And so, the wait is over. The film that DC comic book and superhero genre fans have been waiting for in rapt anticipation has arrived: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the lynchpin in the DC universe — setting up the Justice League and its members is here, and it's been met with... pretty mixed reviews across the board.
But we're not here to talk about that, we're here to talk about Batfleck. Because even those who disliked the film itself do seem to agree on one point, Ben Affleck makes a damn fine Bruce Wayne. But how does he measure up to his predecessor Christian Bale, who portrayed the big Bat in Christopher Nolan's critically acclaimed The Dark Knight Trilogy? Let's find out.
Right about now you should note that this article does contain spoilers for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but they're minor ones. If you're alright with that then read on, if not, maybe save this one for after you've seen the film.
We've known for a long while that Batman v Superman would borrow elements from and homage Frank Miller's wonderful The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, but would be far from an outright adaptation. And Batfleck, at least at the beginning, is pretty close to the Batman we see in The Dark Knight Returns, though younger and not retired.
Bale's Batman, at least in Batman Begins, courts the dual nature of Bruce Wayne that we've seen in various types of Batman media, but Batfleck has no time for pretending to lead the playboy lifestyle. The only time we see him attend a social event in Batman v Superman is done so in order to further his agenda against Superman by breaking into Lex Luthor's files. His interactions with Diana Prince, though perhaps intended to come off as flirtatious, feel like the words of a man who hasn't spoken to a woman (or indeed anyone but Alfred) in months, whereas Bale was a sleeker, more social beast.
But then Bale's Batman hasn't suffered quite as much as Batfleck has, with nods towards the Joker and what happened to Jason Todd hanging over him like a cloud, not to mention the destruction of his building in Metropolis and the lives lost of his friends and coworkers that day. Which leads us to...
Batman's primary motivation will always boil down to one thing: the death of his parents. This is a cornerstone of the Batman mythos and it remains unchanged in Batman v Superman, but another layer is added here in terms of the fears set in motion by the appearance of Superman. The opening sequence is brilliant, a wordless retelling of the Batman origin followed up by the amazing ground level sequence of the destruction of Metropolis, something which solidly sets up Batfleck's motivation for the rest of the film.
Bale's motivation is more general, to clean up and protect the city (and the life of his love interest, Rachel Dawes) and each film after his origin throws different threats to Gotham in his way. The threat Batfleck faces is more global, and more driven by personal hurt and past trauma. Bale feels more selfless, whereas Batfleck is more relatable. Which you prefer in this regard boils down to personal preference.
Both the primary suit worn by Affleck's Batman: with the thick body, fat bat-symbol and smaller ears — and the mechanical suit he dons later in the film to take on Superman — are both taken pretty closely from The Dark Knight Returns. Batfleck's suit is more "comic-booky" looking than Bale's modernized and hardened armor, which looks more like the suit worn by Batman in the Arkham series of video games.
Bale's suit, made by Lucius Fox and comprised of hardened kevlar plates, has a lot more bells and whistles, from the sonar lenses to the electrical failsafe system and the built-in gliding cape. On the other hand Batfleck feels a lot more stripped back, relying more on physical movement than gadgets (though he does utilize many gadgets throughout the film, especially the good old Grapple Gun). Physically his suit is bulkier too, with a less motorcycle helmet-like and more traditional looking cowl.
The big improvement over Bale's Batman though is the voice. Batfleck uses an electronic scrambling device to conceal his voice when in the suit and it works to great effect. Much greater effect than Bale growling his way through dialogue, which came off stilted at best, unintentionally humorous at worst.
Sometimes Batman is only as good as his toys, and Batman v Superman does not disappoint with both the Batmobile and the Batwing coming out to play. We didn't see so much of the iconic Batmobile as we did in The Dark Knight Trilogy, but that's to be expected when you have one ensemble film verses three solo films.
Batman v Superman's Batmobile is a solid piece of kit, and the scene in which Batman rams it into the roof of the kryptonite carrying truck and then again into Superman himself is part of a fantastic car chase sequence, but it's not *quite* as memorable as watching Batman chase the Joker through the tunnels in The Dark Knight.
Ben Affleck is a good Batman, and a great latter day/darker era Bruce Wayne. Personally I found him to be more relatable as a character than Bale's Batman, with more emphasis put on underpinning the reasons why he's this gritty brooding broken Bruce Wayne.
But after the first half hour or so he suffers from poor writing. The scene in which he confronts and nearly kills Superman has already been criticized as far too quick a turn around for his character, given that he's spent nearly two years building up to this moment and it's a small thing which turns his entire motivation on his head.
As a Batman and as a Bruce Wayne, Batfleck is very interesting and engaging, we feel there's real personal stakes here and I'm very intrigued to see how the DCEU pushes forward with him from here on out. Especially in regards to that potential Batfleck solo movie, the Death in the Family / Jason Todd backstory adaptation and further exploration of the events which made Batman the way he is.
So, I'm going to say that I liked Batfleck even better than Bale, but the Nolan movies still stand head and shoulders above Batman v Superman for me. What about you?