The Christian Bale Bruce Wayne was a significant precursor to a number of superhero depictions that have had success since. The Marvel-boom of the last 10-15 years – in particular, the enormously-successful ‘Downey Jr. Tony Stark’, was made possible only by the success of The Dark Knight Trilogy before it.
Nobody had previously had so much success in the superhero genre of convincing audiences that, hey! These characters could actually exist in real life! That is the legacy of the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne.
The visionary nature of Christopher Nolan’s concept deserves a huge amount of credit for that, too. Batman’s weaponry, his costume, his Batmobile … audience’s general knowledge of modern technology was at such a level, at that time, that this Batman was genuinely plausible.
Yes, Nolan was certainly a huge factor in this success. But it was Christian Bale who succeeded in embodying this new-school superhero. Bale understood the deep-rooted psychological complexes that Bruce Wayne has – and, along with the equally-revolutionary villains, he has become the face and symbol of the classic trilogy.
So prfound was the influence that I have no qualms of making the following statement:
No Christian Bale Bruce Wayne = No Downey Jr. Tony Stark.
But enough bold, outrageous claims … let’s get down to business, and see how the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne changed audience expectations of superheroes forever…
Christian Bale Bruce Wayne – 5 Ways He Changed The Superhero Genre Forever:
1. He Was Flawed
It might seem strange that a negative quality would top this list … this trait really did set the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne apart from his predecessors.
The Michael Keaton Bruce Wayne had flaws, too – including a lack of success with the ladies – but he was, for the most part, a quintessential hero who did no wrong. The Christian Bale Bruce Wayne, however, was exposed by his enemies to be … well, not so perfect at all. For example, the Liam Neeson Henri Ducard/Ra’s al Ghul strongly challenged his moral belief systems. And the Heath Ledger Joker brought out the worst in him, triggering the deepest wells of Batman’s anger.
What’s more? The detective skills that Batman has been renowned for in previous movies, in the popular Batman: The Animated Series, as well as in the comic books were almost totally absent from the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne.
The most solid display of Batman’s detective skills from the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne is his ‘interrogation’ of the Heath Ledger Joker … which consisted mostly of beating up his enemy and asking him to tell him some information. Not the world-class detective skills that Batman has previously been recognized for.
But in a realistic depiction of a superhero, can we really expect them to be capable of comprehending the science behind complex gadgets, to master more than 100 martial arts (as is the case with the comic book Batman), AND have the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes? One man cannot really possess all of these qualities.
The fact that the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne was not an expert in as many fields as the comic book versions makes him a more endearing, relatable character. This leads us nicely onto the second way…
2. He Was Vulnerable
This wasn’t the first time Bruce Wayne has been depicted with vulnerabilities in the history of the Batman franchise – not by a long shot!
But it was arguably the most vulnerable Batman had been before.
In Batman Begins, the Cillian Murphy Dr. Crane, or ‘Scarecrow’, poisoned Batman with a fear-inducing hallucinogen, so that he required the help of Alfred to potentially save his life. Then, in The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne experiences real emotional strife when Rachel Dawes dies as a result of the Joker’s plotting. In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman’s physical prowess is heavily compromised after Bane brutally breaks his back – not an original plot twist in the Batman franchise, but its effects are felt more deeply due to other elements of realism in the trilogy.
Perhaps most notably, though, is the fact that the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne essentially quit his job (can we call ‘being Batman’ a job?) at the end of the trilogy. Clearly, the job’s responsibilities took their toll on the man behind the mask – and who can’t relate to such a sentiment? After all, the Batman job must have been exhausting. The injuries, the mental toll, the responsibility … especially in a city like Gotham, with criminals like the Joker and Bane kicking around, fighting crime as directly as Batman does must wear the man down.
In previous and later incarnations of Batman, Bruce Wayne continues with the role for many years – even decades. But in The Dark Knight Trilogy, Batman’s activity only seems to span over the course of a few years. To me, this seems somewhat more realistic.
The Christian Bale Batman was not the toughest Batman in history, the smartest, or the most impressive. In fact, he was possibly the weakest Batman there has ever been. And that is one of the very reasons he was such a success.
3. The Christian Bale Bruce Wayne Actually Showed Us His Intelligence
Again, this is not entirely unique to the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne. But his curiosity in The Dark Knight Trilogy – especially in the inception of his Batman (in Batman Begins) – we get a first-hand look at Bruce Wayne’s genuine intelligence. Rather than Bruce Wayne simply being somewhat all-knowing, we see for ourselves how he can quickly learn new things.
And this is definitely something that has been missing from superhero stories in the past. They have often solved problems in practice but we never see the thought processes and the logic that lead them to such decisions. We see Batman execute complex plans, but we don’t see him make those plans. We see Peter Parker answering difficult questions at school, but we don’t see him reading or learning that knowledge. This is a reason Christian Bale Bruce Wayne was different.
For example, while in this conversation with Alfred, the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne gives insights into his thought processes:
“As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol … as a symbol I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.”Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins.
This quote offers us a real existential understanding of why Bruce Wayne became Batman specifically – something deeper than the all-too-easy “his parents died” reasoning that audiences already know about. And, in the case of the above quote, those reasons are communicated to us through thoughtful intelligence and curiosity. It’s the age-old storytelling technique of “showing, not telling” in practice.
Christian Bale Bruce Wayne also gains a working understanding of the science behind the gadgets Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) had stocked for him. He proves his intelligence by actively learning the science behind the technology and showing an ability to communicate with people of such learned knowledge (such as Lucius Fox).
Yup. The Christian Bale Bruce Wayne was a bit of a nerd! And we loved him for it.
4. He Was Charismatic
Yes, you’d think that in order to become a superhero one would need to be extremely charismatic, driven, and passionate (among other things) … but that simply hasn’t been the case for all of the Bruce Waynes we’ve seen in the past – especially in cinema.
The George Clooney Bruce Wayne is the most obvious example of that. He was a flat, uninvolved, pretty-boy Bruce Wayne, who seemed to be going through the motions of being Batman. You’d be hard-pushed to find someone who disagrees! His inspiration for that role, though, probably came from his predecessors. The Val Kilmer Bruce Wayne and the Michael Keaton Bruce Wayne (especially Michael Keaton) were much better than George Clooney. But they were still seemed much less emotionally-involved (in the extremely intense job that is ‘being Batman’) than the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne was.
Christian Bale’s Wayne defended his moral stances vigorously against other villains and he often displays a genuine eagerness and desire to make Gotham a better place. Bale has been mocked for his deep Batman voice, but hey! I thought it really worked. Bruce Wayne wanted to hide his identity, so a slightly-silly husky dog impression is a smart idea! And you can really feel the frustration and anger coming out of Bale Batman is angry.
I mean, come on! You can tell more so than his predecessors that this guy wanted to solve the problems on Gotham’s street – and he really meant it.
5. He Understood That Batman is Not the Perfect Hero
I’ve already listed some of the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne’s flaws in this list. But this is the culmination of those points. Check out these Commissioner Gordon quotes from The Dark Knight:
[of Batman]: “he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs…”
[of Harvey Dent]: “He is a hero. Not the hero we deserved, but the hero we needed.”Commissioner Gordon, The Dark Knight.
While these are not quotes straight from the bat’s mouth (so to speak!), they capture the essence of what the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne seemed to believe. He fully approved of Harvey Dent’s rise in politics and believed that Harvey’s influence on Gotham could remove the need for a vigilante hero like Batman.
At the end of the trilogy (as mentioned earlier in this article) the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne ‘quits’ his role as Batman. And while this is certainly due to the physical, mental, and personal exhaustion that he experienced, this decision could also have been influenced by a sense within Bruce that his role as Batman is less essential to society than he felt it was when he started out.
It seems that Bruce’s aim was not to be a full-time, career protector of Gotham; but to inspire change in the people and institutions of Gotham so that they can protect themselves. Did he succeed in this task? It was implied that he inspired John Black (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to either take on the Batman mantle (or, perhaps, become ‘Robin’). But it ultimately seemed like Gotham remained vulnerable to enemies.
In any case, the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne was awesome because he seemed grounded in the real world. He was as close to a ‘real-life Batman’ as was ever done before, and that has been done since (so far!).
Christian Bale Bruce Wayne: What Can We Learn?
Well, there’s a lot of things to learn from the Christian Bale Bruce Wayne. He shows us, more so than any other superhero, what it means to take on the responsibility of a ‘superhero’. The burden that such a responsibility places upon an individual is shown so well in these movies, and we can surely learn from that.
How much do you want to become Batman? Do you really have Batman Factor? To improve your Batman Factor, you need to develop nerves of steel, accept that you are putting yourself in great danger, and yet want to continue with that role anyway. You could be the hero your hometown deserves.