5. Peter Weller
The Dark Knight Returns is about Batman’s final crusade in an ugly, violent future, and the hardcore portrayal of the aging Bruce Wayne has weighed heavily on every Bat-plot that followed it. In fact, the upcoming Batman vs. Superman film appears to draw quite heavily from the miniseries. Only that new Batman is played by a fit, 42-year-old Ben Affleck. If you want to properly portray DKR’s Wayne, you need a truly weathered voice, one that sounds like it has lived a hard life, and won’t stop taking punishment until he dies. That’s Peter Weller in the animated retelling of DKR.
Maybe there’s some admiration for Robocop carried over into loving this role, but Weller plays Bats as a tired man who isn’t ready to take off his suit. He’s not the Clint Eastwood type Frank Miller envisioned. Weller’s Bruce is more of a skilled handyman who should’ve retired, and maybe can’t keep up with the kids anymore, but he’ll die before he admits that. His speech to Clark at the end isn’t how I heard it in my head when I read the book, but Weller’s mix of rasp and intensity makes it his own. Very underrated.
4. Christian Bale
Yes, yes, his growling voice sure sounds stupid, right? “Grah, I’m Batman, take me seriously!” Ok, now that that’s out of your system, let’s first recognize that over three films Bale gives the most complete Batman performance of all time. You’ve got the rookie, the established force, and the veteran suiting up for one more ride, all handled by one man . And he’s distinct in each of those roles, playing Bats as someone who approaches his problems with just as much planning as intensity.
For all his grunting, Bale’s Batman is surprisingly philosophical. He has debates about lethal force, terrorism, and chaos vs order almost as often as he’s punching people. And his Bruce isn’t bad either, with Bale making Wayne into a mask just like Batman, but one he comes to enjoy from time to time. And, all joking aside, when he first shouted “Swear to me!” in Begins, he was the first live action Dark Knight that was actually scary.
3. Will Arnett
Will Arnett is a wonderful goof who could have probably made it as a handsome leading man, but he enjoys being silly far too much. Plus, he has an amazing voice, and why waste it on car commercials? His gravelly voice and skills at improvised tomfoolery fit right in with the LEGO Movie, where Bats plays an entirely new role: the jerky boyfriend.
It the post-modern world of LEGO, Batman has all the cool toys and intensity, but very little of the tragedy. And when he does cover his gloomy origins, it’s only for an original song about how his dead parents and brooding make him so interesting. Without really selling out the character, Will Arnett turned Bats into the comic relief in a film that’s 80 times funnier than it has any right to be. Arnett is so damn good he’ll soon star in a solo LEGO Batman movie, which I hope is accompanied by a solo album all about darkness and how hard it was for him to be an orphan.