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In one of the most astonishing twists in movie casting that we can remember, Michael Keaton is returning to the role of Batman in a pretty major way. More than 30 years after he first donned the cape and cowl for Tim Burton’s BATMAN, Keaton is headed back to the DC Comics movie universe for The Flash’s long-anticipated solo movie, FLASHPOINT. Keaton’s return is inspired by both the multiverse concept (in which there are parallel universes with alternate versions of characters like Batman) and Nick Fury’s role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The multiverse idea allows for the existence of Robert Pattinson’s version of Bruce Wayne in THE BATMAN, the upcoming reboot from director Matt Reeves (of WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES fame), as well as Keaton’s Batman, who will serve as a mentor of sorts to Ezra Miller’s Flash in FLASHPOINT. To celebrate Keaton’s exciting comeback, we’re taking a look back at his best moments in 1989’s BATMAN and its sequel, BATMAN RETURNS.
Michael Keaton’s caped crusader was given an unforgettable introduction in 1989’s BATMAN, directed by Tim Burton, who previously worked with the actor in the classic horror/comedy BEETLEJUICE. While some fans felt that Keaton’s comedic background made him wrong for the role of the Dark Knight, the opening scene from BATMAN proved them wrong: After mugging a family in a Gotham City alley, two thugs are attacked by the shadowy vigilante hero. “What are you?” one of them cries, as Batman dangles him off the side of a building. Batman simply replies, “I’m Batman.” The moment was so iconic that director Christopher Nolan later paid tribute to it in THE DARK KNIGHT, having Christian Bale repeat the line in a similar scene.
In order to play Batman, you’ve also gotta be able to nail the role of his alter ego, the billionaire Bruce Wayne. Keaton made Wayne’s intro just as memorable as Batman's in the 1989 movie. During an event at Wayne Manor, reporters Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) mock the wealthy host, unaware that he’s nearby. Wayne joins the conversation and listens as they continue to insult him, before Knox finally asks, "Who are you?" and Keaton merely replies, "Bruce Wayne." It’s a hilarious moment that proved Keaton’s comedic chops were just as valuable to the role as his ability to capture Batman’s dark vigilante side.
Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker turned the grinning criminal into one of the most iconic villains in film history. He also helped make Burton’s BATMAN an instant classic. At one point in the film, the Joker has apprehended Vicki Vale but his scheme is interrupted when Batman comes through the ceiling, grabs Vicki, and uses his trusty grapple gun to zip them up and out of the building. The Joker, both impressed and annoyed, asks “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” Fans asked the same question, and merchandising for BATMAN helped build the movie's reputation.
Keaton’s Batman rose to the occasion once again in 1992’s BATMAN RETURNS, a fantastic Christmas-set sequel co-starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) and Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot (aka the Penguin). It’s difficult for sequels to live up their predecessors, but this one starts off strong with another memorable intro for Keaton’s crime-fighter. The setup is simple and effective: Bruce Wayne sits in his manor, clearly bored with civilian life. But then the Bat-Signal lights up in the night sky, calling Batman into action, and suddenly Bruce Wayne comes alive. The image of Keaton dressed all in black, standing in front of the glowing signal, was instantly iconic.
There’s a lot to love about BATMAN RETURNS, but one of the best elements is the fierce dynamic between Batman and Catwoman. As Michelle Pfeiffer’s vengeful vigilante points out more than once during the sequel, the two actually have quite a bit in common. Their motives and means are just a little bit different. Despite Catwoman’s violent tendencies (or because of them?) Batman finds himself enamored with her, just as Bruce Wayne begins to fall for her civilian alter ego, Selina Kyle. The pair have several great scenes together, but one stands above the rest. It’s set up when the two meet as Batman and Catwoman: Noticing some nearby mistletoe, Batman says, “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it,” prompting Catwoman to lick his face and reply, “A kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.” Later, during a charity event, Bruce and Selina share a dance and find themselves under some mistletoe, where they kiss. The lines are repeated, but in reverse, with Selina saying, “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it,” and Bruce replying, “A kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.” The two finally realize a heartbreaking secret that they must have suspected all along: He’s Batman, and she’s Catwoman.
All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
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