Little did we know how much mainstream moviemaking would change when Christopher Nolan was charged with rebooting the Batman franchise. Released in 2005, Nolan’s Batman Begins took The Dark Knight and transported Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s iconic creation into a whole new realm.
The director cast fan favourite Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and took a much more pragmatic approach on the character, nudging the Dark Knight closer towards the real world than he had ever been before. The addition of actors such as Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman added a touch of class and gravitas to the new Gotham City that Nolan and co-screenwriter David Goyer were building.
An origin story, Batman Begins takes many elements from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and creates a more commercial and cinematic approach to the material. Focusing on the aspects of Bruce Wayne’s rage and anger and the corruption of Gotham City – Batman doesn’t even make an appearance until 50 minutes into the film. The addition of characters such as Ras Al Ghoul and The Scarecrow to the narrative enhance the psychological nature of the piece. This in turn, helps show a new side to Batman and for the first time it gave the hero centre stage in his own film.
Batman Begins was a hit at the box office, grossing over $206 million in the US and more than $373 million worldwide. It also garnered strong reviews and showed that there was still life left in the long dormant franchise. This critical and commercial success led to Nolan having creative control over the follow up, though unlike Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher, this would not be the director’s undoing.
2008’s The Dark Knight delivered a Joker who not only owed a debt to the work of Frank Miller and Alan Moore, but also to Denny O’Neil’s classic run in the 1970s. The film displays a character of malicious immorality, and not the giddy Clown Prince of Crime associated with the ‘60s series.
The comics were able to illustrate how the Joker and Batman demand co-existence, and until The Dark Knight, no form of moving image was ever able to truly capture this. Heath Ledger’s Joker lacks an origin story and rightly so. Hollywood often tries to demystify its villains and it is delightful to observe a character who goes against the grain. We don’t need to know where he comes from in order to know that he is dangerous. Aaron Ekhart is also excellent in the film, delivering a charismatic portrayal of Harvey Dent. It’s a complex character, one who starts out as an ally of Batman only to become one of his most iconic adversaries.
The Dark Knight surpasses Batman Begins by being a film which deconstructs comic book conventions – it’s a character piece where the two leads are dressed in over-the-top costumes. The film is both epic and intimate at once and Nolan has the skill as a director to juggle this. It’s a shame that Heath Ledger died before the film’s release, because it would have been fascinating to see where he could have taken The Joker in a sequel.
The Dark Knight was a box office juggernaut, grossing more than $534 million in the US and over $1 billion globally. It won rave reviews, and multiple awards – including an posthumous Academy Award for Heath Ledger.
In 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan built on top of to his first two films, ultimately making them more layered and textured. The faults with those films on a plot level are somewhat patched over by the concluding part of the trilogy. The differing tone and visual style between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight was always something that seemed wrong, but The Dark Knight Rises is the missing link. Nolan’s universe comes full-circle and the film bridges the gap between the more comic-book elements of Begins and the Michael Mann crime drama lurking beneath The Dark Knight.
Christian Bale does his best work as Batman/Bruce Wayne in this final instalment of The Dark Knight Trilogy. He’s more relaxed and at ease with the character – which has much to do with Anne Hathaway’s excellent turn as Selina Kyle (she’s never called Catwoman). Female characters were always the weak point in Nolan’s Batman films, with the character of Rachel Dawes feeling shoehorned in by some studio mandate. The character was integral to the events of The Dark Knight, but she never felt like she belonged in Gotham City – but Hathaway’s Selina Kyle does.
Much like how No Time To Die brought a definitive end to Daniel Craig’s time as James Bond, The Dark Knight Rises closes out Christian Bale’s tenure as Batman with a final conclusion. It’s a self contained story which works in each of its individual parts and also as a whole. The film was another huge hit at the box office, grossing $448 million in the United States and over $1 billion globally.
A trilogy which broke the mould of what filmmakers could do with comic book movies, Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight Trilogy expanded the Batman mythos, while always remaining faithful to the character’s comic book origins. The films still hold-up today and it’ll be very interesting to see what Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson do with the character when they give us The Batman in 2022.
The Batman starring Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffery Wright, Peter Sarsgaard, John Turturro, Barry Keoghan, Jayme Lawson, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell will hit screens on 4 March 2022.