Although it may seem like a no-brainer these days, casting Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne for Tim Burton's Batman was a relatively controversial decision when the news initially broke. That said, Keaton surprised the world, and many fans continue to regard him as one of the best live-action Dark Knights to this very day. So why did he walk away after only two films? The actor recently opened up about the decision ahead of the upcoming release of American Assassin and bluntly admitted that the story for the third Batman movie simply wasn't good enough, and the overall excess of the 1990s didn't help. Keaton explained:
[The film] just wasn't any good, man. I tried to be patient, but after a certain point, I was like, I can't take this any more, this is going to be horrible. But, look, there was some really horrible taste in the 90s, and I probably contributed to that, unfortunately. It was a time of nouveau riche excess -- everyone was known for their jets and their stuff.
If you know anything about the Hollywood history of The Caped Crusader, then you likely know what Michael Keaton is referring to with this remark. Following Tim Burton's work on Batman and Batman Returns, Joel Schumacher took the Batman franchise into a much campier territory. Batman 3 would eventually go on to become the Val Kilmer-fronted Batman Forever (a commendable effort, but often regarded as subpar compared to its predecessors), and Kilmer would eventually give way to George Clooney's Batman in the now infamous Batman & Robin, with each film becoming increasingly commercial and less well-received by critics.
Compared to the Burton/Keaton films, this era of Batman movies was largely defined by neon lights, campy one-liners ("I'll get drive-thru"), and a pervasive sense of commercialism, with toys and tie-in merchandise becoming major business elements. This era is also largely credited with scuttling the Batman franchise until Christopher Nolan stepped in to take the character back to his darker roots with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight trilogy -- which subsequently paved the way for the modern era of "gritty" superheroes.
It doesn't sound like Michael Keaton has any regrets about walking away from the gothic superhero. Continuing in his conversation with The Guardian, he explained that he made the right decision because many people involved in the 1990s movies are no longer in their respective roles at studios. Keaton said:
And I thought, I'm in this job for the long run, I don't want this. And the truth is, I'm not boasting, but I was correct. There are a whole load of people who ran things that are long gone.
Although he's no longer Gotham City's resident badass, you can see Michael Keaton as CIA operative Stan Hurley in American Assassin, which opens in theaters this Friday, September 15. As for the Caped Crusader, you can catch Ben Affleck's version of the character next when Justice League debuts in theaters later this year on November 17.