Val Kilmer Says Batman’s So Popular Because There Is No Batman

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Val Kilmer’s turn as Batman in 1995’s Batman Forever ranks somewhere near the bottom of live-action takes on the character. It’s not that Kilmer isn’t a great actor, as his work in films like The DoorsKiss Kiss Bang Bang and Heat proves that. It’s more that Joel Schumacher’s direction simply doesn’t have the inclination to treat Batman as a character, preferring him to be a po-faced straight man for the villains to play off of.

A combination of this lack of complexity, Kilmer’s reported bad behavior on set and a breakdown in relations with Schumacher meant that he wasn’t asked back for Batman and RobinThough, let’s face it, he certainly dodged a bullet there.

Now, 25 years on from Batman Forever, Kilmer has talked about his experiences getting the role, making the film and his take on the Dark Knight. The New York Times has published an excellent longform interview with him, touching on the loss of his voice to throat cancer and his shifting ambitions before and after his illness.

He tells an anecdote about Warren Buffett visiting the Batman Forever set with his grandkids, who wanted to meet the hero. But when they arrived on set, they didn’t actually want to talk with Kilmer, they wanted to ride in the Batmobile and wear the mask. The experience caused Kilmer to conclude that Batman isn’t supposed to be an individual and that everyone sees what they want in him.

“That’s why it’s so easy to have five or six Batmans. It’s not about Batman. There is no Batman,” said the actor.

It’s a neat take on the extremely malleable nature of the character. Comics, films and TV shows have proved that you can tell wildly different Batman stories and still maintain the essence of who he is. But I think part of Kilmer’s perspective is informed by the way Schumacher treated the Dark Knight. A decade after Kilmer wore the Batsuit, Christian Bale took on the role for a trilogy in which the character of Batman was sharply defined and comprehensively explored.

Despite that (and countless other examples), Kilmer’s got a point. What is the ‘real’ Batman? The character in the DC comics? However he’s being portrayed in movies? The versions in cartoons and TV shows? It’s definitely something to keep in mind when people angrily declare that something isn’t the ‘true’ Batman.

Whatever your take on the Caped Crusader, I’d recommend reading the full interview, as Kilmer is a fascinating subject.