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Michael Keaton Recalls Comic Book Fans’ Reaction To His ‘Batman’ Casting, Says It’s “Still Baffling”

(Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images & Warner Bros. / MovieStillsDB)
(Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images & Warner Bros. / MovieStillsDB)

Michael Keaton has returned to the role of Batman in The Flash. Three decades on from his last appearance in the Batcave, it’s a treat for fans of Tim Burton’s franchise favorite.

Reprising the role has stirred up old memories, with Keaton now opening up about his decision to avoid 1995’s Batman Forever. Here’s what actually went down, deep beneath Wayne Manor…

Batman wasn’t Forever for Michael Keaton

Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) put Keaton on Hollywood’s A-List. When director Tim Burton left and Joel Schumacher stepped in, the series changed creative direction.

The Dark Knight would get a bit lighter after a run of Gothic gloom. However, Warner Bros. wanted to keep Keaton in the cowl.

Speaking on the podcast Backstage, the star was keen to stress that he liked Schumacher. That said, the newbie clearly wasn’t on the same page as the current Bruce Wayne. As recalled by Keaton, Schumacher remarked: “I don’t understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad.”

Keaton as Bruce Wayne
Keaton as Bruce Wayne (Photo Credit: Warner Bros. & MovieStillsDB)

It was then that Keaton knew the relationship wasn’t going to fly. The psychology of Wayne and his dark motivations for becoming Batman – i.e. the slaying of his parents by criminals – were crucial to the overall tone. In fact, for him, this was the multi-millionaire playboy’s movie, rather than just a guy in a cape slugging bad guys.

“It was always Bruce Wayne. It was never Batman,” Keaton said. The highly restrictive Batsuit he had to wear might also have played a part!

Appearing on the Jess Cagle Podcast with Julia Cunningham, he went a bit further. Keaton revealed his thought process as: “Well, this is not good. This is not good. I just can’t do it. I’ll blow my brains out. Just can’t live with myself.”

The movie went ahead without him and the face of Batman was literally never the same again.

Tim Burton’s Batman legacy

Top-billed star Jack Nicholson was, for many, the definitive Joker. Michael Keaton, on the other hand, was a tough sell. Fans weren’t impressed with the idea of casting Beetlejuice as the Caped Crusader, initially.

Quoted by the New York Times during the making of Batman in the late 1980s, Tim Burton mentioned that he’d looked at some typical tough guy actors for the role, “but I couldn’t see them putting on a Batsuit.”

Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Tim Burton on set
Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Tim Burton on set (Photo Credit: Warner Bros. & MovieStillsDB)

For the idiosyncratic director, there was no need for a powerhouse like Arnold Schwarzenegger to dress as an armored bat. Whereas, “You look at Michael and you see all sorts of things going on inside.”

Burton’s blockbuster classic put comic book movies firmly on the map. There’d been a big-screen version of Adam West’s camp crusader in 1966, but that was a one-shot deal.

Without his angst-ridden approach, itself taken from the comics, we wouldn’t have seen Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and the upcoming film starring Robert Pattinson. The style was very influential on Batman: The Animated Series, even down to the use of Danny Elfman’s title music. And DC readers recently dove into a new chapter for the classic era, via the comic book series Batman ‘89.

Joel Schumacher goes to Gotham City

Meanwhile, Schumacher cast Val Kilmer as Batman, much to the approval of the character’s co-creator Bob Kane. Quoted by Cinescape at the time, he described Kilmer as “Batmanesque”.

Unfortunately, the working relationship between star and director wasn’t a happy one. George Clooney took over for 1997’s Batman and Robin. This time Schwarzenegger made an appearance, only as villain Mr. Freeze.

Batman & Robin behind the scenes photo
Batman & Robin behind the scenes photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joel Schumacher (Photo Credit: Warner Bros. & MovieStillsDB)

What did Clooney make of his stint in the Batcave? He was asked about that and Keaton’s return during press for movie The Tender Bar. “When you destroy a franchise the way I did, usually they look the other way when ‘The Flash’ comes by,” Clooney joked. Ironically, The Tender Bar features two former Batmans – Clooney as producer, with Ben Affleck starring.

The original big-screen Bruce is back

When talking about his return to the Jess Cagle Podcast with Julia Cunningham, Keaton mentioned the quality of the screenplay by Christina Hodson, who is also writing Batgirl.

Michael Keaton at a premiere
Michael Keaton attends the Washington, DC premiere of “Dopesick” at The Aspen Institute on October 07, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: Shannon Finney/Getty Images)

Interestingly, the thought of playing an aging Bruce Wayne had already occurred to Keaton. His performance in Birdman (2014) played on that idea. So when Warner Bros. contacted him, he was game for a comeback.

However, the film has gone on a bit of a hiatus. Despite being near completion, the production company decided to pull the film from its release schedule with no new release date set in place.

Being cast as Batman in “still baffling”

The 1989 Time Burton-directed Batman would mark a turning point in the portrayal of the comic book character on screen. Before this, the superhero was only seen in a campy television show. So, when producers began to dream up the idea of making a movie about the superhero, Keaton remembers saying, “‘Wait, you’re thinking of making a movie about Batman?’” What confused him even more was being asked to play the titular character.

Michael Keaton in Batman costume.
Michael Keaton as Batman. (Photo Credit: Murray Close / Sygma / Sygma / Getty Images)

More from us: Bill Murray As Batman? Eddie Murphy As Robin? David Bowie As The Joker? It Could Have Happened!

“The fact that Tim said ‘That guy, I want that guy’… the fact that people cared one way or another so much is still baffling. But that was a ballsy move on his part. We also had a nice working relationship from Beetlejuice, so he felt that he and I could get along and would work well together.”

Many feel as though Keaton’s portrayal of the superhero was the best in a lineup of several actors who have taken on the role, including George Clooney and Ben Affleck.