For a generation of moviegoers, Michael Keaton defined Batman onscreen. After 1989's Batman and 1992's Batman Returns, he stepped away from the superhero franchise, making room for the likes of Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, and Ben Affleck. But just because Keaton ushered in the modern superhero movie doesn't mean he feels beholden to it nowadays. In fact, he's never watched a one of Christopher Nolan's wildly popular Batman reboot trilogy.
He tells Entertainment Weekly:
"Chris Nolan is great, but I’ve never seen any of the Batman movies all the way through. I know they’re good. I just have zero interest in those kinds of movies."
This comment is kind of hilarious in the context that Keaton is being interviewed about his latest, Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. In the movie directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, he plays Riggan Thomsan, a washed-up actor best known for playing a burly, growly superhero decades before, and is now haunted by it. However, while Batman may be a defining part of Keaton's career, he doesn't see it as a defining part of who he is as a person. "The truth is that I was playing a person, just a person," he shared. "And I was both as connected to Riggan and as disconnected from him as you can possibly be. And I have to tell the truth about that."
Keaton is actually surprised that the public still ties him so fiercely to Batman and its ongoing legacy. He goes on:
"I mean, people are asking me, ‘Is Ben Affleck going to be any good?’ And my attitude is, First of all, why would you ask me? Second, he’s probably going to be very good, and third, frankly, it’s all set up now so that you’re weirdly kind of safe. Once you get in those suits, they really know what to do with you. It was hard then; it ain’t that hard now."
With all due respect to Michael Keaton. I disagree that stepping into his cowl and cape is as easy as he suggests. Fights still rage over who the best onscreen Batman is. While many Millennials will rally behind Christian Bale and his gravel-voiced Dark Knight, like Seth Rogen in Neighbors, Keaton will always be my Batman. But in between those two, the caped crusader had a rough couple of movies that proved that the call to be Batman might be one that an actor can't resist. But playing a man who masquerades as a giant bat to fight crime is not for everyone. (Sorry, Clooney.)
Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance will close the New York Film Festival this weekend. A theatrical release will follow on October 17th.