There have been four “eras” of Batman in film. The first was the Adam West classic from the 1960’s TV show, directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Then came the quick succession of four films by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. Most recently, we’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s gritty reboots. You can chart the progress of Batman movies in many ways, but my favorite is to look at how each director costumed the villains the Dark Knight faced. Here are four of our favorite Batman bad guys and the attire they created havoc in.
The most drastic difference in presentation has to go to Bane. Bane was presented in Batman & Robin as a muscle-bound lackey to Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze without any lines and with a serious luchador mask. He was seen again in The Dark Knight Rises as a pedantic mastermind, still muscly, but with only a small mask around his mouth and a sheepskin coat over military fatigues.
What’s interesting about Bane in these movies is that he’s actually represented quite well in both: his costume is spot-on in the first and his character is very close to correct in the second. Essentially, if you combine the cartoon-ish looks of Schumacher’s Bane and the devious intellect of Nolan’s, you should get something close to what Bane is like in the comics. He dresses like a wrestler and is an 8 foot tall monster, but he’s also an extraordinary genius.
While not technically a villain in most adaptations, Catwoman was certainly wicked in the 1966 movie. Lee Meriwether was cast to replace Julie Newmar, the first actress from the series, and donned the classic sparkly ensemble, complete with low belt, clawed gloves, and the iconic eared headband. Over thirty years later, the Catwoman of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is one of the best creepy/crazy/sexy villains in movie history. With her patchwork pleather body suit and starkly pale skin, she is Burton-esque to the max.
I wish I could skim right over Halle Barry’s version in the truly horrendous movie, Catwoman, but I cannot. Wait, you know what, yes, I can. I justify this with three reasons: 1) the character and story had nothing to do with DC comics; 2) her stripper-riffic costume is too much to bear; and 3) you can’t make me. Moving along to Nolan-verse…
When we heard that Disney darling Anne Hathaway had been cast in the newest Batman movie, some of us were a little worried. She’s just so smiley. I, myself, was rather pleased with her slick and approachable performance. Her monochromatic black jumpsuit is a little safe in terms of costuming, but it fit well with Nolan’s utilitarian approach to the Batman universe. With her high-tech thievin’ goggles that pivot into cat ears atop her head, she’s a stylish rendition of a favorite Batman anti-hero.
When making his Batman movies, Schumacher reportedly encouraged his actors to think of the movies as though they were cartoons. This is bizarrely evident in Batman Forever, wherein Jim Carrey’s Riddler prances about in a spandex jumpsuit and red hair. Where Burton embraced the Noir-like aspect of Gotham, Schumacher embraced the slap-stick of the cartoons.
The suit and makeup of Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face in Batman Forever is straight out of the cartoon, down to the split-personality fabrication change right down the middle. Ostentatious and wild and leopard print on one side and business on the other, you have to give them credit for going all-out.
Nolan chose to go another route, focusing on Dent before he became a madman. His Two-Face is half burned a fire and, as such, bears the scorched flesh and exposed muscle and bone of third degree burns. This is the most compelling re-vamp, in my opinion, because we see the event happen in the movie and his wounds remain symbolically open once he is transformed into a villain.
I definitely saved the kicker for last.
Cesar Romero played The Joker in the series and in the 1966 Batman. His kooky demeanor was matched by a truly kooky look: the clown makeup and bright colors were straight out of the comics. When Jack Nicholson played The Joker in the 1989 Batman, his costume was similar to Romero’s, except that his manic smile was a permanent scar instead of a facial expression. He also traded the green shirt beneath the purple suit for an orange and teal, eye-burning combo (and some of his kookiness for leering menace).
Flash forward forty years: Heath Ledger’s downplayed, shabby purple suit and green vest blended into the background as we were captivated by the terrifying magic happening on his face. Ledger’s expressions of insane glee were bolstered by the genius makeup that accompanied them. The scars, attributed to a botched surgical fix for acid burns in the 80’s movie, are left mysterious in their origin and accentuated by intentionally sloppy makeup, as though the Clown Prince of Crime had slapped it on in a fit.
In the progression of these beloved villains, their costumes communicate not only what decade they’re portrayed in, but also the ways that their characters have been reinterpreted. From the depictions of Catwoman’s slinkiness to Joker’s madness, the costumes tell a story that we can see (and cosplay).
Marie Sumner is a writer and general nerd. She loves cosplay, comics, cartoons, sci-fi, and a host of other fun stuff. She writes for Wholesale Halloween Costumes, resource for costume goodies from fake blood to Santa suits.