Though The Dark Knight is expected to stick pretty closely to the continuity established by Batman Begins, with virtually the entire cast reprising their roles, there's one significant exception to both that effort, and to the casting in the previous Batman movies. The character of Rachel Dawes, played by Katie Holmes in Begins, has been retained, but recast, with Dawes now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. No matter how you feel about the Holmes performance, you pretty much have to agree this is an upgrade -- but a nontraditional one in terms of Batman-film history.
The notion of recasting itself is no stranger to the Batman franchise in its many forms; at this point, there have been almost as many movie Batmen as there have been Bonds. The strangeness comes from the retention of a female role, even without the lead actress, in a series that has never let a lady stay for longer than a couple of hours, not even Catwoman.
Though various myriad aspects of the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Bat-movies deviate from the comics, the revolving series of love interests is actually pretty true to the character, even if the girlfriended happy endings to Batman and Batman Forever ring false. Batman Returns gets it close to perfect, ending with a wintry romantic melancholy, but the mere fact that even the happy-ending gals of the other movies would disappear by the next one at least reflects (however lazily) the realities of Batman's romantic life.
The truth is, Batman isn't a long-term relationship kinda guy. He's not a player, like most Bonds, but he's sure as hell not as relationship-oriented as Spider-Man or Superman. Batman dates. Batman plays the field. Batman enters into a series of semi-dysfunctional medium-term relationships and he lacks the time, fortitude, or emotional intelligence to make them work. In other words, Batman is a lot like at least one of your buddies, except he always pays for his drinks.
And so, like obnoxious friends going through your romantic history loudly at a bar, I will evaluate the loves of Movie Batman's life.
Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger in Batman): Dating a journalist is pretty cool; I can vouch for that. My special lady friend writes for a magazine and sometimes we get to stay at bed & breakfasts for free, although I can't imagine that holds much appeal for Bruce Wayne, who could buy and sell entire hotel chains for fun, if he liked fun. I can't help but think Bruce Wayne pursued Vicki because she seemed like the kind of gal he should like: looks like a supermodel (from 1989), has a cool career with an artsy side (she's a photojournalist), supposedly pretty smart. But is she really all that smart? I mean, she's a reporter and basically relies on Alfred to do the legwork on figuring out that her boyfriend is Batman. It doesn't bug me that inevitably people find this out, but it is a little bothersome that their knowledge is usually predicated on Alfred or Bruce telling them so -- another reason why Batman Returns, in which Batman and Catwoman reach this conclusion independently but simultaneously, is so awesome (yet another: when Christopher Walken's character sees Batman unmask himself, he exclaims: "Bruce Wayne... why are you dressed up as Batman?"). Plus, Vicki Vale doesn't seem to have any friends apart from Robert Wuhl, which will make for some awkward dinner parties: "So who's coming over tonight? Oh, just Arliss? Huh. Hey, I think I see the Bat-signal in the distance. No, it's there -- it's just foggy out. I gotta go, babe." Clearly, she was his best prospect for a long, mostly loveless marriage.
Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns): Man, she was a piece of work, but I really wish these crazy kids could've made it last. They could bond over their obsession with duality and masks, they wouldn't have to go easy on each other in the sack, and he wouldn't have to worry about his enemies killing her to get to him, because she kind of is one of his enemies! Pfeiffer, at peak hotness and giving a career-best performance, sort of obliterates the competition here, but on a practical level, her tendency to blow up department stores and socialize with sewer-penguins, however fleetingly, could hurt their long-term stability. Basically, they're Annie Hall and Alvy Singer with costumes. Another practical disadvantage: if they stayed together long enough to reproduce, those kids might feel all pressured to become superheroes themselves (and/or star in cheesy off-continuity television shows).
Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm): Animated Batman knows how to pick 'em -- Andrea is smart, independent, and voiced by a pre-Exit to Eden Dana Delany. But she's got some daddy issues that don't really gel with Bruce's mommy-and-daddy-and-criminals issues. Essentially, she's a lot like Selina Kyle, only somewhat less likely to stick aerosols in the microwave or tattoo the babies or kick her potential husband in the face (though I believe she does know judo). I won't spoil the ending of Mask of the Phantasm because you should really Netflix it if you haven't seen it, but it actually goes even further than Batman Returns in really nailing the essential loneliness of crime-fighting while dressed as a flying rodent.
Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman in Batman Forever): She gets points for having the most awesome name this side of a supervillain, and being incredibly smoking hot (remember, this is Kidman circa To Die For) (though, to be candid, Kidman circa any time between 1992 and 2008 pretty much does it for me). But the psychologist angle only seems like a good thing; the end of Batman Forever implies that, essentially, Batman has been cured of his psychological problems and will continue on as a better-adjusted crimefighter. In other words, Dr. Chase Meridian is allowed to believe that she can change him, and that maybe, down the road, he'll develop an obsessive love of her to match or exceed his obsessive love of justice.
Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin): Ah, the sweet, forbidden fruit that is supervillain lust. Batman's relationship with Ivy, at least in the movie, was pretty superficial; he only flirted with her to make Robin mad and/or because of a druggy haze. How many times have you heard that from a bro before? Uma Thurman is the perfect representation of Joel Schumacher's anti-Midas touch: she and Tommy Lee Jones were actually both perfectly cast in their roles, only to undo the roles with sad mugging. At least Poison Ivy is actually a campy character to begin with, though. Honestly, Batman could do a lot worse. She's a scientist, so she could probably bioengineer some pretty bitchin' weapons for his utility belt, and Bruce Wayne could win points in the media for "going green" while still, you know, shacking up with a hot chick.
Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes in Batman Begins): This one gets kind of a bad rap. Granted, Holmes is the weakest link in this movie's primary cast. But this movie's primary cast consists of Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Liam Neeson. Freaking Charlize Theron would be the weak link in that cast. The Christian Bale version of Batman doesn't need some Oscar-winning actress trying to out-brood him. Instead, Holmes gives him the ol' Joey Potter serious eyes and the (occasional) ol' Joey Potter crooked smile and, okay, maybe I don't exactly believe he's smitten, but she's got that girl-next-door thing going, which is pretty hard to come by when you grow up in a jillion-acre mansion. They might not have strong sexual chemistry, but what makes her a good potential match for Bruce/Batman is that they're both interested in crimefighting, yet they won't have any embarrassing superhero conflicts over whose turn it was to prowl and whose turn it was to make cous-cous. Bonus: she might turn into Maggie Gyllenhaal overnight!
The final rankings, with consideration given to both general hotness and specific compatibility with Bruce Wayne and/or Batman.
1. Selina Kyle
2. Rachel Dawes (mark two, sight unseen)
3. Dr. Chase Meridian
4. Andrea Beaumont (hotness factor diminished by 2-D status)
5. Rachel Dawes (mark one)
6. Poison Ivy
7. Vicki Vale
8. Sugar (Drew Barrymore) and/or Spice (Debi Mazer) from Batman Forever
9. Killer Croc
10. Julie Madison