Over the years the superhero stereotype has changed gradually from the square-jawed and heavily-muscled types to something different. While the big muscles and walnut-breaking jaws are still there, heroes have come in other sizes and shapes as well, a change that some might even say that Tim Burton started when he cast Michael Keaton as Batman in 1989. It shouldn’t need one said that Keaton wasn’t exactly the first person on everyone’s mind when it came to playing the dark knight, but it was kind of for that reason that Burton wanted him. He didn’t want the classic superhero type, he wanted someone that wasn’t known as an action hero and was essentially a guy that had more going for him than superb fighting skills and a lot of muscles. That’s where the detective side of Batman comes in since the dark knight has long been anything but JUST a brawler, as he’s been the type that can use his mind as well as his body to dispense justice to those that deserve it. Plus, Michael Keaton had an edge as a comedic actor that helped him to bring a new look to the character.
It’s not wrong to say that Keaton and Burton might have had a hand in making people believe that superheroes don’t need to be big and buff as a prerequisite. It’s necessary to be in good shape no doubt, but being stacked and ripped with muscle isn’t necessarily something that a hero absolutely needs in order to be effective. Some heroes are easier to sell when they’re big and buff since seeing Superman being played by someone that wasn’t muscular in the way that the comic book character usually is might be kind of disconcerting, but Batman is a little more versatile than that since he’s been played by men that are in great shape but aren’t necessarily bulging in every possible way.
This definitely placed more emphasis on other skills and qualities that the hero possesses while at the same time keeping the overall effectiveness of the character since Keaton was able to play the guy that fought in more than one way and was effective in everything he did, to a point. Batman did get knocked down and beaten up just a bit over the course of Burton’s movie, but it’s also easy to state that he did far more damage than he took. Plus, during the movie, it was apparent that he wasn’t a fighter that had limited knowledge of how to handle himself behind the scenes, but was instead a very smart and capable individual that was able to take care of himself, with the help of Alfred, and otherwise live a life that was a bit eccentric but otherwise stable, in a way that worked for him. He was also a bit absent-minded, or so it appeared in the movie, which gave him a very different appearance and manner that wasn’t so depressing but didn’t mask the depression he dealt with so often. Batman has always dealt with the issue that arose with the murder of his parents, and while it felt a little strained in this movie, Keaton put up a great performance that brought a new look to the caped vigilante.
Considering how many different looks Batman has taken on over the years, this was one of the most inspired ones since it changed things up a bit by making Batman look tough and at the same time as someone that was able to operate on more than one level when it came to intimidation. This worked so well that the fans couldn’t help but think that Keaton became one of the most effective actors that have ever put on the suit. To say that he’s the best is to open a debate that a lot of people would gladly enter in order to post their favorite Batman actor since there have been a few that have come and gone, with Robert Pattinson being the most recent and, in the minds of many, possibly the best to come around at the moment. Keaton did start something, however, and it feels as though he became the reason why Batman was seen as more than just a physical combatant outside of the comics.
One could argue that Adam West was also instrumental in this process, but from a very rudimentary standpoint since his Batman movie has been deemed as one of the worst to ever be released. To be certain, George Clooney’s attempt was pretty bad, but even today, and even with the idea that the budget for West’s movie being much lower, it’s the belief of fans that the old-school Batman movie was just terrible. But thanks to Burton and Keaton, the Batman franchise came back in a big way that a lot of people didn’t see coming.