Christian Bale Cast as the New Batman

09/12/2003 at 11:00 AM EDT

Former yuppie psycho Christian Bale is getting the keys to the Batmobile.

Trying to resurrect its "Batman" franchise, Warner Bros. has announced that the hunky actor -- best known for his role as a serial killer in "American Psycho" -- will play the lead role of the Dark Knight, Reuters reports.

The film, set to start shooting in early 2004, will be directed by "Memento" filmmaker Christopher Nolan and is expected to explore the early years of millionaire-turned-superhero Bruce Wayne.

"What I see in Christian is the ultimate embodiment of Bruce Wayne," Nolan said in a statement. "He has exactly the balance of darkness and lightness that we were looking for."

Bale, 29, made his screen debut as a boy trying to survive a Japanese-run prisoner of war camp in Steven Spielberg's epic "Empire of the Sun" in 1987.

Audiences know Bale most recently from his work in 2000's "American Psycho," as well as "Swing Kids" (1993), "Velvet Goldmine" (1998) and "Shaft" (2000).

Batman first became a huge box-office draw when Tim Burton resurrected the character with his films "Batman" (1989) and "Batman Returns" (1992), both starring Michael Keaton.

Director Joel Schumacher took over in 1995 with "Batman Forever," staring Val Kilmer, which was regarded as campier than the darker Burton flicks. Meanwhile, 1997's "Batman and Robin," starring George Clooney as the man behind the codpiece, was a critical flop.

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