Debates are meant to occur with every iteration of a classic media character. What one generation enjoys may not suit the tastes of another. Consider Michael Keaton and Adam West’s respective takes on our beloved Caped Crusader, Batman. While we are currently at the liberty of engaging in discussions about which actors best portrayed Batman, there was a time when the world had not too many options to pick and root for.
West and Keaton were not the first to don the iconic cowl. That’d be Lewis Wilson. Robert Lowery would come just after. While Wilson and Lowery may have found acclaim for pioneering the live-action Batman phenomenon, it’d be the subsequent on-screen renditions of the character that would stick with the audiences. Keaton’s Batman was particularly mind-blowing as a tonal shift was accounted for.
It was a complete departure from the campy vision of Adam West. It’s safe to say that when the casting for Tim Burton’s Batman was unveiled, both the actor and fans of the superhero were taken aback.
Adam West And Michael Keaton’s Batman Iterations Were Received Differently
The legacy that was attached to West’s Batman seemed insurmountable. People had their opinions, of course, but it cannot be denied that the exclusivity that he enjoyed for more than 20 years—before Tim Burton’s Batman—established the actor’s synonymity with the character and Batman’s image as a whole. Now the latter is what certain people had a problem with. Die-hard fans of the comics weren’t too ecstatic about the comedic intensity and absurdity that became associated with their favorite superhero.
They took great distaste for West’s campy, silly, and goofy rendition of the character. The over-the-top performance created a particular outlook in the minds of the general public: Superheroes in films and television are exaggerated, cheesy, and downright childish. Fans began to think that Adam West’s portrayal of Batman had damaged the superhero’s reputation. Not that some individuals didn’t find it enjoyable. You either loved it or you didn’t. There was barely an in-between.
In West’s defense, though, the surrealistic campy narrative that followed his Batman premise was simply a reflection of what was prevalent at the time. It was the 60s, after all. Some other popular TV shows at the time had an exact undertone and storytelling structure.
In 1988, a year before Tim Burton’s Batman release, fans grew apprehensive yet again with the news of Michael Keaton‘s casting. Around the time, the genre Keaton was best known for was comedy. His contributions to the genre were enormous hits. However, this left devoted admirers of Batman feeling skeptical. They were ready for another over-the-top, gaudy depiction of the character.
Alas, they couldn’t be more wrong. Tim Burton’s endeavor was able to tap into the moody, broody angst that Batman had to offer. Acting as a reflection of the darker Batman comics of the ’80s, the 1989 Michael Keaton starrer garnered immense popularity for its mature storytelling and character portrayal. We cannot say that Burton’s vision sought the complete absence of humor. However, it was executed in a way that felt natural, almost intrinsic to the Bruce Wayne persona.
The film became a superhit, garnering around $411.6 million against a budget of $48 million. Up until The Dark Knight‘s release in 2008, Burton’s undertaking held the record for the highest-grossing movie based on a DC comic book. Keaton was able to refute the skeptics, including Adam West, who was dismayed to know of the former’s casting in the 1989 film.
Adam West Felt Dejected After Michael Keaton’s Batman Casting
Much of the reason why people initially clamored against Keaton’s casting was owing to how many felt that Burton’s vision of the character would be similar to Adam West‘s campy Batman 1960s TV series. After Keaton’s casting was made public, 50,000 protest letters were delivered to the Warner Bros. headquarters. This is how West’s Batman series’ role as a precursor shaped audience opinions.
Talking about the unconventional casting decision, Adam West, who was dubbed the “Original Batman”, once said:
“What did I think when Michael Keaton was asked to do Batman? I cried for an hour. But then, I was okay. I figured that’s their stuff. That’s their business and they have a film in mind. I’ve already done it. I’ve done my Batman. Do you want the Classic Coke, or do you want the new stuff? Maybe both.”
Despite his disappointment, West bestowed it upon the fans to decide which version they liked better. The topic at hand will continue to be the centerpiece of discussions and debates. The comparisons increase daily as more players enter the pitch. Therefore, it’s crucial to keep in mind that individuals might enjoy any interpretation of Batman and that opinions are subjective.
Neither Keaton nor West’s legacy can be denied. The two can co-exist.