The Batman Characters: Alfred J. Pennyworth

In the new film The Batman, the character of Alfred J. Pennyworth is played by veteran actor Andy Serkis. Serkis is famous for previously playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes. Both Apes movies were directed by The Batman’s own director Matt Reeves. The role of Alfred is some of Serkis’s best work to date.

According to Andy Serkis himself, this version of Alfred J. Pennyworth is not a father figure to Bruce Wayne. This is a departure from previous incarnations of the character, including those played by the incomparable actors Michael Gough (Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s Batman franchise), Michael Caine (The Dark Knight Trilogy), and Jeremy Irons (the Snyderverse).

Instead, Alfred is kept at a large arm’s length by Gotham’s caped crusader. Robert Pattinson’s version of Bruce Wayne, fully consumed with his dual role as the Batman, has no time for a personal life or a family. So, while Alfred does maintain his butler-y duties in the Wayne household, the relationship between the two characters remains icy cold for much of the film.

Andy Serkis as Alfred J. Pennyworth in The Batman pictured with Bruce Wayne in the batcave.
Alfred J. Pennyworth (Andy Serkis) with Bruce Wayne in The Batman.

Alfred’s Background in The Batman

Andy Serkis has revealed in interviews that despite training young Bruce Wayne how to fight, Alfred Pennyworth simply did not know how to be a father. It was not a skill set he possessed, and that contributed to the growing distance between the butler and the vengeance-filled young man.

Alfred’s personality and temperament are also quite different than Bruce’s. Alfred’s military and British secret service background keep him rigid and disciplined. This is a sharp contrast to Bruce Wayne’s emotional and aggressive approach to life and to being the Batman. Alfred plays by the rules, Bruce Wayne quite simply does not. Hence, he becomes the caped vigilante operating outside of the law or society’s norms.

Alfred’s temperament as well as his action-packed past are also physically personified by several distinctive marks in the film. Matt Reeves invented the idea of Alfred walking with a cane, which can be seen as stiff and rigid like his mindset. Serkis also suggested that the character be featured with facial scars.

In addition, Alfred’s wardrobe matches his current energy and state of mind. While Wayne Tower – where Bruce Wayne’s activity is so far centered in this iteration of Gotham City – is falling apart and a mess, Alfred remains the dapper and sharply dressed British gentleman he’s always been. He’s the one (sort of) holding Wayne Tower together.

Who Is The Batman’s Andy Serkis?

Andy Serkis is a veteran English actor, director, and producer famous for his performance capture, animation, and voice acting work. In fact, it is almost jarring to see him live and in the flesh in The Batman when you know him primarily as Gollum, Snoke and Caesar. Due to his appearances in franchises like The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Planet of the Apes, Serkis is actually one of the highest-grossing actors of all time.

Serkis was launched to fame due to his unforgettable turn as Smeagol / Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003). But that and Caesar are far from his only roles. In addition to them and Alfred J. Pennyworth, Serkis has portrayed roles like King Kong in the character’s eponymous film (2005), and in films like The Prestige (2006) by The Dark Knight’s Christopher Nolan (2006), and Sex, Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010). The latter earned Serkis a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor in a Leading role for his portrayal of Ian Drury. He also played Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017).

In addition to acting, Serkis has directed several films including Breathe (2017),  Mowgli: Legend of the Junge (2018), and Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021). He also owns the production company and motion capture workshop known as The Imaginarium. Serkis received a BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema in 2020.

Serkis Thinks The Batman Deserves Oscars

On The Batman, Andy Serkis says he believes that the film truly deserves Oscar consideration. On this topic he has said:

“The artistry that is in this movie, the level of precision that is in the design and cinematography — it’s a piece of art, but also a story that speaks to millions of people. I think it is time that the Academy supports movies of this scale. The stories are reaching the biggest audiences globally. They may not be the small art house movies that feel worthy, but in this case, the story is as compelling and powerful as anything that I can think of this year. I think this is a growing understanding these films, which are the stories of our time and speak to such a wide range of audiences, need to be supported and awarded.”

Andy Serkis to The Hollywood Reporter

Not only is Serkis right, but perhaps if they started nominating some comic book films for prestige awards (they have in the past with The Dark Knight and Black Panther, of course), they could actually get some people to start watching the Academy Awards telecast again.

Alfred J. Pennyworth Spoilers for The Batman

In the second half of The Batman, Alfred is nearly killed in an explosion set by The Riddler at Wayne Tower. This causes the relationship between him and Bruce Wayne to warm up. Bruce realizes that the cold distance he has kept towards his caretaker stems from a protective emotional layer he erected to keep him from feeling pain again. Still so wounded from the murder of his parents, Wayne doesn’t think he can handle another such loss. And he realizes that losing Alfred would be exactly that.

Meanwhile, Alfred is able to acknowledge that he wasn’t exactly the best father figure after the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Although he did train Bruce Wayne how to fight, useful in his new crusade as the Batman, he really didn’t know how to raise Bruce right. And Bruce’s fucked up personal persona and need to become the Batman seems to be a direct result of that lack of understanding or ability.

This deepening of the bond between Alfred and Bruce Wayne sets the stage for the growth of their relationship in future sequels to the movie. Will Alfred grow into more of a mentoring, father-figure persona like he has in past iterations? Will he become Batman’s “Q” the way Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred generally were? The answers to those questions remain to be seen!

Other Characters from The Batman

Of course, while Alfred is a strong and essential supporting character in the world of The Batman, he’s also one of an incredible ensemble cast. That cast includes Paul Dano as The Riddler, Colin Farrell as Oz “Penguin” Cobblepot, Zoë Kravits as Selina Kyle, and Jeremy Wright as officer James Gordon.

The Batman also features an assortment of criminal and corrupt city officials including Mayor Don Mitchell Jr., District Attorney Gil Colson, as well as current Police Commissioner Pete Savage. These characters are all targets of Dano’s deranged Riddler, a serial killer who thinks he’s fighting for true justice in Gotham City.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon, and a few other figures like Gotham Mayoral Candidate Bella Real, are fighting to save the city from the corruption and criminality of the figures mentioned above. The Batman is the story of how this battle between good and evil forces in Gotham City unfolds.

If you enjoyed this article on The Batman’s Alfred J. Pennyworth, check out my recent post on Which comics influenced The Batman?

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