A Retrospective look at Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy
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As Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy drew to a close upon its summer release, The Dark Knight Rises was the ultimate finale to stonking series. Interestingly, it also left a sense of ‘where do we go from here’ hanging in the air for fans worldwide. We take a retrospective look at Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
Taking its place as one of the greatest trilogy’s in cinema and almost certainly of our time, there was definitely a sadness and poignancy to the end of the Nolan Batman series; not only in saying goodbye to Christian Bale in his now iconic role, but also to Nolan himself who sat in the director’s chair.
Film critic Mark Kermode summed up the mood towards the highly anticipated conclusion perfectly by stating that it was the ‘grown up Batman movie’ he’d always dreamed of, yet unfortunately we might never see again.
The third film, directed by British movie-maker Nolan, hit world records by taking an estimated $160 million at the box office on its July opening weekend – which is more than its predecessor The Dark Knight in 2008. Its popularity is unrivalled and undisputed.
Yet nobody ever expected the comic-hero franchise to become something of a piece of art or indeed to be labelled as ‘films for the thinking man’ (as many journalists have so aptly put.) If it wasn’t for Batman there may never have been an Inception and Nolan may never be the household name he is today.
London born Christopher Nolan in fact took over the Batman project back in 2003 when Warner Bros. hired him alongside script writer David S. Goyer to direct the then-untitled reboot Batman Begins. He had been known then for his art-house time-slip thriller Memento and Nolan wanted to put his own darker spin on a character who had previously been camped up by numerous directors including Tim Burton, Leslie H. Martinson and Joel Schumacher. Whilst Tim Burton previously tried to capitalise on the darker side, the 1989 adaptation Batman starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson failed to capture that ‘edge’.
It is well noted that Frank Miller, Jeph Loeb, Devin Grayson and Alan Moore had all attempted to make a grittier and more realistic portrayal of DC’s ‘Caped Crusader’ in the comic book world. They re-wrote Bob Kane‘s man-in-tights as an eccentric playboy; haunted by his parents’ murder and secretly seeking revenge as a vigilante with all his rage bubbling below the surface.
Their stories were harsher with truly evil and calculating enemies and a brooding Batman who was constantly conflicted in the face of corruption with his own sense of morality. The Dark Knight persona was born of these later novels and Nolan was more than happy to utilise the sources (Nolan has actively noted that Miller’s Year One and Loeb’s The Long Halloween were amongst his key inspirations) to create his own Batman universe.
Nolan wanted to explore Batman as a complex character and not just as a super-hero. Bruce Wayne is, after all, a man who witnessed his mother and father being killed, inherited their immense fortune and then reaped revenge on the city that betrayed him. Superman doesn’t get more neurotic than that. With a budget larger than he had ever before experienced, Nolan portrayed a world so black that you needed a torch just to see the opening credits.
Collaborating with composer Hans Zimmer to capture the foreboding soundtrack of Gotham City, Nolan’s Gotham was a desolate wasteland made better and also more brutal by the presence of a mysterious hero. The Welsh-born former American Psycho star Christian Bale was cast as the intense and troubled Bruce Wayne and Bale was able to channel out an all too realistic, aggressively determined and yet tragic lonely figure within The Bat Man – the Batman that fans had been waiting for.
Nolan’s series debut Batman Begins retold the origins of Batman and Bruce Wayne’s training with the mysterious and violent League of Shadows. Nolan carefully selected his cast with Katie Holmes (later replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal) as Batman’s love interest Rachel Dawes; his own character creation which would lead Wayne into a dramatic story arc. The recurring supporting cast were equally exceptional with Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Jim Gordon and Cillian Murphy as the terrifying villain Scarecrow.
The scale of the project was huge. Nolan even chose to build the Bat Cave as a soundstage set as well as creating a new Bat-mobile which took on the form of a modified military vehicle known as The Tumbler. The film was unquestionably a hit.
However, it was Nolan’s sequel that propelled the already credited series into the Batosphere. The Dark Knight and the late Heath Ledger‘s performance as The Joker won Nolan two academy awards and it became the twelfth highest grossing film of all time. Whilst its predecessor had focussed on fear, Dark Knight focussed on chaos with the anarchic Joker challenging Batman to place his loved ones in jeopardy.
Although the series retains a very dark sense of humour, the villains were nothing short of devastating in reflecting a post 9/11 world of terrorism and anxiety that could never have driven the previous movies. Instead of dealing with petty criminals and gangsters, we were met with callous masterminds and challenges of the body and soul for our masked hero.
The ending set up a truly harrowing finishing act. The final film concludes the entire series as a masterpiece with its highly political and philosophical undertones. Grittier than before with Tom Hardy as the chilling assassin Bane, Batman was truly tested to his limits in a story that was aimed at adult audiences to both shock and suspend.
Nolan has definitely created the hero that we all not only wanted, but all needed in a world filled with average remakes and sub-par sequels and, therefore, it is truly sad to draw the curtain on his series. Explosive, action packed, dramatic and at times witty and inspiring as well as heart-breaking, Nolan’s series epitomises everything that film-making should be.
However, just because it’s the end, it doesn’t mean the Batman fanaticism we’ve witnessed is ready to die down just yet.
The only questions that remain are obvious. What will Nolan do next? What will happen to the Batman franchise and more importantly, where is the future of super-hero films going to go?
Surely the success Nolan’s brilliant series has set the bar so high that we fear it can never be repeated. Yet is challenge not part of the fun?