The suit makes the man. And when it comes to the Caped Crusader, the Bat suit definitely makes the Batman.
Five different actors have donned the Bat suit on the big screen over the years, from Michael Keaton in 1989 to Ben Affleck, whom we saw in the suit for the first time today.
How has the Bat suit evolved over the years? How did we get to this new design, which will be part of Zack Snyder’s hotly anticipated Batman vs. Superman? And who wore the suit best? Let’s run through a visual gallery of the big-screen Batman suit through the years, commenting on their designs and figuring out where Ben Affleck’s new Bat suit fits in the dark-and-brooding legacy.
It’s so hard going first. Tim Burton had years of Batman comic books to pull from, and the realistic design of the Adam West Batman television show – which relied more on tights and capes than the military design that would inform Batman for years to come on screen. It always appeared to me that Michael Keaton was wearing a refrigerator box instead of a superhero suit. His Batman lacked mobility, and marched through multiple scenes with the agility of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. Fans were so excited to finally see Batman on the big screen in 1989… but there was room for improvement.
Batman Returns (1992)
With Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, the focus fell to the hero’s main villains – a trend that would become dominant in the rest of the Caped Crusader’s on screen legacy. So while a lot of attention is paid to the gothic overtones in Danny DeVito’s Penguin look, or the tattered leather threads of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman duds, very few changes are made to Michael Keaton’s batsuit. He does move around a little more freely in Batman Returns, but the central focus of Burton’s two Batsuits was the bright yellow chest patch, shadowed in the darkness of the cape and cowl.
Batman Forever (1995)
"Darkness" wasn’t a problem for Batman once director Joel Schumacher was on the beat. The man behind The Lost Boys and Phantom of the Opera brought flair to the Bat cave for the first time – but again, a lot of it landed on Batman’s two villains. Jim Carrey’s theatrics fit The Riddler, but do you recall how grotesquely gaudy Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face depiction was? In contrast, Val Kilmer’s Batman was muted and toned down. It was traditional. Classic. And if there was one cue he kept from the Burton Batmans, it was the enormous size of the hero’s pointy ears! "The better to hear you with, my dear Riddler!"
Batman and Robin (1997)
Nipples! And neon. But really, nipples. That’s director Joel Schumacher’s legacy, his chief contribution to the Batman saga (sitting just ahead of cheesy puns). All of the Batman costume designs emphasize the chin. And George Clooney had a wonderful, protruding jaw. Too bad his mouth had to vocalize Akiva Goldsman’s horrific dialogue. Still, it was the campy additions to Batman’s suit that helped sink Batman & Robin into the land of irredeemable camp. Did I mention the nipples?
Batman Begins (2005)
Batman needed a cleansing, and director Christopher Nolan stripped away most of what we expect out of a Batman suit for this origin story, Batman Begins. By introducing Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Nolan was able to demonstrate how Bruce Wayne constructed the necessary Bat suit out of weapons-grade military armors. The director and his star would tinker with the look through the trilogy, but Batman Begins gave them an excellent jumping off point.
The Dark Knight (2008)
The best Batman suit shown on screen, in my humble opinion. Christopher Nolan and his costume designer, Lindy Hemming, took all of the elements from previous Batman films – the sleek design, the dark color scheme, the formidable yet efficient exterior – to create a suit that an actual crimefighter might don to take down budding criminals threatening Gotham. As mesmerizing as the Joker and Two-Face were in The Dark Knight, they didn’t pull as much focus away from the main attraction, and that’s why I view this as the best Batman suit yet.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
There was no place to go but down after The Dark Knight, and the third go around in Nolan’s Bat suit just felt like more of the same. It’s a darker black, it seems, with no real utility to it. There’s something small and vulnerable about Batman’s suit – soaking wet and shiny – when he takes on Bane in the sewers. He once again looks like an outclassed amateur playing dress up, like he did against the League of Shadows in Batman Begins. He should have been triumphant in the finale, but it was adequate, without being memorable.
Batman vs. Superman (2016)
It’s hard to tell too much about this new Batman from the initial photo shared by Zack Snyder. There’s no color scheme, so we don’t know if Ben Affleck’s Batman will be head-to-toe black like Christian Bale, or will there be splashes of blue color that are part of Batman’s traditional costume? The ears are subtle. The cape and cowl look classic. The size of the bat on Affleck’s chest is reminiscent of Frank Miller’s artwork, which Snyder has said he’s going o draw from. I’m going to give it a grade, but know that my opinion of the new Batman suit can (and will) change often.
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