Reflections on Christopher Nolan's 'Dark Knight' Saga By now, every man, woman and child has probably already seen The Dark Knight Rises, so to write a review about it seems kind of redundant. However anyone who knows me knows that I never pass up an opportunity to talk about Batman, so now that Christopher Nolan's trilogy has finally come to an end, it feels like a good time to reflect upon what his Dark Knight saga has meant to me.
I've loved Batman ever since I was a little kid. Back home in Melbourne during the long hot summers, my younger brother and I used to run around our house and yard (towels tied 'round our necks flying out behind us) pretending to be Batman and Robin. There was a long ditch that ran the length of our property, probably about a metre and a half deep in parts, and one section conveniently hidden by a particularly bushy tree served as our Batcave. I watched repeats of the Batman T.V series starring Adam West and Burt Ward when I got home from school, and at the age of fourteen I completely flipped out when I saw Tim Burton's Batman movie in 1989.
The one problem I always had with Batman however, is that eventually I always seemed to outgrow whatever representation of him I had previously come to love. I can't remember how old I was when it happened, but at a certain point I realised the truth that the Batman television series was actually completely ridiculous. Yes, yes, I know that it's good in its own way. It's just that that way is no longer anything that I have any personal interest in. The same thing happened with the four Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher films. Batman Forever and Batman and Robin were woeful from the very beginning, and although vastly superior, I was still a little disappointed with Batman Returns when it first came out too. Then at last, the original and best (at the time) Batman movie from Tim Burton, and starring Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton, came to be at best just watchable to me, no longer the spellbinding masterpiece I had thought it to be at fourteen.
So when Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins first came out in 2005 I have to admit I was caught somewhat off-guard. It had been eight years since the god-awful Batman and Robin had been released, which had provided all the time necessary for the Batman film franchise and the character of Batman itself to have become a complete joke. Schumacher's train wreck of a film had turned me off the very idea of another Batman movie, and just to add to my state of distraction, I had made the momentous decision to leave Melbourne and move to Helsinki less than a year beforehand. As a result, for some months I had found myself with plenty of other things to think about aside from the fact that some guy I'd never heard of was apparently taking a shot at resurrecting the Batman.
So when I finally did go to see Batman Begins for the first time in Savonlinna during my travels around Finland, I remember going in with almost zero expectations. I had seen the various movie posters all over the place for several months leading up to its release, but I don't think I'd even managed to see a single preview for it. Which blows my mind in retrospect, given how closely I typically follow every shred of news about upcoming releases that I'm interested in today. I have to say I came out of that movie completely shocked. Holy sh%t, they played it straight up! There were no comic gags, no sideshows, no winks to the audience to acknowledge how silly it all really was. Tim Burton's Batman had appeared dark and gritty when compared with the T.V. series, but next to Batman Begins it now seemed like a comedy.
Batman Begins presented me with a world and a Batman that included many facets of the character that I had always loved, in addition to a whole range of new ones I had never fully considered and certainly never seen represented on screen before, but of which I completely approved. One of the biggest reasons why I had always been drawn to the character of Batman was that unlike many other superheroes he chose to be a hero. He wasn't blessed with superpowers by virtue of his birth, he wasn't bitten by a radio-active spider, or the result of some cutting edge science experiment gone horribly wrong. Again I say, yes, yes – he's mega-rich of course, I get it. But at his core, Batman is nothing more than a mere man, one who transforms himself into a hero through sheer determination and force of will. The most important thing about Batman to me was always that he was just a man, and because he was just a man it was so much easier for me to believe that he could be real, and that was half the fun. However if Batman is real, then he can potentially be hurt, even killed, and that's not funny. Christopher Nolan had apparently realised all this, and consequently he made the world of Batman Begins deadly serious – dark, corrupt and seemingly hopeless. But above all, real – for the very first time, I'd seen a representation of Batman that felt like it could actually happen.
Three years later in 2008, Christopher Nolan brought us The Dark Knight. There probably isn't much I can say about The Dark Knight that hasn't been said already, so I won't go on for long. Quite simply, The Dark Knight is the Batman movie I'd been waiting my whole life to see without even knowing it. It may well be the film I watch more often than any other over the rest of my lifetime. I have the entire movie on my iPhone and often at work I just listen to it – I don't always have to actually see it anymore, since I can picture each scene in my head anyway. It's extremely rare that a movie with as much hype and expectation as this had manages to live up to its billing, but for me The Dark Knight not only met but also exceeded my wildest expectations. Nolan takes the world of Batman out onto the streets of Chicago that act as a stand-in for Gotham City, and the result is astonishing. Based firmly in a real-world setting with a real-world sensibility, The Dark Knight is much more a traditional crime drama than your typical superhero movie, and it benefits hugely as a result. Even though The Dark Knight was like nothing I had ever seen before, nothing had ever brought me closer to that feeling of excitement and just pure joy I'd had as a kid, when I spent hot summer afternoons running around my backyard, pretending I was Batman.
Which brings us to The Dark Knight Rises. I can safely say that I have never looked forward to the premiere of a film as much as I did this one. Along with countless millions of others, as much as a year ago I was already looking ahead to this past summer for the opportunity to finally see how Nolan would follow up his 2008 masterpiece. So is The Dark Knight Rises as good as The Dark Knight? No, it's not. But then again it was never likely to be. It is however an absolutely fantastic movie in its own right, and a fitting end to a wonderful trilogy. I was fortunate enough to see it on its opening weekend with a group of great friends and I had an absolute ball. I've since seen it several times more and I've enjoyed it even more each time. Throughout the whole trilogy I think that Nolan has done a truly brilliant job of placing his Batman within a very realistic setting, and then picking the villains best suited to operating within that setting. The result has been three great Batman films populated by great characters, played by some of the best actors going around. As a lifelong Batman fan I couldn't have asked for more.
The original Star Wars trilogy was obviously enormously popular and had a tremendous impact upon audiences during the late 70's and early 80's, and in more recent times The Lord of the Rings trilogy has become the favourite of many from this current generation. But for me, Christopher Nolan's trilogy of Dark Knight films tops them all. In my opinion, no other superhero movie even comes close, nor does any other representation of Batman I've ever seen, whether it be the T.V series, previously made films, comics, or anything else. I often wonder whether I'll ever see Batman portrayed better than he has been in Nolan's trilogy, and I'm forced to concede that there's an excellent chance I never will. Which just makes his achievement all the more noteworthy, and myself all the more grateful. So from the bottom of my heart, thanks for the trilogy, Christopher. On behalf of appreciative fans the world over, I'm so glad you brought us the Batman we needed, and the one we deserved.