“Wow, the Batman! Or is it just Batman? asks Selina Kyle/Catwoman in “Batman Returns,” exposing a mystery that simmers beneath the surface of every movie featuring the Dark Knight. Opening Friday, the newest seems pretty clear as to what should be on the caped crusader’s “Hello, My Name Is” sticker: “The Batman.”
As new Batmen subs, so do the cast surrounding the Gotham Defender, including those playing his servant Alfred (now played by Andy Serkis), Police Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and allies such as Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz).
Robert Pattinson plays the caped crusader in ‘The Batman,’ but does it matter which square-jawed 30-year-old actor solves the crimes of Gotham City? Once the actors step into the costume, they all speak in the same raspy whisper and act with the same emotional economy.
Looking back at the men who donned the cape, a few distinctions emerge.
Batman: “Batman”, “Batman Returns”
Batfriends: Jack Nicholson’s Joker and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Kyle/Catwoman, the best supporting character of any Batman movie. Fight me.
Bat-complishment: It’s hard to overstate how loud the release of “Batman” was. At a time when movies were playing on fewer screens, it was impossible to get tickets in the first days of its release.
The Score: Danny Elfman opted for classic underscore, all scissored strings and taut high notes.
Great lines: “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
Duration: 126 minutes (both).
How brooding is he? Casting a comic book was controversial, but director Tim Burton’s decision paid off with the wittiest Batman we’ve had.
Batman: Val Kilmer, “Batman Forever”.
Batfriends: The cast includes Drew Barrymore, Nicole Kidman and Tommy Lee Jones, but Jim Carrey’s gonzo Riddler stands out.
Bat-complishment: Nipples. The Batman costume usually lacks them, but director Joel Schumacher thought their insight made the outfit sexier. (The Batnipples remained for his successor.)
The Score: Elliot Goldenthal’s music sounds more superheroic than Elfman’s, his blaring horns seeming to quote the ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ theme.
Outline: “I’m going to have a drive-thru.” (When Alfred asks if he wants a sandwich.)
Running time: 121 minutes.
How brooding is he? Very, but not in a good way. Kilmer said he was intimidated by the magnitude of Carrey’s performance, feeling his job was just to stand in the right place and keep his face still. Mission accomplished?
Batman: “Batman and Robin”.
Batfriends: This is a colorless group, fronted by Chris O’Donnell’s bland Robin. At least someone has gone out of their way to 007-name Vivica A. Fox’s character, Mrs. B. Haven.
Bat-complishment: ‘Destroyed the franchise’, according to the actor, who unlike Ben Affleck and Keaton hasn’t been asked to appear in upcoming parallel reality ‘The Flash’.
The score: Goldenthal’s booming music is in the same vein as its predecessor. Both were orchestrated by composer Robert Elhai.
Outline: “That’s why Superman works alone” (to Robin).
Running time: 125 minutes.
How brooding is he? Not. Clooney seems to want to turn the film into a parody.
Batman: “Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight”, “The Dark Knight Rises”.
Batfriends: So many! But the best is the Oscar-winning performance of the late Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Bat-complishment: Maggie Gyllenhaal’s appearance as Bruce Wayne in ‘The Dark Knight’ begins what could have been a family takeover. Her husband, Peter Sarsgaard, stars in “The Batman,” which has long been rumored to feature brother Jake in the title role that Pattinson snagged.
The score: Hans Zimmer brings his penchant for the growling bass lines that one feels in the molars.
Outline: “Sometimes the truth just isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more.
Runtime: 140 minutes; 152 mins; 164 minutes.
How brooding is he? Not like he’s always a social butterfly but, with three movies to develop the character, Bale makes his Batman more passionate every time.
Batman: “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, other Justice League films.
Batfriends: All of the compelling characters, including Diane Lane’s Martha Kent and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, are in the “Superman” half.
Bat-complishment: In what was apparently a tricky shoot, the chaotic storyline often loses track of Batman.
The score: Zimmer again, but in collaboration with Junkie XL. You’d think this combo would modernize things with touches of electronic dance music, but the score actually sounds like an opera.
Great lines: “We are criminals, Alfred. We have always been criminals.
Running time: 152 minutes.
How brooding is he? Zack Snyder’s vision is even darker and more humorless than Nolan’s, but Affleck illuminates it with sardonic sarcasm.
Batman: “The Batman”.
Batfriends: Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman is so full of fire, she might as well have “Gimme My Fucking Movie” scrawled all over her leather jumpsuit.
Bat-complishment: In a rarity, the origin story – in which Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered, setting off his fight for justice – is not depicted on screen, although it is often mentioned.
The Score: Michael Giacchino’s music takes a romantic and lyrical turn, incorporating “Ave Maria” and something akin to John Williams’ “Imperial March.” There’s even a love theme!
Outline: “I am revenge.”
Running time: 175 minutes.
How brooding is he? Very. He contemplates suicide and vents on journaling.