentley

There’s something about Wes Bentley’s face that has always reminded me of Bruce Wayne. I remember seeing the original Ghost Rider film back in 2007, and hating it. The one element that it had going for it, though, was the performances. Even if writing and story construction is a mess, it’s still easy to enjoy good performances, and I thought Bentley deserved to be in that category for his role as Blackheart. He was dark, he was threatening, and there was something…unsettling about the way he stared at you. When I saw him doing an interview on television for the film, sans white makeup and garish wardrobe, I was instantly reminded of Bruce Wayne. Dashingly handsome when he flashes that smile, but when he goes dark, he really goes dark. Bentley, I feel, could bring that element fans know from the comics about Bruce Wayne and translate it to film pretty definitively.

Although some of his films have been critical misses (like Ghost Rider), it’s never been Bentley himself that was a part of those perceived problems. He had a strong performance in The Hunger Games as Seneca Crane, and has shown a lot of potential in most of the films he’s starred in (even Gone!). If given a role with the history, inherent darkness, and creative potential as Batman, this could be a breakout, and potentially a good match.

 

3) Joe Manganiello

The actor who first got on the radars of comic book fans by playing Flash Thompson in Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man film has increased his profile pretty significantly over the last decade. With the actor getting a lot of attention recently for starring and guest roles in popular TV shows like “True Blood” and “How I Met Your Mother”, the strapping Manganiello has already tried to take a greater step toward superheroics with a role he wanted badly, but just fell short of getting: namely, Henry Cavill’s. In an interview with Digital Spy, Manganiello revealed that his loss to Cavill for the coveted role of Superman in Man of Steel left him depressed for months.  “Because I really thought the direction they were taking the movie and the character, I really thought I had a great idea where to take that and I was very excited and I just wanted to try out my ideas and things,” he said. “But, you know, it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Manganiello has proven, particularly in “True Blood,” that he has a solid sense of dedication to a character that he feels is similar to a superhero in a lot of respects. Manganiello also definitely looks the part, and with the visual language and aesthetic established by Henry Cavill’s casting in Man of Steel, the two men’s relatively similar looks (which they share in the comics) may help to illustrate the characters’ physical similarities and distinct philosophical differences that are very prevalent in stories that feature them both. As a big fan of DC Comics and Batman in particular, the dedication and desire Manganiello had for Superman demonstrates to me that there’s a passion for these kinds of stories, and if you cast an actor that understands the inherent mythical value of superheroes like Batman and Superman, the modern day Odysseus and Hercules, then something special might happen. Joe, would you settle for Batman?

2) Jake Gyllenhaal

Back in 2003, when final auditions were taking place for the lead role in what would become Batman Begins, it came down to just a few actors: Cillian Murphy, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Christian Bale among them. In an interview with IGN back in 2004Begins screenwriter David S. Goyer (who also wrote Man of Steel and who will write the forthcoming team-up film) was quoted as saying, “We were torn between Bale and Jake Gyllenhaal, because we wanted to go in a different direction.” If Gyllenhaal managed to inspire enough confidence to get on a shortlist of Goyer’s and Nolan’s, then maybe Gyllenhaal deserves a second look as the new Dark Knight.

Definitely one of the best young male actors working today, Gyllenhaal may bring with him a level of legitimacy to the Man of Steel sequel, in addition to allowing fans to see traces of a kind of performance that could have led Nolan’s trilogy. All I’m saying is that if Gyllenhaal is interested in the role again (which is no guarantee), and he inspired enough confidence to be one of the final actors to be considered (if not the final) before Christian Bale’s casting, then maybe it would be a good idea to give him that chance in a film that, basically, has to be good if Warner Bros. is serious about leading to an ensemble piece featuring the Justice League. Gyllenhaal definitely has the acting chops to pull that off, but it all depends on whether or not it’s something he’d want to pursue again.

1) Armie Hammer

Rising star Armie Hammer is actually the only actor on this list who was actually cast to play Batman back in 2007, when director George Miller was actively developing a film that’s come to be known as Justice League: Mortal. At the time, I remember being incensed about the news of such a film since Christopher Nolan hadn’t even had the chance to release The Dark Knight yet, and Christian Bale and then-Superman Brandon Routh were being so quickly replaced in favor of inexpensive no-names from a studio only releasing the film as a quick cash grab. At the time, the film’s Batman, Hammer, was only 20 years old (that was barely older than me at the time) and I just couldn’t see how he would be able to work, especially considering the inevitable comparisons to Christian Bale. Eventually, that film fell through because of changes in tax policy and breaks that Warner Bros. wouldn’t be able to get shooting in Australia, and the studio was beaten to the superhero team-up punch by Marvel in 2012 with The Avengers (which would’ve been a better film, anyway).

Now that some time has passed, and Hammer has had the chance to garner a lot more experience in front of the camera, I’m actually pretty convinced that he could be the right man for the job, especially when standing next to Cavill’s Superman. I remember blindly hating on Hammer’s choice for Mortal, and then having a pretty significant opinion when I heard the man speak: his voice, to me, sounds like how Batman might sound. His performances, particularly in The Social Network and even The Lone Ranger have shown me all at once both the dramatic necessity and action potential of a man like Hammer in the role of Batman. Anytime he speaks about the possibility of playing him in that failed League film his eyes light up at the prospect of what the film would’ve done. Whether or not he’d go for it is unknown, but if we’re on the lookout for a new Dark Knight, maybe Hammer deserves another look.

Now, could these opinions change as time goes by? Absolutely. As happens with most of my opinions, the actor lucky enough to land the coveted role is almost sure to be none of the actors I’ve listed here. It is, though, very exciting and fun to speculate on who will be the man charged with carrying Batman into a new cinematic legacy for DC Comics, one that has the great potential to culminate in a team-up of “the World’s Greatest Heroes.” Because of that simple fact, one truth remains: as long as it’s done well, whoever they choose, it’s us as fans that ultimately win.

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.