Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Okay, the honeymoon is over, and it's time to get back into the swing of blogging again. I've missed several Rank & File listings over the past few weeks, so I will get caught up on those over the next week or so. The first one involves Batmen.

BOP readers see the contest as:

1) Michael Keaton
2) Adam West
3) Val Kilmer
4) Kevin Conroy (Voice)
5) George Clooney

Our BOP staff sees the contest as:

1) Michael Keaton
2) Adam West
3) Val Kilmer
4) Kevin Conroy (Voice)
5) George Clooney

The results seem clear cut, but as usual, I have a maverick opinion here. Ranking the incarnations of Batman is difficult. I feel that the guy wearing the suit is irrelevant. The films work independent of the actor. It's the storyline and the villains that audiences find engaging. This leaves me with the conundrum of ranking the best performances as opposed to ranking the actors I like the best. If it's the latter category, George Clooney wins this in a walk. I consider him to be a modern Cary Grant, and that's the highest praise I may offer any actor. I do not, however, believe that to be the intent of the question.

What we are instead discussing is who works best as the dark knight. The only easy exclusion for me is Kevin Conroy. I think it bastardizes the process to give a voice actor equal footing with people who are forced to deal with the overhead of costume and makeup superheroism. I know those people (and my blushing bride is one of them) who feel that he envisions what the comic book intended, but voice work is just not pure acting. Even having him in this category is a crutch. From there, the surprising revelation is that as much as I love Clooney, he portrays Batman in not just the worst film of the franchise but one of the worst films of all time. That eliminates him from contention with regards to the best Batman, but he still merits acknowledgement above Conroy's sensational animated effort.

So, we are left with three main contenders. The easiest to dismiss is Adam West albeit due to personal preferences. Many associate West with the character due to the religiously cheesy 1960s television show. Like a lot of you, I grew up watching re-runs of Batman, but even as a small boy I realized this was not quality television. It was primary-colored camp disguised as serial action. I have come to enjoy West more in later years as he welcomed the opportunity to skewer his previous persona on The Simpsons and Kim Possible. But he just doesn't bring enough to the table to justify a higher placement on this list. For that matter, neither does Val Kilmer. I readily acknowledge that Batman Forever is a film I enjoy a great deal more than the average movie-goer, but all Ice Man did in that movie was give good brood. If we're going to reward that, we might as well introduce Christian Bale aka Mr. Vanilla Actor into the equation. Kilmer gets bonus points for appearing in the second best film of the four, but he's still not offering anything new regarding the character.

In the end, the only Batman is Michael Keaton. And I'm not even that sold on him. Face it, he got one-upped professionally by Jack Nicholson, the man who legitimized the Batman franchise as The Joker. He followed that up by looking on in disgust as Tim Burton went too far with The Penguin, one of the most repulsive, pitiable screen characters ever. Keaton is a great actor, but even as the best of the Batmen, he was not memorable on his own. What this demonstrates is that even the best Bat-actor is still irrelevant to what makes the character great. It's the combination of the tragic story of suffering and vengeance combined with over-the-top villainy which sells the proceedings. If, on the other hand, we chose to do a Rank and File involving best Batman evil-doers, that would be a conversation for the ages.



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