Nobody would dispute that Batman is an iconic role. Whether Ben Affleck remains, or a new face takes the role, it won’t just be big news, it will be a casting decision that gets talked about and analyzed at least until Batman’s next on-screen appearance.
There are three reasons why I submit that the best way to cast Batman successfully is to cast for Bruce Wayne first, and then let Batman follow.
Bruce Wayne Is the Mask
Part of the brilliance of Batman as a character is that he flips the idea of the secret identity on its head. For nearly any other hero, the identity as a superhero is the public facing persona used to maintain some semblance of a private life. For Batman, Bruce Wayne serves as both the piggy bank and tabloid distraction that frees Batman up to hit the streets.
Playing Bruce Wayne as an actor becomes a complex endeavor, because Bruce Wayne must be believable as a man that is both competent enough to successfully run Wayne Enterprises, yet shallow and free-spirited enough to spend lavishly and entertain a conveyor belt of women to help maintain a carefree image. As if that duality doesn’t require enough emotional depth, we may only see the true Bruce Wayne in the course of his relationship with Alfred. Alfred knows Bruce Wayne completely and can see through both Batman’s mask and the act played by Bruce Wayne, meaning that our actor must portray yet another dimension in order to present a full representation of Bruce Wayne. There may not be another role among comic book heroes that requires so much of its actor.
Bruce Wayne’s Face Anchors the Movie
Not so long ago movie studios were concerned that the masks worn by superheroes would directly conflict with the Hollywood wisdom that people go to the movies to see their favorite stars. The fear was that if a mask covers up the heroes face, it essentially hides the star, and movie goers will punish the film at the box office for not allowing their stars to shine on the big screen. It all sounds kind of ridiculous, but remnants of the idea still exist. Film makers have gotten a bit more subtle, but think back on your favorite comic movies and count how many times the hero’s mask gets destroyed, or they end up being forced in some way to take it their mask off as a precursor to the movie’s final conflict, or my personal favorite, the character is still wearing their mask, but the camera angle suggests a view inside the mask (think of Robert Downey Jr.’s witty banter while playing Iron Man).
No matter how you slice it, how Bruce Wayne looks matters to the studios working to ensure the best return on their investment. It’s not that they don’t have to get Batman right; Batman absolutely has to go right, but between stuntmen, costume design, voice work (looking at you, Christian Bale) and CGI, there’s a lot more wiggle room and chances are good that most of the actor’s recognizable time on the screen will happen as Bruce Wayne and not Batman. Find an actor with the right look and talent to showcase the Bruce Wayne character, put him in some stylish clothes, and the dominoes start to fall to have a successful movie.
Christopher Nolan Already Nailed Batman Movies that Relegate Bruce Wayne to the Background
Lastly, Christopher Nolan already made great Batman movies that work almost completely independent from Bruce Wayne. That sounds crazy, but Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins is the vehicle for Batman to come into existence, and nothing more. Questions about Batman’s identity in The Dark Knight serve more as plot devices than inquiries into Batman’s true motivations and nature as a person. In The Dark Knight returns, Bruce Wayne lives a hermit’s life, and only reenters society as a means to revive himself as Batman. In each film, Commissioner Gordon arguably outweighs Bruce Wayne in importance.
Bruce Wayne taking a backseat in those movies isn’t actually a problem. It’s just that, those movies have been done. Going forward, there is rich material to be mined, and the most compelling pieces of the puzzle all revolve around understanding Bruce Wayne. I would argue that we haven’t really seen a Batman movie that fully utilizes the potential for character development offered by Bruce Wayne since the Michael Keaton days.
To wrap up, Bruce Wayne is a complex character with a relationship to his secret identity unlike any other. To maximize profits, studios will bank on the image of Bruce Wayne to reduce their investment risks. Excellent Batman movies can be made without a huge emphasis on Bruce Wayne, but it’s been done and audiences deserve something new. For these reasons, prioritizing the casting of Bruce Wayne before Batman makes for the best Batman movies going forward.
Do you think it’s more important to cast Bruce Wayne or Batman first? Tell us why in the comments, and click here to read why casting Batman first should be the priority from Troy Mangum.