Top 10 Things Chris Nolan Got Right With His Batman Trilogy
The Top Ten
It's a funny thing about the Joker. I'm not sure what "definitive" means here because I don't know that there really will ever be a "definitive" interpretation. It's a character at once iconic and vague, one perfectly well captured by Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill in other iterations. But what Heath Ledger did was not just make the character his own, but redefine it in staggering ways. Heaven help the next guy who attempts to don that makeup and grin, because this was uniquely standard-setting, and in some ways it sums up what Nolan did with the universe, bending it to his will and filtering it through his own sense of these events in a hyper reality.
The Joker was AMAZING! Christian Bale was a good Bruce Wayne but once he puts on the bat suit he's just silly.
Like a number of things, it felt like James Gordon was a bit of a wasted opportunity in "The Dark Knight Rises. " But the strength of the character was still enough to yield the only choked-up moment for me in the entire trilogy, when Batman reveals his identity to the man who once put a coat around a boy's shoulders to let him know the world hadn't ended. That wouldn't have been as powerful if the character hadn't been so well wrought by one of the cinema's best actors, Gary Oldman, throughout. Beginning with a beat cop on the streets of Gotham in "Batman Begins" (a lone man of honor in a city of corruption) on through acts of heroism in "The Dark Knight" and culminating in a Commissioner commanding respect in "The Dark Knight Rises, " this was the most definitive revelation of the series. Someone finally got Gordon right.
This was the one thing no one had attempted yet, and it was the obvious way back into the franchise. But David Goyer's vision of it was fascinating, mythos-bending and structurally captivating. The first half hour of "Batman Begins" is some of the best work of the trilogy, establishing the murder of the Waynes, Bruce's fleeing the city to discover his purpose, falling in with Ra's al Ghul and the League of Shadows and eventually coming back to Gotham to take his place as protector. It's a full hour before we see him decked out in costume as the narrative borrows a lot from "Year One" to show Bruce finding his feet. All of this went a long way toward building character but it also established one of if not the best superhero origin stories on film that we've ever seen.
This comes with a caveat. Visually speaking, Gotham City was nebulous throughout the series, and that's somewhat problematic. But one could smartly explain that inconsistency away by noting the city's shifting sense of self throughout, and it's that notion in particular that bought it a spot on this list. Gotham has been a character throughout, Batman's mistress finally given full, complex bloom. That has always been a crucial element of the mythos and one sorely lacking in every incarnation ever committed to film. Nolan and company understood the importance and always looked to that idea for further complexity in shaping the universe.
The Gotham City Police Department was such a unique element of the Batman mythos that Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka managed a 40-issue comic series ("Gotham Central") centered on the force that was every bit as enthralling as the Dark Knight narratives happening on the periphery. From the word "go, " Nolan has made sure the GCPD wasn't just some plot device but part of the fabric of the story. Drawing in Flass from the "Year One" arc in "Batman Begins" to add to the notion of a corrupt Gotham, putting Batman on the run from the force at the end of "The Dark Knight" and bringing the boys in blue face-to-face with Bane's army in "The Dark Knight Rises, " Nolan got it.
"The Dark Knight Rises" first raised eyebrows when the initial production still of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman was revealed. What's up with that outfit? The goggles make "ears? " Why is she on the Batpod? A lot of grumbling ensued, but context is everything, and really, none of that mattered when it came to addressing the character of Selina Kyle. Indeed, she's never referred to as "Catwoman" in the film, and it's a willful choice, putting all the focus on a frisky, frail, strong-willed and street-smart character with a warm center. That's who Kyle is, and dare I say it, Nolan got the character more than Tim Burton did, however fun Michelle Pfeiffer's performance may have been.
Even though Michael Caine's Alfred Pennyworth -- butler to Bruce Wayne and caretaker to a battered Batman -- was unfortunately rendered in overt strokes in the new film (a stiff upper lip giving way to sniveling raw emotion felt out of character), it was nevertheless this relationship that had to work. And it did, the final film putting a nice bow on things, narratively speaking. Caine has done a marvelous job throughout of maintaining the even keel that is Alfred, being equal parts father and friend, joshing brother and nagging wife.
On one hand, I really don't like the design of the Tumbler and I never have. But on the other, it's always been strange to me to consider a sleek, well-designed and engineered ride for Batman, which is why tethering it organically to the world of the film was always going to be important. The idea of using Wayne Industries to fill Batman's gadgetry needs works, and particularly, the ties to military and infantry prototypes gave the whole enterprise a slapdash sheen that worked in its favor. Things like the Batpod and the Bat might have proven to be a bit off the range, but the bridging vehicle-turned-Batmobile was a cool and innovative touch.
The White Knight of the trilogy's second film was well-played by Aaron Eckhart, but it was the character's implementation in the script that was really distinguishing. I'm less enthused by how Nolan chose to represent Two-Face in the film, even if it's understandable in some way, but Eckhart's do-good, forthright passion for justice in the role of Gotham's District Attorney was crucial to the themes being mined in "The Dark Knight. " He wasn't some throwaway Billy Dee Williams element, and obviously, he had a little more going on below the surface than did Tommy Lee Jones in "Batman Forever. " But that's a put down with faint praise. He was perfectly utilized as a character.
When you look out over the trilogy, there are countless callbacks and references to Batman arcs throughout history, many of which were noted in a list here last week. But in addition to those there are even nods to things like, say, "Prodigal, " which is the word that came to mind when I saw the final image of "The Dark Knight Rises, " and even Killer Croc (of all things). That dedication to the stories that came before without attempting to reinvent the wheel (even if composting got a bit out of hand in the final installment) has brought the series a lot of goodwill from the fans and is something no other filmmaker has respected quite so much when saddling up to the Caped Crusader.