Revisiting The Nolan Batman Trilogy
Breathing New Life Into A Classic
The Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy may be remembered as one of the very best in the super hero/comic book adaption genre, but without a doubt The Dark Knight is the unmatched high point of the series. Now on the 10-year anniversary of The Dark Knight I wanted to take a look back at what made these films so great and influential to the genre as whole. From its dark and grounded take on the source material, to its examination of what makes a hero and the strong iterations of the 3 main villains, Christopher Nolan crafted a trilogy with a narrative that is equal parts crime drama and superhero story.
A Journey of Growth
From the very beginning, we follow Bruce Wayne’s journey from an angry selfish man, haunted by guilt in the deaths of his parents to a selfless beacon of hope and as he grows so too does his mission. When we’re first introduced to Wayne, he is hellbent on revenge and doesn’t care about anything other than that. But throughout the three films Wayne takes it upon himself to clean up the crime and corruption in Gotham, showing a greater consideration for his city and the people in it. But yet, In order to achieve this undertaking he would have to become more than just a man.
A Man of Many Masks
As the trilogy delves into the intricate trappings of Bruce Wayne's mind, we’re shown the several different versions of himself. On one hand there's the playboy billionaire who sleeps through board meetings, makes a spectacle of his arrival by showing up with at least one woman on his arm (and at one point by helicopter), the man who wants to protect his city but knows he can't do so forever and finally The Caped Crusader. Although the last two may be synonymous, I believe they're actually two different personalities, as Batman is a symbol the righteous Bruce chooses to embody, he also looks for ways to pass on his mission. But yet while trying to perform the complicated balancing act of portraying each of these figures, it seemed to me that our protagonist doesn't truly feel complete playing the role of Bruce Wayne, and he just uses whichever role is best suited to each given situation he finds himself in. With this in mind I also believe that our hero feels that Bruce Wayne is his alter ego and that Batman is who he truly is. While this may not be a new theme for The Caped Crusader, it helped to add even more dimension to an already interesting protagonist.
What Makes A Hero?
Not only are we given an examination of our hero, the films also ask what makes a hero. We see many characters act heroically throughout all three films, From Batman to Harvey Dent, Gordon, Alfred, Blake and even small side characters. In my opinion the answer the film offers to the question of what makes a hero, is that the definition is subjective, as anyone can be a hero varying on the situation. From Batman to Gordon, Harvey Dent and even the prisoner on the boat, anyone willing to make an unpopular decision or commit to a selfless act for the greater good can be considered as such. Although they may be painted as hero’s, their actions lie in a morally grey area, bringing the question of what makes a hero back to the forefront. Gordon was forced to live with the hard but necessary task of sacrificing his legacy of being an honest by the numbers cop when he chose to frame Batman for the murders committed by Dent. Although his actions were unjust, they were done in the interest of the greater good of Gotham in mind. As far as the public would know, Harvey Dent was just another victim caught in the depravity of the Jokers wake, all in an effort to give the people of Gotham a clean and legal face in the fight against crime.
Great Tales of Villainy
Any Batman story is incomplete without his rogue's gallery, and The Nolan Trilogy was no stranger to great villains. With fan favorites such as Scarecrow, Ra’s Al Ghul (and obviously The League of Assassins), Two face, The Joker and Bane, all being strong and compelling characters, they all made great additions to the films as a whole. The series favorite without a doubt would have to be The Joker, with an excellent performance from the late Heath Ledger that somehow balanced an eccentric over the top attitude, a love for anarchy and theatricality with enough subtlety to create one of cinemas greatest antagonists. The Joker would go on to push Batman to the very limits of his moral code, and ultimately break the legend of The Batman Bruce Wayne and Gordon worked so hard to create. After his 8-year hiatus following The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne is once again forced to become Batman when Bane presents himself as yet another imminent threat to not only Gotham but to the world as a whole. Once again, we see a character that is capable of not only mentally but also physically defeating Batman, pushing him in a different sense than The Joker previously did.
Plans of Terror
While these villains were all compelling characters in their own right, the scripts of each film showed the main antagonists as terrorists, as their plans ranged from chemical and nuclear attacks, to pure anarchistic destruction. This made for antagonists that were very likable yet clearly wrong for the actions they chose to take, with the exception of Harvey Dent. Starting as a shining example of justice and being twisted into insanity after the failed attempt on his life by The Joker, he became obsessed with revenge losing his sense of right and wrong. Scarecrow not only used his toxin to torture patients in Arkham Asylum, but he was just a part of a bigger plan, from Ra’s Al Ghul himself, to use said toxin as a weapon to destroy Gotham's water supply. Where Banes idea of “freedom” was essentially just allowing criminals to run free in a military state, The Joker just wanted to stir up everyone's routine and cause mayhem. While what we see these villains do provided very entertaining set pieces, their actions were never glorified and were always viewed as rather deplorable ideologies.
Aside from the strong writing the movie was thoroughly invested in being grounded, from its use of practical stunts, shooting in three separate real cities and even the gadgets and tech Batman uses, everything felt fantastic yet tangible. The choice to film in a combination of New York, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, helped to make Gotham feel like a real lived in city and made the city feel like it was another character as well. As for Batman's gadgets and technology, everything we see him use is either left over experimental projects or prototypes from Wayne Industries R&D department, nothing is ever specifically made for him, courtesy of Lucius Fox of course. Although Batman always had access to equipment he needed, giving it to him in this way made it feel more realistic as most of his tools were repurposed. Adding to the sense of realism was Nolan’s insistence on using practical effects, especially when it came to stunts, scenes such as the truck flip in The Dark Knight, Christian Bale and Liam Neeson actually fighting on a frozen lake and even the opening of The Dark Knight Rises where Bane drops a plane out of the sky was even done practically. These elements all work together to make for an experience that brings back that balance I spoke of earlier that’s a superhero fantasy with enough realism to feel like it exists in our own world.
With his outstandingly smart and grounded take on the Batman mythos, Christopher Nolan created not only a great superhero trilogy that would set a new standard for the genre as a whole, but also showed an unprecedented love for both film making and the original source material in equal measure. After years of lackluster movie adaptions, the Dark Knight Trilogy proved that Batman could be successful in the right hands.