There’s been a lot of talk about Batman this week with the announcement that Ben Affleck will portray him in Batman vs. Superman. While we await that movie’s release in 2015 and some us hope against hope Affleck doesn’t screw up with the part, I thought it would be a good time to look back at Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and appreciate how it finally did cinematic justice to Batman. I must confess that Batman is my favorite comic book superhero so I am especially appreciative when the character is done correctly. And now, a look back at the Dark Knight trilogy.
In 2005, Batman Begins was released. After years of disappointing Batman movies this one finally did justice to the Dark Knight. One of the most remarkable things about Batman Begins is that it’s a good 1/3 into the movie before we see Bruce Wayne put the bat suit on. And you know what? It means a lot more. The opening act of the movie is a thorough look at the origin of Batman. We learn about his childhood relationship with Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) who grows up to work in the Gotham City District Attorney’s office. Then there’s the origin of his fear of bats (he fell down a well and was swarmed by them) and of course the murder of his parents in a dark alley as the family is leaving the opera. The murder of his parents is the childhood trauma that inspires him to fight crime. But before he becomes Batman he travels the world trying to understand criminals. While in the far East he is trained in martial arts by the League of Shadows. But just as he is about to complete his training he finds the organization’s true intentions are evil. He then returns to Gotham City and sets out to save it as it has been overrun by criminals. Then there’s the central evil scheme back in Gotham being hatched by the Scarecrow and corrupt city officials to put an insanity drug in the city’s water, vaporize it, and drive all the citizen’s mad. That’s the story in a nutshell.
Batman Begins benefits a great deal from the stellar casting. Christian Bale is fantastic in the leading role and does a great job of playing both Bruce Wayne and Batman. If Batman had been cast wrong the whole movie would have been sunk. But the movie isn’t just about Bale. There’s Liam Neeson as Ducard, Batman’s mentor when he studies with the League of Shadows. He’s a good mentor and menacing villain. Cillian Murphy is effective as the Scarecrow. There’s also Michael Caine playing Alfred the butler. Unlike in previous efforts Alfred is much more of a father figure to Bruce and adds a lot of weight to the story. He keeps Bruce Wayne/Batman in check. Morgan Freeman portrays Lucius Fox, the brains behind the gadgets at Wayne Enterprises. And last, but certainly not least, there’s Gary Oldman playing officer Jim Gordon. Gordon proves once again how much of a chameleon he is by disappearing into the part.
Batman Begins succeeds because it gives us a thorough look at Batman’s tortured past, shows Batman learning from his mistakes early on in his career, and because it has some pretty great action sequences. If you think you’re sick of car chases, just wait until you see the Batmobile racing through Gotham City evading police cars (at the beginning the police see Batman as a vigilante and don’t trust him yet of course). I love that the Batmobile looks more like something that’s part car and part tank. Batman Begins set a great tone for what was to become an amazing trilogy!
After the success of Batman Begins in 2005, 2008 brought the next chapter in the saga: The Dark Knight. Almost all of the cast and crew is back. The difference is this time Rachel Dawes is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. To me that was an upgrade. Katie Holmes was good, but she could have used a little more personality. Joining the cast is Aaron Eckhart as District Attorney Harvey Dent and Heath Ledger as the Joker. In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent, the Gotham police, and Batman declare war on the mob. As their plan starts to succeed, enter the Joker. The Joker says he will keep killing people i Gotham City until Batman turns himself in. Dent pretends to be Batman, which leads to him being kidnapped and eventually in an accident that leaves him scarred turning him into the villain Two-Face. Batman is tested even more than he was in the first installment. In the end Batman has lost hope and is forced into exile when he takes the blame for the murder of Harvey Dent. Batman sees Dent as Gotham’s real hero and doesn’t want the city to lose faith in the law. The story in The Dark Knight is a little convoluted, but it adds up to a movie that in the end really resonated with me.
Much of the attention surrounding The Dark Knight came about because of the premature death of Heath Ledger. He went on to win a posthumous Oscar for his chilling portrayal of arguably Batman’s nastiest foe. Ledger plays the role with the perfect amount of menace and it was a performances that stayed with me long after I left the theater. As in the first movie there are some great action sequences, especially the Batpod chase early on in the film. The Dark Knight does a good job building on the set-up of Batman Begins and the ending leaves us eagerly awaiting the next installment. All the acting is first-rate from the original cast and the newcomers. It’s no surprise that The Dark Knight became such a mega hit.
In 2012 the Dark Knight trilogy came full-circle with the final installment: The Dark Knight Rises. The movie takes place eight years after The Dark Knight. Batman is in exile. The criminals have been held at bay by the Dent Act, which made it easier to lock them up. Enter the movie’s main villain: Bane (Tom Hardy). There’s evil and then there’s the embodiment of evil. How evil is Bane? He was too extreme for the League of Shadows. Yeah, he’s pretty terrifying. Bane’s evil plot involves a terrorist attack at a football stadium and giving power back to the people by overthrowing those in power and taking from the wealthy. The movie can be seen largely as a commentary on the Occupy Wall St. movement. While Gotham is overrun by criminals, Batman is being held captive after he’s defeated by Bane. He was no match for Bane after being out of commission for eight years. In the end he does come back to save Gotham, helped in part by two new additions to the cast: Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Selina Kyle is never referred to as Catwoman, but that is her alias in Batman lore. She’s a jewel thief who has a change of heart throughout the film. She ends up becoming an ally and love interest of Batman. Blake is a young cop who convinces Batman to come out of retirement. He even knows Batman’s real identity, which pays off in helping catch Bane and sets him up as the person to carry on Batman’s legacy. In the end, Batman has to fly a nuclear bomb out over the ocean because it can’t be disarmed. It is thought that Batman died in the explosion. But a scene at the end proves otherwise. After all is said and done Gotham City once again sees Batman as a hero and all is well with the world.
While Tom Hardy is largely the star of the show as the evil Bane, it’s Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt who steal the show. There were doubts early on about Hathaway playing Selina Kyle. Those fears are erased in the first five minutes of her time on-screen. She does a great job of showing all sides of the character. Levitt meanwhile establishes himself as a star to keep an eye on. He provides a strong moral center to the film and his performance left a big impression on me.
After all three films were released, Batman’s story had finally been told in a complete arc. By the time the last film was released I had a real vested interest in all the characters, not just Batman. Batman’s legacy was no longer one of camp (all due respect to the Adam West TV show, but it wasn’t true to the vision of Bob Kane, Batman’s creator) but one of grit. Batman’s back story begged to be told on the big screen with gritty realism. Christopher Nolan was best known for having directed the indie hit Memento and a remake of Insomnia prior to Batman Begins. The choice of him as director turned out to be a great move! His movies finally got Batman right. As a fan I finally felt satisfied. The Dark Knight trilogy belongs up there on the list of all-time great movie trilogies with Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (original trilogy of course). That’s it! What did you think of the Dark Knight trilogy? Leave feedback below!