In 1997, Batman & Robin did something horrible. No, we’re not talking about all those dreadful puns…we’re talking about the fact that it killed a franchise. After the release of that movie, it would be another eight years until the Caped Crusader finally returned to the big screen. As difficult as that near decade long wait may have been for fans, it turned out to be more than worth it! After slimming himself down for The Machinist, Christian Bale was an extremely unlikely choice for the role of Bruce Wayne, although arguably even more unexpected was Warner Bros.’ decision to hire Christopher Nolan to helm the reboot. At that point in his career, he had directed three superb movies, but nothing which immediately stood out as the type of thing that would prepare him to tackle DC’s (arguably even the world’s) most iconic superhero. Well, as we would all soon learn, they couldn’t have found anyone better both to play the character and to usher in a new era of movies. To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition, we take a look back at the impact that all three installments of the epic trilogy of movies on the world as Batman, as well as reliving some of the best moments from them.
When compared to what came before, Batman Begins took a very different approach to Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman. The iconic scene featuring the death of his parents was still included, but this movie spent a notable amount of time exploring his relationship with them, and dedicated a huge chunk of the movie to dealing with the after-effects of that traumatic experience. We also got to see Bruce’s training to become what Nolan clearly perceived The Batman to be; an elemental force of nature. Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul both made their first big screen appearances in Batman Begins, with their stories entwined in a way which ultimately saw their respective plans come together with Gotham City’s survival on the line and in the hands solely of the Caped Crusader. While movies often have a significant impact on the comic books they’re based on, the realistic and grounded world of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins instead picked various comic books as inspiration, but otherwise created a wholly original take on the character.
Perhaps the most controversial change to the Batman mythos made by this movie was the drastic redesign of the Batmobile, now known as the Tumbler. Gone were the cartoonish fins and impractically long chassis, and in was a very believable military grade vehicle which was more powerful and frightening than anything that came before. The Tumbler would eventually find its way into the pages of the comic books in this year’s Detective Comics #19 when the Caped Crusader used it as a way of making, “an impression”. However, as great as everything in Batman Begins was, it will surely forever be remembered for the way it ended. Paying homage to Frank Miller’s beloved “Year One” story, the movie didn’t leave the door open for a sequel. It kicked it in. “Take this guy. Armed robbery, double homicide, got a taste for the theatrical; like you. Leaves a calling card…” That calling card of course belonged to The Joker, and regardless of whether you read comic books on a weekly basis or not even once in your entire life, you will still KNOW that the Clown Prince of Crime is Batman’s deadliest and greatest foe.
When talking about The Dark Knight, it would be far too easy to make reference to nothing other than Heath Ledger’s incredible interpretation of The Joker. From the moment he pulled off his mask to his haunting laugh as he hangs beaten above Gotham City, this was a performance which will never be recreated so utterly perfectly and one which it is near impossible to imagine being topped. While he may not have exactly matched the look of his comic book counterpart, The Dark Knight’s Joker was in actual fact far more disturbing. No, we still don’t know how he got those scars, but that’s irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Ledger deservedly won a posthumous Oscar for his work in the movie, and it’s a terrible shame that he neither got the opportunity to receive that award or see how well received his unique take on the iconic comic book character was from even the most hardcore of fans. The Dark Knight would have a subtle – yet notable – impact on the comic book version of the character as well. While there have been many disturbing and frightening Joker stories, it was as if this movie pushed writers into taking the character to even more horrific levels, as was evident in Scott Snyder’s recent “Death of the Family” story arc.
While it’s easy to forget, The Joker wasn’t the only thing which made The Dark Knight a modern classic. The scenes shot in IMAX were visceral, beautiful and still just as breathtaking now as they were then thanks to Warner Bros.’ impressive Blu-ray transfer. Another villain also had a huge role in the sequel; the tragic Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two-Face. If it was amazing to see Heath Ledger bring The Joker to life on the big screen, then it was arguably equally as amazing to see the superb special effects create this villain’s grotesque appearance in such a believable and unforgettable fashion. Despite the fact that The Dark Knight was, like Batman Begins, full of fantastic performances, it was Christian Bale who also stole the show alongside Ledger in this installment of the franchise. Although it has since been the victim of countless parodies (which if nothing else shows just what a huge impact this movie has had on popular culture as a whole), the interrogation scene for example was one of the finest examples of acting you could hope to see, as was the clear chemistry between Bale and Ledger. The end of the movie left Batman on the run and in a very uncertain position. Could anything that followed hope to live up to what came before?
Well, what followed was The Dark Knight Rises. It’s now been well over a year since it was released, but fans are still bickering over whether or not Christopher Nolan’s finale to his Batman trilogy managed to outshine The Dark Knight. Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter all that much one way or another. It was still a very impressive way to bring the story of Bruce Wayne to an end. What was so unprecedented about this movie though, was of course the fact that it truly ended his story in a very literal sense. The movie didn’t close with Batman standing on a rooftop ready to continue his war on crime as so much of what has come before has done. The Dark Knight Rises instead did something that not even the comic books have tackled (at least not within current continuity) and showed us what happens when Bruce Wayne’s journey to avenge his parents is complete. This took real guts on Nolan’s part, as the movie gave Bruce a happy ending as he passed on the mantle to John “Robin” Blake. The message conveyed here was that The Batman is bigger than any one man; it’s a symbol. That may not have sat well with all, but it did make for an extremely satisfying conclusion to this particular take on the Caped Crusader.
Another part of what makes The Dark Knight Rises so special is the sheer amount of unforgettable moments it contains. Whether it’s the explosive ending or the thrilling action sequences with The Bat, there’s just so much on offer here that it’s impossible to list it all without numerous repeat viewings. Where Christopher Nolan truly excelled in this movie was with the fight sequences. Hans Zimmer’s score helped intensify the action throughout all three installments of The Dark Knight Trilogy, but the fact that the first battle between Batman and Bane was scored by only the noise of fists hitting flesh and grunts of pain is what makes it truly special. That and the fact that it would conclude with one of the most iconic scenes in comic book history of course. The punishing maneuver we’re referring to would be inflicted by Bane, brought expertly to life by Tom Hardy. With the majority of his face covered up, the British actor had to deliver as much emotion as possible through his eyes, something which he succeeded wonderfully at. The Dark Knight Rises would also give us the best take on Catwoman yet, thanks to Anne Hathaway. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the movie was the scene in which Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon finally discovers who is behind the mask of Batman. It’s something which has never been played out in the pages of the comic books, but was a chill inducing scene which again was a big part of making the conclusion so thoroughly satisfying.
And now, we have to look ahead to the future. With Ben Affleck set to play the Caped Crusader in Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman in 2015, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy is well and truly over. There were rumors that Christian Bale would return and speculation was at one point running rampant that it would be Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John “Robin” Blake who would be donning the cape and cowl in any future movies. While neither of these theories would come to fruition, Nolan’s contribution to Batman’s legacy is far from forgotten either in the hearts and minds of fans or in the pages of the comic books which are sold each and every month by DC. Comprising of three extraordinary films, there can no doubt that it will be remembered forever alongside other great trilogies like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Over the past 70+ years, we’ve seen many different takes on Batman in comic books, cartoons, video games, television series’ and movies. He’s a character who has been reinvented time and time again, and while that’s a trend which is set to continue, it is by no means an exaggeration to say that Christopher Nolan’s time working with the character will always be one of the most iconic.
The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition is available now on Blu-ray. Check out the full Batman News review for more information!