Looking The Part vs. Embodying the Role

David Mazouz was born to play Bruce Wayne.

Child actors are often pretty hit or miss, right? I mean, sure, you could argue the same thing is true of adults. But it’s often worse when it comes to kids, due to a combination of inexperience and scripts written by people that have apparently not interacted with anyone under the age of eighteen in years. Because of this, the combination of a talented child actor and a competent writer can be absolutely memorable. That’s definitely the case with Gotham.

Every single time I watch an episode of Gotham, whether it’s one from the first season or one from the fifth, I’m left completely in awe of how well Mazouz plays Bruce. In a show full of impressive performances, it’s Mazouz’s Bruce that stands out the most to me. That’s partly because of great writing that shows him developing from a helpless kid that doesn’t know what he’s doing into a capable, confident, and driven young man that may not have all the training he one day will but still embodies the spirit of Batman. The rest of it is because Mazouz’s excellent performance brings the character to life. I look at him and think, this is Bruce Wayne. He’s still a teenager. He doesn’t have the height or build we expect. But you know what? To me, at least, he still feels like Batman.

Maybe it’ll be awkward seeing him in the suit at the end, because he still looks young. I keep seeing people say things to that effect – like, I can’t take him seriously as Batman, he’s too scrawny and young! I disagree, though. Sure, maybe seeing his head imposed on a body double as they try to pass him off as a decade older will be a bit jarring. It’s not like they’re trying to make a thirty year old look forty, where it’s just a question of maybe greying the hair a bit and adding some lines, they’re trying to make a teenager an adult. But I have absolutely no issue with him being Batman. None.

I’ve seen a lot of people – and this was before it was announced that the series finale will take place in the future – saying stuff about how they want to see Batman, or they want to recast with a timeskip because Mazouz was great for kid Bruce, but not Batman. I think all those people are kind of missing the point, because they’re too focused on Batman as “big guy in a cool suit”, and because they’re not seeing that suit, they’re still talking about “when are we going to see Batman”. The way I see it, the answer to that question is we already have.

Forget the proto-suit he wore at the beginning of season four. Forget about the future scene we’re going to get. Forget about how people are always drawing distinctions between Bruce Wayne and Batman. And think about scenes like in 3×14, where he fought Jerome and decided that I will not kill will be his mantra, or when he told Selina’s fence he should have taken the offered deal in 4×15, or at the end of 4×22, when he slams a guy into a storage unit; demands to know where Jeremiah is; then, once the guy claims ignorance, tells him to tell Jeremiah Bruce is looking for him and knocks him out. Those scenes? Those are more Batman than most actors to have played the role have ever gotten. He may not have the name. He may not have the costume. He may not have the build or the age. But he already embodies Batman.

You can see something similar if you look back at Michael Keaton’s version of the character. Keaton is only 5’9″. I’m pretty sure he’s the shortest actor to have ever played adult Bruce. And I think until Mazouz and Affleck, he was the best. With Mazouz, I think people that would otherwise care about the height manage to set that aside just because they see it as him not really playing Batman – which, I guess, is justified by the fact they’re using a stand in in the finale, despite my feelings about how perfectly Mazouz embodies the character. With Keaton, it was more a question of a good use of the camera so his height wasn’t noticeable – and, when we look back on his movies, probably some element of nostalgia. But Keaton’s performance was also convincing enough to pull focus away from how he looked. Looking the part is good. Embodying the role is better.

I was very disappointed when the news broke that there’ll be a new Batman for the DCEU solo movie – especially coming, as it did, so close to the end of Gotham. Ben Affleck’s performance was one of my favourite parts of  Batman v Superman – a movie that everyone reading this probably already knows I love. For me, Affleck was completely unparalleled casting, both because of the fact he looks the part – height, musculature, good looks – and the fact that he nailed the spirit of the character – the intensity, the determination, the drive. The looks alone will never be enough, but it was a very nice bonus. It’s breaking my heart to lose both that Bruce and Gotham‘s so close together.

The problem when it comes to me accepting a future Batman in the films is that Affleck both looked the part and embodied the role. While obviously I prioritize an actor that embodies the character over one that looks the way I expect the character to look, both is preferable. I’d be able to set that aside for an actor that does as tremendous a job as David Mazouz in making Bruce Wayne believable…but I’m not seeing that happening with this next movie. We were fortunate enough to get to two fantastic incarnations of Batman at the same time with Affleck and Mazouz. Now I think we’re going back to decent. After being so spoiled with Gotham and Batman v Superman, I can’t help but be disappointed.

I would have loved to see Mazouz play adult Bruce in ten, fifteen years. He might get taller or he might not, but he’d be fully grown, so his face wouldn’t look weird under the cowl, and he’s already demonstrated how good he is in the role. We’re not going to get that. We’re probably not even going to get someone at that level. So I think all I can do now is hope that whoever is next cast as Batman can do even close to as good a job as Mazouz, because if he can’t…well, his movie is going to be about a Bruce early in his crime fighting career. If he’s not up for the task, I’m going to go back and rewatch  Gotham instead.

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