Holy Cast Comparison Batman! – Christian Bale
Part Five: Christian “The Machinist” Bale:
Christian Bale is the current Batman and is known for resurrecting the character, alongside visionary director Christopher Nolan. In 2005, Bale debuted in Batman Begins, tasked with re-invigorating the franchise hero after George Clooney’s ridiculous turn in Batman and Robin. Eight years had passed between the two films, just enough time for the studio to marinate in their embarrassment and embark in a new direction.
Under Nolan’s direction, Bale’s new Batman was much, much darker than the neon pun-fest that was Batman & Robin. Bale’s Batman lived in a Gotham that was absolutely riddled with corruption and poverty, a city ruled by crime. It wasn’t as neo-noir as Michael Keaton’s gothic Gotham sets, but it was just as dark because Bale’s Gotham was a realistic Gotham. It was a city that had fallen into disrepair, an idea that was all too real and modern.
Batman Begins began at the beginning (say that five times fast), literally. Bale’s story shows the creation of the man and the legend, from his first fear of bats, his parent’s murder, eventually fast-forwarding to his time in Bhutan where he falls in with the League of Shadows, led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson at his finest). The audience sees the creation of the character entirely, his training with the League and his original debut as a vigilante, before taking on the mantle of the Bat. Therefore Christian Bale’s Batman is realistic, a man with an incredible drive, not just a rich kid who eventually became a superhero, the way the rest of the films treated the character.
Physically, Bale had to bulk up for the role. Coming off The Machinist, where Bale had whittled himself down to a skeletal 130 lbs for the part, on a diet of cigarettes and a single apple a day, Bale had to gain an impressive 100 lbs in 6 months in order to play Batman. This intensity that Bale carries with him as an actor, the dedication to his part, shines through in his dark portrayal of a man obsessed with fear, crime and justice. Bale carries that kind of intensity with him everywhere, as you can see in a certain famous rant from the set of Terminator: Salvation.
Bale’s gritty, realistic portrayal almost ignored all the other Batman actors that came before him, refusing to acknowledge or even wink at the character’s campy past. Bale’s Bruce Wayne was a playboy, but a calculated one, only appearing if he has to, otherwise retreating back to his true Batman identity. At the most, Bale’s films returned to Keaton/Burton’s dark roots (Bale’s ridiculously deep Batman voice reflected Keaton’s), but moved the character in a more believable direction. The shockwaves of this decision were felt everywhere, all of a sudden the entire industry wanted to go gritty and realistic. Nolan and Bale had started a sensation and began to ride the wave.
Their next film, The Dark Knight, became an even bigger sensation, but at a very serious cost. Heath Ledger, in an Oscar-winning turn as the Joker, the chaos to Batman’s rigid order, died shortly before the film’s release. The resulting press catapulted The Dark Knight into box-office history; fans everywhere wanted to see the great Heath Ledger’s final role. This unfortunate turn of events cast an even darker shadow over the franchise, somehow making The Dark Knight even darker and the film even more iconic.
Bale himself trained in various martial arts for the role, even performing some of his own stunts, and brought a new physicality to Batman that his forebears did not. His Batman was almost demonic and methodical in his fighting – a Batman that wouldn’t kill, but definitely knew how to be cruel. In part, this new presence was thanks to the re-designed Batsuit, which was more sensible and effective that the clumsy suits of the past, including a cowl that actually allowed Batman to move his head. Nolan and the crew even re-designed the Batmobile/Batpod, taking them in an extremely new yet effective direction. Clearly, everything about Bale/Nolan’s Batman was revolutionary, a fresh piece of cinema that was exactly what superhero movies needed.
With the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final chapter of the Nolan/Bale Batman trilogy will finally be concluded. Neither Bale nor Nolan will be returning, marking a definitive end to this inception of the character. It leaves no survivors, no Robins to take up the mantle (we hope…), no way to mar the trilogy’s reputation. What will happen after the film? Where can the character go? Who will be the next actor under the cape and cowl? Who will be the next director? These are some big questions that the studio has to answer. Nolan and Bale left such a mark on the franchise, and closed the door so definitively on their films, that whoever comes next should be trembling in their little Bat-boots.
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