I love comic books, DC Comics specifically. While Superman will always be my hero, I have a great affinity for Batman. I come and go with collecting the books but recently, after listening to some of Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcasts, I have been drawn back to the character. I have looked out some old comics, my dvd box set of the wonderful Animated Series from the 90s and I am beginning to re-visit his big screen adventures.
I have started with Christopher Nolan’s epic Dark Knight trilogy, hoping it was it as great as I remember. For the purposes of this article, I have assumed that if you are reading this, that you are aware of the films and wont go into too much detail in terms of plot instead sharing some general thoughts and ramblings. So, without further ado…to the Batcave!
Batman Begins (Dir, Christopher Nolan, 2005)
As I Batman fan I was apprehensive about another film being made about this great character. Christopher Nolan, at that time was a very promising director but with only Memento and Insomnia under his belt it was a risk for Warner Bros to hand him the keys to the batcave.
The more that came out about the film however, the more excited I got. It looked like Nolan was taking his ques directly from the comics. The Scarecrow as villian? He was the only really high profile member of Batman’s rouges gallery not to have been given the big screen treatment so seemed an obvious choice, however, we hear that Ra’s al Ghul will feature and Liam Neeson had been cast as Henri Ducard? This guys was delving right into the comics for inspiration. With Frank Miller’s Year One cited as a main influence my excitement grew.
I was not disappointed, I loved this film, it delivered on every level. I am a big fan of Burton’s Batman, but for the first time we had a Batman film that was actually about Batman. We open with Bruce Wayne on a mission to hone his fighting skills and, through flashbacks, we find out how he got to where he is, the death of his parents, the trial of Joe Chill and the involvement of mobster Carmine Falcone.
We actually see him become Batman, his training with The League of Shadows, working with Lucius Fox in The Applied Science Division of Wayne Enterprises. This Batman is grounded in reality, we are a million miles away from Bat Credit cards and rubber nipples here.
This is very much a set up film, Warner’s may have given Nolan the keys to the cave, but you get the feeling that he had to go make money first before they let him let his own story. It is a great action film with a Batman learning his trade.
The performances (for the most part) are spot on. Christian Bale nails the duality of the character. The thing I love most about The Bat is that is the opposite of Superman in many ways, but the most interesting is that while with Superman, Clark Kent is the character and Superman is what he can do, Batman however is the character and Bruce Wayne is his mask. I get the sense that Bale got that early on. He is ably supported by Michael Caine as a pitch perfect Alfred, Liam Neeson’s mentor turned antagonist and Gary Oldman as Lt Jim Gordon.
There are a few niggles in there, while it was great that they delved into Bat-lore and brought Ducard and Ra’s to the screen, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the way they were used. I also felt a little short changed by The Scarecrow. I am not a fan of multiple villains and feel that this Scarecrow could have stood alone as the main antagonist. The mask was fantastic and it just a shame that it was so under used. Then there is Rachel Dawes. Given the rich history of The Bat, why they felt the need to create a new character for the movie baffles me, let a lone cast Katie Holmes to play her.
They are minor annoyances though, I saw this 5 times at the cinema and many more times since on Blu Ray and including this latest time, I still love it. That final scene on the roof top with Gordon and Batman gives me chills every time, no, not the Joker card.
“I never said thank you…” says Gordon.
Batman replies.. “and you’ll never have to” Brilliant.
The Dark Knight (Dir, Christopher Nolan, 2008)
What a film, not only is this a near perfect Batman film, you could easily replace Batman with a cop or a soldier and the film would work. Often described as The Godfather of the comics/superhero genre, this is an earnest, realistic, devastating, brutal and stunning return to Gotham City.
Pulling again from the comics including the iconic Killing Joke story by the legendary Allan Moore and my all time favourite Batman story The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, we pick up with Batman as an established vigilante, working with Gordon to bring an end of organised crime. There are rumors of a new villain with a flare for the theatrics, a crazed killer dressed as a clown, but they also have a powerful new ally. Gotham’s new DA Harvey Dent. When Gordon, Bent and Batman meet on the roof of the G.C.P.D and join forces to stamp out crime, they set in motion a series of events that will change Gotham forever.
Heath Ledger’s Joker is simply sublime, using make up as war paint rather the “fell into a vat of acid” angle works a treat. He is a kinetic presence and what makes him so terrifying is that he has no real motive for what he is doing other than bringing utter chaos to Gotham. This Joker is a terrorist.
Aaron Eckhart is great too as Harvey Dent. Gotham’s White Knight, the opposite of Batman in as much as he is trying to save Gotham in the light of day while the Bat sticks to the shadows. He fairs less well when he descends into Two Face, suffering from the multi-villain curse again, I would have like to see him turned at the end and his story carried over into part 3, as he was certainly strong enough to carry a film on his own.
While Heath Ledger was the focal point of the movie and I get why, his performance was astonishing, he was playing The Joker and it appears he was given free licence to interpret the character and he did it brilliantly, however it is Gary Oldman who stands out for me in this film. His Gordon is understated and crucial. Promoted to Commissioner, he struggles with a team he can’t trust, a vigilante cant’t control and a family he can’t protect. His interactions with Batman are the closet on screen has ever come to getting close to the comics. I think he was hard done by not at least be nominated for an academy award.
The only small issue I had with it, and this time is not Rachel Dawes, she didn’t bother me as much here, maybe because she was played by the wonderful Maggie Gyllenhaal rather than the doe eyed talent vacuum that was Katie Holmes, but no, my issue here was the fact that Batman was looking for a way out. One of the fundamental character traits of Batman is that he is driven by vengeance, he wants to ensure that in his city no child will suffer as he did. He is looking to wipe out all crime not to hand off the responsibility to someone else.
That doesn’t take away from just how brilliant this film is. As breath taking and devastating as it was the first time I watched it, which I would be remiss for not mentioning was at The UK Premiere at the BFI IMAX in London 🙂
The Dark Knight Rises (Dir, Christopher Nolan, 2012)
This, sadly is where the wheels come off. It was always going to be a huge task to better The Dark Knight, added to that was the tragic passing of Heath Ledger. The void he left was impossible to fill.
I had my reservations long before the film reached the cinema, mainly due to the fact that Bane was touted as the lead villain. I have never been a fan of this character or the Knightfall story arc in which he broke Batman. With his inclusion and the Knightfall arc touted as the basis for large parts of the film, I found myself less and less interested. Turns out, Tom Hardy’s Bane was great and little did I know so much more would let me down.
Like The Dark Knight before it, the film opens strong with Bane and co pulling off a thrilling mid air kidnapping. We then go to Gotham, which we find has been free of organised crime for 8 years since the passing of The Dent Act. The Batman, also hasn’t been seen in 8 years, instead choosing to live as a crippled hermit, turning away from cape and cowl following the death of Rachel Dawes.
Batman is pressed back into action when Commissioner Gordon is injured and is dramatically unprepared to take on the hulking Bane. Broken and beaten Batman must fight his way back to Gotham, which is helpless against The League of Shadows.
Take nothing away from Nolan as a director, this is a solid thriller, it has some great moments and there is a lot to love. It ties the franchise together dovetailing with Batman Begins nicely. Tom Hardy is fantastic, making Bane more than just a hulking brute, giving him a posh British accent albeit muffled by his mask was a stroke of genius and makes him more terrifying. His dismantling of Batman is efficient and brutal. Anne Hathaway brings credibility to Catwoman and the end too is beautifully tied up. In all the days since Batman and Robin, I never thought we we see Batman done so earnestly, so seriously, I never thought Ra’s Al Ghul could be done once screen, let a lone Talia, but most of all, I never thought Bruce Wayne would get a happy ending. Here he does, and I liked it.
The main issue I have with this film is that it just does not remain true to the character of Batman. This is made more frustrating by what had been started with Batman Begins and perfected in The Dark Knight, is given up in favour of set pieces and explosions.
Where do I start? How about when we first meet Batman he has been away for 8 years because of the death of Rachel Dawes, this is a guy who was driven by vengeance following his parents death, so no one will suffer in his city the way he did just gives up? No, this goes against one of the fundamental things that makes him Batman, if anything Rachel’s death would make him more focused, more brutal and drive him further from being Bruce and deeper into being Batman.
Secondly, Miranda Tate/Talia Al Ghul, Batman would have figured that out, no problem. He is a world class detective, if not at first at least in the prison when he is told that the child had a protector, my 3 year old would put that together. (okay, so in this incarnation of the character, they don’t push the detective angle, so I can let that go).
The most annoying, infuriating part is the character of John Blake, the rookie Gotham P.D. cop, while played very well by the brilliant Joseph Gordon-Levitt, adds nothing to the film at all. We are meant to believe that he figured out that Bruce Wayne was Batman just by the look in his eye as they were both orphans? Come on. The hardest pill to swallow however was the through away line at the end, when the clerk handing him Bruce Wayne’s will says he should uses his real name (forget the image of every Batman reader in the theatre screaming Dick Grayson) we get a throw away reference to Robin. Are we supposed to believe that Bruce Wayne, who was trained to the peak of physical excellence by The League of Shadows, with unlimited financial resources (which are now gone), would leave the mantle of the bat to a rookie cop with no training and no financial resources? I am all for the suspension of disbelief, but come on.
Having said all that, I was an emotional wreck at the end of Rises, when he bids farewell to Jim Gordon. “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended”. Then at the end when Alfred sees Bruce, happy, contented and very much alive.
Thank you Mr Nolan for treating this great character with respect and dignity, a few daft moments in the third film aside, this was a wonderful trilogy and a great tribute to the character.
Thanks for reading. Hope you folks enjoyed yourselves, catch ya later on down the trail.