As this point in time, at this period in my life, if I’m asked that character-revealing question, “What’s your favorite movie?” I would have to say, “The Dark Knight trilogy by Chris Nolan.”
Before I fell in love with Star Wars or Power Rangers or any of my other childhood influences, my first pop culture icon was Batman. The first Halloween costume I ever remember wearing was Batman. I watched Batman and Batman Returns on VHS endlessly, and doubly so for the animated series by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. And ironically, I’ve never once bought a Batman comic book, though I love most of the other media he’s in.
Christoper Nolan’s successful film series has only made me realize why I fell in love with the Dark Knight. And now, after having seen the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, I feel it only fitting to review the entire saga.
Batman Begins (2005)
Since this is a film giving Batman a solid origin story and first adventure, it’s fitting that Christian Bale is the heart and soul of the movie. Bruce Wayne’s story arc from tragic orphan to vengeance-seeker to costumed crime-fighter is an epic drama, taking him across the globe and under the tutelage of Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows before returning to Gotham to save it. Bale has to act for two throughout the film, being both the tortured Bruce Wayne and the legendary Batman.
I love how dark this film is. Not just thematically, but visually. This is the Gotham I remember from the comics and from the animated series. And I love the central theme of fear that pervades it. Combined with Hans Zimmer’s grand score and the unsettling addition of Scarecrow, there’s a lot to draw the first-time audience into this film and into the whole Batman franchise. And it grounds the comic book premise with something more real, things like organized crime and re-appropriated military prototypes. Even with the sequel hook at the end, this film is strong enough to stand up as its own story.
The Dark Knight (2008)
If Christian Bale’s Batman was the core character from the first film, then Heath Ledger’s Joker steals the spotlight in The Dark Knight. And really, that’s the whole point of the film. The Joker is a psychopath clown who shows up and sows chaos for both the Gotham City police and the mob. Batman is just trying to keep up, which makes the climax all the more satisfying because he finally lives up to his earlier statement: “Batman has no limits.” It’s more telling that Batman seems to have more screen time than Bruce Wayne, and almost as much screen time as the Joker (he just can’t resist getting in front of a camera).
Aaron Eckhart gives a great performance as Harvey Dent, a good foil to Batman with his own demons in his zeal to save Gotham from corruption. Gary Oldman shines a lot more as Jim Gordon, being more of Batman’s partner than Alfred (Michael Caine) was in the last film. Even Morgan Freeman gets to be a little more dramatic toward the end of the film, calling out Batman on some of his more extreme tactics against the Joker.
And as for Maggie Gyllenhaal… I got nothing. The Rachael Dawes character in both films isn’t that interesting. She has a lot of spirit when played by either Gyllenhaal or Katie Holmes, but she’s mostly a spectator on the heroic side. It’s more up to characters like Gordon and Batman to do the major work, which they pull off beautifully by the end.
This film is my favorite of the series, building up the suspense of the Joker as opposed to the mystery of Batman’s previous foes. Heath Ledger gave us a stellar performance near the tragic end of his life and it makes me wish I had paid more attention to him as an actor before. The film also dares to tear into its cast after introducing them in Batman Begins, showing their humanity through suffering and some very emotional dialogue.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Set eight years after The Dark Knight, the film centers around the fragile peace of Gotham since Harvey Dent’s death and Batman’s disappearance. When a mercenary leader named Bane shows up to finish the work that Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows started, Batman has to come out of retirement for one last showdown to save his city, even though he’s on the verge of losing everything in his life as Bruce Wayne. Gotham becomes a war zone between Bane’s followers and the few precious heroes willing to stand up for justice and order, with people like Batman and Catwoman able to tip the scales of victory.
Christian Bale returns as the heart and soul of the film franchise, taking up more of a central role here than he did in The Dark Knight. He also gets some nice character development when playing off my other two favorite characters in this film: GCPD Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). Blake is a great new character, showing us an honest man’s view of Gotham and a true hero without a mask; his role in the final scene alone is possibly my favorite moment in the entire film. And Anne Hathaway really shines as Catwoman, being a wonderfully talented and snarky femme fatale who gives Batman a run for his money. I thought it was nice that they even included Holly Robinson (Juno Temple) as her friend and as a nice nod to Batman: Year One; it makes Catwoman all the more human and gives her someone to talk to, just as Batman has Alfred.
I have to admit, though, that one of my most serious disappointments in this film was its main villain. Tom Hardy’s Bane is brutal without apology, willing to crush opponents while still keeping a sophisticated air. But sadly, his mask makes half his dialogue garbled to the point of being incomprehensible, and his motivation is a little hazy. I figured that the filmmakers were going for Bane as a revolutionary leader, trying to lead an uprising in Gotham against its corrupt government and social elites, but after seeing this film, he gets so blatantly villainous in view of the public that it’s hard to see how even the cynical people of Gotham–who proved their integrity at the end of The Dark Knight–could take his words so seriously. And finally, I would have cut out the role of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) altogether. She doesn’t really contribute much to the film and her role in the big twist at the end just cheapens Bane’s role as the mastermind behind the plot to destroy Gotham.
Ultimately, The Dark Knight Rises is to The Dark Knight what Return of the Jedi was to The Empire Strikes Back. While the third film raises the stakes and brings a lot of character arcs to a close, it doesn’t have the same emotional intensity and tight focus of the second film, and sometimes drags things out just for the sake of dramatic tension. But even so, I like this film and think it’s a wonderful conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy. It’s a story that explores the suffering of Bruce Wayne’s life and what the people of Gotham can do when inspired by the legend of the Dark Knight.
The entire Dark Knight trilogy works out for me on both a visual and thematic scale. Besides bringing comic book characters to life in a fairly realistic way, the films also have a great setup of challenges for Batman to overcome. In Batman Begins, it’s fear; in The Dark Knight, it’s chaos; and in The Dark Knight Rises, it’s despair. But in every instance, Batman never gives up, and that is why, now and forever, he’ll always be my true hero and inspiration for good.
Bibliography: Batman Begins. Directed by Christoper Nolan. Story by David S. Goyer. Screenplay by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. Produced by Larry J. Franco, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, and Benjamin Melniker. Composed by Hans Zimmer. Perf. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Cillian Murphy. Syncopy. Warner Bros. Pictures. US release date: June 15, 2005.
The Dark Knight. Directed by Christoper Nolan. Story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan. Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Produced by Kevin De La Noy, Jordan Goldberg, Benjamin Melniker, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, and Christopher Nolan. Composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Perf. Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman. Legendary Pictures, Syncopy. Warner Bros. Pictures. US release date: July 18, 2008.
The Dark Knight Rises. Directed by Christoper Nolan. Story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan. Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Produced by Kevin De La Noy, Jordan Goldberg, Benjamin Melniker, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, and Christopher Nolan. Perf. Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman. DC Entertainment, Legendary Pictures, Syncopy. Warner Bros. Pictures. US release date: July 20, 2012.