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Why a BATMAN BEYOND Movie Needs Michael Keaton

For most people growing up in the ’90s, Batman: The Animated Series is, was, and ever will be the definitive take on Batman and the Gotham City Rogues Gallery. It revolutionized the way people viewed the comics, and gave villains renaissances and other villains’ breakout roles. While most of the other Bruce Timm-verse shows hewed close to the established DC Universe, the 1999 series Batman Beyond was only connected to TAS. And for that reason, should a Batman Beyond feature film ever get made, the perfect–and only–choice to play Bruce Wayne is Michael Keaton.

After Batman: The Animated Series and its follow-up The New Batman Adventures ended and Batman Beyond was announced, I was hesitant to get excited; a Batman show set in the far future? Could it work? When the first episode premiered, I got my answer: yes, it would work, because it was connected fully to the established TAS universe and lore. And how did I decide this: because they cast Kevin Conroy as old Bruce Wayne, who would act as both grumpy Alfred and even grumpier Oracle to teenage Terry McGuinness. Conroy was, to everyone, THE voice of Batman. By casting him, it immediately became real and legitimate.

Whomever would be cast as Terry in a Batman Beyond film would spark some decent debate, but I think there’s one very clear and definite choice to play the aged Bruce Wayne. Michael Keaton is currently 66 years old, and while that makes him roughly 25 years younger than the age of Wayne in the cartoon series, there are many positives for making him the choice.

First and foremost, Keaton should play old Bruce Wayne because, well, he once played young Bruce Wayne. His version of Batman, from the two Tim Burton movies in 1989 and 1992, are to many, including me, the version of the character they grew up with. Like Conroy, Keaton is the definitive depiction of the Dark Knight, more than even Christian Bale (and let’s face it, Bale is way too young to play old Bruce Wayne). There’s a trust and a recognition of Keaton’s Batman that comes from years and years of watching his pair of movies on repeat. It’s definitely not going to be Val Kilmer or George Clooney, right?

It’s the reason he was cast in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar-winning movie Birdman, because no matter what else Keaton does over the years, to a huge swath of the country, he’s still Batman. For a movie where Bruce Wayne would have to sit in a cave and give intel to the person in a Batman suit, we’d have to really be behind the actor playing Bruce Wayne; there needs to be a shorthand with the audience, an immediate familiarity.

Keaton recently played the Spider-Man villain the Vulture in the truly excellent Spider-Man: Homecoming, a performance that was the highlight, so he’s clearly not done with the comic book realm, and I think playing an older Bruce Wayne (probably aged-up a bit) would provide an interesting acting challenge. He’s angry, embittered, and lonely following decades shunning the Batman legacy (in the show, it happens when an aging Bats nearly has a heart attack during a rescue and his to pull a gun on the bad guy to save himself) and losing hold of his company. He’s still a wealthy man, but he’s lost, with only his dog as company. He then has to learn to re-enter the world through his begrudging friendship and mentorship of this teenage kid whose dad got murdered. That’s a lot to play, and Keaton is the best when playing someone with a lot going on.

And on top of everything, it would just be awesome to see how Keaton get another chance at the character. When he was initially announced as Batman for the ’89 movie, people laughed uproariously, saying “What? The comedic actor Michael Keaton is going to play Batman? HA! This’ll be just like that Adam West show,” and then they all ate their words in a big word pie after Keaton was suave and debonair as Bruce Wayne and slightly unhinged when pressed. He proved he could be a dramatic leading man following this, and though his career took a dip in the 2000s, he came back in a big way with Birdman and Spotlight back to back.

So, rather than cast just some old movie star to play one of the most famous characters in the world, why not get the actor who made Batman a serious commodity at a time when it was, in the mainstream anyway, at its least credible? Just like Conroy legitimized the TV series, Keaton would legitimize a movie version, and would do a damn fine job of it.

What do you think of this hypothetical casting? Should Michael Keaton don the cane and sweater of old Bruce Wayne? Let me know in the comments below!

For more Batman goodness, check out Kevin Conroy reading Christian Bale dialogue, my 10 favorite Batman: The Animated Series episodes, and 5 detective stories that could possibly inspire Matt Reeves’ The Batman.

Images: Warner Bros/Marvel/DC Animation/Fox Searchlight

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He’s written the animation retrospectives Batman: Reanimated, X-Men: Reanimated, Cowboy Rebop, and Samurai reJacked. Follow him on Twitter!

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