Now that the dust has settled and the backlash is in full swing, it’s high time some appreciation is shown for the towering achievement of Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, the creative minds behind the biggest comeback since Lazarus. We take a look at how they rescued the caped crusader from a neon drenched hell and plunged him back into the darkness where he belongs.
In his recent article “Five spoiler heavy reasons The Dark Knight Rises falls flat”, Kotaku’s Mike Fahey offers a muddled and severely misguided deconstruction of the trilogy closer that, despite its strong delivery, equates to an argument as simple as ‘it should have been more like the comics’. Calling upon key moments from several arcs and the lore as a whole, Fahey criticizes Nolan’s tendency for not honouring the legacy and losing something in the translation. He, and others who seem to share his opinion (a brief look at the article’s comment thread suggests that there are many), are completely missing the point, namely that Nolan’s trilogy are not comic book movies at all.
This is one of the key reasons the film’s are such an achievement, they take the basic premise of the Batman legend, combine a unique style with a solid script and Nolan’s already well established skill as a director, to create a completely separate entity, the film’s are perhaps the truest cinematic representations of Batman to date. Burton’s cycle cross bred his own gothic idiosyncrasies with darker Bat tales, like Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, while Shumacher’s efforts tried to emulate the 60’s camp of the Adam West era.
Nolan’s film’s call upon distinct genres and eras of cinema and each has its own characteristic style. Begins is pure psychodrama, a character study that looks at the moral ambiguity of dressing up in a cape and venturing out at night to terrorise criminals, Bruce Wayne isn’t that far removed from Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Many balked at the use of Scarecrow as the bad guy for this all important origin story, but the irony of an antagonist who uses fear as a weapon is delicious, and there’s always Liam Neeson’s mentor/puppet master lurking in the shadows if anyone needed a more substantial villain.
Of course, the purpose of an origin story is to establish, and the Nolan brothers plant their stamp firmly from the outset. Eschewing the goth fairytale land of Burton’s Gotham, they replace it with a modern metropolis halfway between Chicago and New York (which is also a decent summation of the city as it’s depicted in the comics), the rich living large near the warmth of Wayne Tower, while the poor scuttle about in the Narrows. After a gritty stint in a Bhutanese prison, whose filthy dungeons recall Alan Parker’s Midnight Express, Gotham’s favourite son returns and descends deeper into a kind of scizophrenia, a simmering and conflicted rage that’s only sated by the destruction of Gotham’s underworld. Wayne’s character arc, along with Nolan’s execution of it, could easily translate to the horror genre, the depiction of deep seated psychosis hidden by honourable intention is something that Hitchcock would be proud of.
The Dark Knight
Undoubtedly the strongest part of the trilogy, TDK is Nolan’s crime saga. In style alone it recalls modern policiers and gangster epics, the cold blue colour palette is pure Michael Mann and the wise guy infested Gotham underworld is reminiscent of Scorsese’s De Niro phase (anyone’s De Niro phase, really), as is the labyrinthine plotting, a mystery of sorts that actually gives the world’s greatest detective some room to live up to his name.
Everything in TDK is executed with such Swiss watch precision, making it all the more shocking when the Joker brings it all crashing down around everyone’s ears. Ledger’s performance is somewhat overshadowed these days by the subject of his untimely death following a career defining turn as the clown prince of crime. Ledger’s Joker is the epitome of the trilogies modus operandi; stark realism with an undercurrent of nihilism, Nolan’s take on him is far truer to the spirit of the character and his true purpose-to be the chaotic yin to Batman’s orderly yang- than Nicholson’s hammy interpretation, Ledger’s firebrand performance enscapulates the high quality of the trilogy as a whole.
The Dark Knight Rises
This is Nolan’s war film. After the establishing mood piece and the escalating second act, Gotham becomes a literal battlefield for the trilogy’s explosive denouement.
The film is a culmination of everything the first two instalments achieved, namely ushering in a brave new era for the Bat. It’s a testament to the skill of all involved that so many plates (handling Batman’s return, not fluffing Bane’s back-story, Catwoman‘s inclusion not feeling shoehorned, the clandestine purpose of Blake‘s character, giving Gordon a deserved role in the proceedings, Mathew Modine’s conflicted captain…and all the rest) are kept spinning and the conclusion still manages to satisfy.
Sadly, many will see DKR as the weakest instalment, lacking as it does the revelatory impact of the first film or the towering performance of the second. Yet, while Bane’s physicality looks stunted in the shadow of Ledger’s painted psychopath, Nolan’s farewell emerges as the most complete of all 3 films and it‘s certainly the greatest number 3 in superhero cinema.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman films made the caped crusader cool again and after the enduring travesty of Batman and Robin, that is no mean feat. Setting aside the irony that this dark portrait of psychosis and treatise on the decay of modern society has reignited the bat passion for all ages, the revolutionary effect of this trilogy cannot be ignored. Ushering in an age of dark and gritty superhero flicks, specifically the new Spiderman reboot and the increasingly moody looking Man Of Steel, the influence of Nolan’s films are also responsible for two of the greatest superhero games ever made.
This being a site predominantly focused on gaming, it would be remiss for me to omit Rocksteady’s fantastic Arkham games from a recent study on all things Batman. If the films went back to square one and showed us that beneath the cape and cowl, Bruce Wayne is just a deeply troubled individual, then Arkhams Asylum and City go back to the drawing board and pull off what no other games of their ilk have ever done before- they make you feel like Batman. The presence of Batman: The Animated Series alumni (Writer Paul Dini and the original voice cast, including the inimitable Kevin Conroy) adds an authenticity to the proceedings, while the free flowing combat, plethora of gadgets and lovingly crafted setting does for the virtual bat what Nolan did for the cinematic bat, and Rocksteady’s efforts may never have been warranted if it weren’t for the success of the new films.
With Nolan and Bale having confirmed their exodus from the franchise, the future of Batman is unclear. Will Warner Brothers reboot? Prepping a new Batman to star in the long rumoured Justice League flick would be the next logical step, although the teasing confusion of DKR suggests that a direct sequel is possible. Elsewhere, Zack Snyder’s aforementioned Man Of Steel looks to perpetuate the aesthetic and thematic motifs of Nolan’s film’s.
It’s hasn’t been announced whether or not Rocksteady will make a third Arkham game, and since the conclusion of Arkham City seemed pretty definitive, it’s hard to see where they would take the series. Many complained that the larger playing area and recycled elements of City diluted the revolutionary impact of Asylum, so perhaps it would be wise for the developer to quit while they’re ahead.
Either way, Batman seems here to stay, his spirit has yet to be destroyed by neon lights and gratuitous nipple shots and while Nolan’s presence will be sorely missed, his imprint on the franchise is thankfully indelible.