Michael Keaton’s Favorite Batman Still Wanted for Murdering Penguin Thug in Batman Returns

Michael Keaton thinks he's the best Batman. Regardless of how you feel about that, we need to talk about how his Dark Knight brutally murdered that one guy in Batman Returns.

Batman Returns Michael Keaton
Photo: Warner Bros.

Michael Keaton appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live earlier this week to talk about his work in The Trial of the Chicago 7 as well as plans for him to reprise his role as Batman in Andy Muschietti’s in-development The Flash movie. While Keaton declined to say much about donning the cape and cowl once again to mentor Ezra Miller’s young Barry Allen in the DCEU film — beyond confirming that he’s “having discussions” with Warner Bros. — he did sound off on another very important topic.

Since The Flash is set to feature not just one Batman from the franchise’s past but TWO, with Ben Affleck signed on to reprise his role as the Dark Knight, Kimmel had to know if the movie would inevitably see the return of every big-screen Caped Crusader, including Val Kilmer and George Clooney. Clearly a believer in the multiverse, Keaton replied that all “127 of them” would make it into the movie.

Seeing an opportunity to settle a Bat-debate once and for all, the hard-hitting talk show host asked Keaton who he thought was the best Batman of all-time to which the actor simply replied, “Me.”

You can watch the full exchange below starting at about 5:00:

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As a biased child of the ’90s, I tend to agree that Keaton did play the best Batman, and it’s no accident that his portrayal of a dark, haunted loner hellbent on making up for the murder of his parents has gone on to inform pretty much every other version of Bruce Wayne since. Tim Burton intended to cast the Dark Knight as a freak, one not so different from the grotesque villains stalking the Gotham City night, and Keaton played the role gloriously, delivering a version of the character who spent more time brooding in his cave than as a socialite billionaire by day. Out of all the big-screen Batmen, Keaton’s version looks like the one most uncomfortable with being dressed as anything other than a Bat. Bruce Wayne is the mask, Burton and Keaton say in 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns, and I’m really into that take.

Of course, this might be nostalgia creeping in, and this certainly isn’t a knock at the other great Batmen throughout history, such as Christian Bale and Kevin Conroy, who have defined their own corners of the Bat mythos. And when compared to Keaton, they at least have one big advantage over his Batman — neither of them have committed an act as heinous as the one performed by Keaton midway through Batman Returns.

Yes, Affleck sure did put the “fascist maniac” back in Batman in Zack Snyder’s divisive Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but no amount of branding or shooting bad guys with the Batwing can top the time Keaton stuck a bundle of dynamite inside a thug’s waistband and sent him hurtling to an explosive death in the sewers below.

If you don’t remember the infamous scene that is likely one of several reasons why Burton didn’t get to make Batman III, check out this clip:

It’s not even so much the act of killing itself that makes this scene so shocking almost 30 years later — after all the Dark Knight has almost definitely murdered countless bad guys in the movies in a stark departure from his moral code in the comics (he’s killed in those too, though) — but the look of sinister glee on Keaton’s face as the Tattooed Strongman realizes that he’s about to die. Batman also incinerated the Red Triangle firebreather with the Batmobile (thanks, Leej, for reminding me of this in the comments), murdered the Penguin, and he didn’t put up much of a fight while Max Shreck was getting fried by Catwoman. Yet, nothing tops sticking dynamite in a henchman’s pants.

Val Kilmer let Two Face fall to his death in Batman Forever, George Clooney probably let Mr. Freeze into Poison Ivy’s cell at the end of Batman & Robin, and Christian Bale refused to save Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins. They’ve all gotten their hands dirty one way or another but none so directly or with as much relish as Keaton does in that one scene. Yes, he’s the best Batman but hopefully he’ll have learned a thing or two about mercy by the time he shows up in The Flash.

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Next up in the cape and cowl is Robert Pattinson, who will star in Matt Reeves’ The Batman. Interestingly enough, Pattinson’s take on Bruce so far more closely resembles the “freak” version immortalized by Keaton and Burton than what Bale and Affleck did with the character. And judging by the way he savagely beat that one thug to a pulp in the movie’s first trailer, he may even leave Keaton himself cringing by the time the credits roll.

We’ll know for sure what Keaton and Pattinson have in store for the Dark Knight when The Batman releases on March 4, 2022 and The Flash hits theaters on Nov. 4, 2022.