Now – I love me some Michael Keaton, he’s one of my favourite actors and has been for years. Sadly he has often been overlooked and underused particularly in the late 90s and early 2000s, but recently Keaton has been having a bit of a resurgence in his career – and I for one love it. So right here, I want to take a quick look at Keaton’s career so far and celebrate the return of one of cinema’s overlooked greats.
His real name is Michael Douglas, but he had to change it when he became an actor because of that other Michael Douglas fella. Exactly where Keaton took his stage name from – I’m not 100% sure as I’ve read two different sources. One stating he used the name after reading an article about Diane Keaton and another saying he took the name from Buster Keaton.
Keaton’s acting career began in the mid 70s on TV in shows like Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, Maude and The Mary Tyler Moore Hour. In 1982 he secured his first co-starring credit appearing alongside Henry ‘The Fonz’ Winkler in the comedy flick Night Shift. This role kick-started his early film career and Keaton became known as a comic actor when he starred in Mr. Mom, Johnny Dangerously and Gung Ho.
By the way, I recommend Johnny Dangerously if you want a stupidly funny parody flick in the same vein as Airplane! and The Naked Gun. Its a brilliant spoof of gangster films and often overlooked. ‘You fargin’ icehole!’
It was in 1988 when Keaton got his major breakthrough role. Tim Burton cast him in the horror/comedy picture Beetlejuice. Probably one of my favourite Tim Burton films and one of my favourite Keaton films too, even though he appears in less than 20% of the movie, Keaton stole the entire flick and cemented Betelgeuse (correct spelling of his name) as one of the most memorable film characters of the 80s. The much rumoured sequel is still – supposedly in the works.
It was the following year in 1989 when Keaton would team up with Burton once more in one of the most controversial pieces of casting ever…
Oh my goodness, the backlash both Burton and Keaton got for Batman is legendary. There were over 50,000 letters of complaint sent to the studio when it was announced that Keaton would be playing Batman in the (then) new movie… and this was the late 80s, pre-internet days too. Years later, Keaton spoke out about the outrage his casing caused.
“It baffled me that anyone was thinking about that. I heard about the outrage, and I couldn’t get it. I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. It made me feel bad that it was even in question.”
All this backlash steamed from the simple fact that Keaton was known for his comedic roles and the fans just refused to believe that this comedy actor could play a serious Batman. Of course both Burton and especially Keaton would prove their doubters wrong. In my humble opinion, I still feel that Keaton was the best live action Batman and Bruce Wayne.
The success of Batman catapulted Keaton into the limelight and he became a superstar. The film also began the more ‘adult’ superhero movie and a trend that still continues today where every other flick released now is a superhero one. This was followed by the sequel Batman Returns in 1992 where Burton and Keaton teamed up once more. This sequel was much darker and violent than the first. There was even a third Batman film in the pre-production stages, but when Burton left the project – so did Keaton and the franchise took a massive nosedive as it continued without either of the two people who made it the success it became.
Keaton was riding high in the late 80s and early 90s as he starred in more films including; Pacific Heights, My Life, The Paper and Multiplicity – a return to his more comedic roots written and directed by the great Harold Ramis where Keaton’s character clones himself.
After re-watching the film recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find it still holds up well and you get four times the Keaton too.
In the late 90s, he played the same character twice in two different movies based on novels from the same writer. He appeared as Agent Ray Nicolette in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown from 1997 and then again in Out of Sight from 1998. Both films based on the work of author Elmore Leonard. But by the time the 2000s rolled around, Keaton career was drying up. He still acted but never managed to reach the same success as the late 80s/early 90s and those heady Batman years. The 2000s were a very mixed bag for the actor and appearing in movies like Herbie: Fully Loaded hardly helped either. But here’s the thing about a bad Keaton film, the movie may be bad – but it still had Michael Keaton in it and he was always a joy to watch.
The big major starring roles were just not coming his way and I couldn’t understand why – he was still a damn good actor, he just wasn’t getting the job offers he deserved. In 2014 he was cast as the antagonist in the terrible remake of Robocop… and you know how I said before how a bad Keaton film is still worth watching just for him? Well this Robocop remake is a perfect example of exactly that. Despite the lacklustre career Keaton was experiencing by 2014, it was this very same year he starred in the movie that changed everything.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a brilliant film that sees Keaton cast as a struggling actor who was once famous for playing a superhero decades ago… does any of this sound familiar? I really do not want to say too much about this one as going into it blind is the best way to experience this flick. But any and every Michael Keaton fan should watch Birdman. Keaton is on top form as actor Riggan Thomson who tries to put on a Broadway play in an attempt to reinvigorate his failing career all while being haunted by his iconic, titular superhero alter-ego Birdman… or is he?
Keaton even won a Golden Globe Award as well as earning a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in Birdman. At last, he was back where he belonged and was getting the recognition he deserved as an actor. On the 28th of July, 2016 – Keaton was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and about damn time too.
Also in 2016, he starred as Ray Kroc in the movie The Founder which tells the true story of the man who created the McDonald’s fast food empire… all be it not very harmoniously.
In fact the very reason I decided to write this article was because I just watched The Founder and thoroughly enjoyed it, highly recommended. Its just so great to see Michael Keaton not just getting acting jobs, but getting great ones and doing them justice too.
Most recently Keaton has returned to his superhero movie roles, only this time on the other side of the the coin when he played super-villain The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. No, I’ve not yet seen it as I’ve been a bit busy getting ready to welcome our first baby due in just a couple of days as of writing this. But I have heard great things about the flick and in particular Keaton himself. Plus you’ll also be seeing him soon-ish in Disney’s live action version of Dumbo, set to be directed by his old sparring partner Tim Burton in 2019… maybe Beetlejuice 2 after that?
Well it seems like Michael Keaton is back and I for one love it. I miss him when he’s not acting or acting in bad films and I always enjoy it whenever he is on screen (yes even in bad movies). His career, right now is going from strength to strength – I hope it continues for many years to come. If you know any film fans that are not aware of this man’s work – then, ‘I want you to do me a favour. I want you to tell all your friends about him… He’s Keaton.’
I’m just shocked and thankful that I’ve gotten away with everything – experimenting here, trying at this, failing at that, being good in some things, not so good in others. It’s kind of amazing that people are still sticking by me. When they come up to me in the street, I just want to write them all cheques. – Michael Keaton