Batman Month: The Nolan Trilogy Retrospective

daniel cohen looks back at christopher nolan’s batman films…

Beware: Batman Begins and the Dark Knight spoilers abound…

I was 13 years old when Batman & Robin came out in 1997. Remember that movie? Bat nipples. Ice puns. The Bat Credit Card. Well, you know the rest. And even being an immature 13 year old, I knew something was wrong with that movie. Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin is widely considered to be the worst superhero movie of all time, and deservedly so.

 

It turned one of the most bad ass characters of recent memory into a complete joke. It was fine in the 1960’s television show, but we had long moved on from that Batman. After Batman & Robin imploded both critically and financially, Batman took an 8 year leave of absence from the big screen. I’m as big a Batman fan as they come, but even I lost interest in the character during this time. The road back to Batman fandom was not an easy one. But finally, after all the rumors of Batman 5, Batman Vs Superman, Darren Aronofsky’s twisted Year 1, and Batman Beyond shenanigans, a little known film director named Christopher Nolan came along and directed Batman Begins. Not only did Nolan make Batman a household name again, but he changed the way I looked at movies forever.

In 2005, I wasn’t even paying attention to Batman Begins. I was 100% focused on the final Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith. That’s all I cared about. I barely noticed the Batman Begins trailers. The concept was also confusing to me. Was this a prequel to the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher series? I didn’t even know this was a reboot. It’s amazing to think how rare reboots were at the time, but there’s no doubt Batman Begins started that trend.
After the dust settled on Revenge of the Sith, it eventually dawned on me: ‘Oh, there’s a Batman movie coming out.’ In the pre-Batman & Robin days, the year a Batman movie came out was always an event. But even 8 years later, people were still steaming from Batman & Robin. I know I was. And that’s why the buzz on Batman Begins was so lackluster. I had absolutely no faith in this movie whatsoever. And as far back as I can remember, whenever a big summer movie was coming out, I always read everything about it, and watched as many clips as I could. Whether it was on the internet, or back in the movie magazine days, I always knew a shit load about a film before walking in. But with Batman Begins, I knew absolutely nothing…and it was incredible.

As I watched Batman Begins, a lot of things ran through my head. But the one thing I kept coming back to was this: ‘Wow…I had no idea a superhero movie could be this good.’ Yes, we had plenty of solid superhero movies before this like X-Men and the 1989 Batman, but Christopher Nolan changed the genre forever. These weren’t fun little summer blockbusters anymore…these were legit films. I loved everything about Batman Begins. I loved how we actually got to know who Bruce Wayne was. I loved that Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman were in this movie. I loved Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howards’ score. I loved the villains, yet still appreciated that Batman finally stole the show, and not them. I loved it all. But as I mentioned before, I loved knowing nothing about a movie before going in. When Liam Neeson was revealed as Ra’s Al Ghul…that genuinely shocked me. And as I’m sitting here watching this masterpiece, I thought to myself, ‘you know, it would be cool to see the Joker in this world, but they would never try to re-do what Jack Nicholson did. It’s too iconic.’ But when that Joker card is turned over in the final moments of the film, I simply said: ‘Holy shit…we are going to get the Joker in this Batman world. Game on.’

 

When a sequel was finally announced to Batman Begins, the Batman hype was back in full effect. In the three year build up to The Dark Knight, I followed every piece of news there was on this film. But of course, there was only one crucial question that surrounded this movie: Who was going to play the Joker? I remember all the names thrown around: Steve Buscemi, Robin Williams, Paul Bettany, and so on. I admit that I was thrown off when Heath Ledger was cast. But when I saw the first officially released photo of the Joker, I got on board. And I was one of those people who found it hard to let go of Jack Nicholson’s Joker. But as the build up to The Dark Knight got closer, and there were multiple reports of how incredible Heath Ledger’s performance was, it seemed inevitable he was going to out do Jack.

When I finally saw The Dark Knight at a midnight showing in North Hollywood, it was a much different feeling then Batman Begins. To be honest, I knew this was going to be something special, and something that was probably going to crack my top 5 all time favorite movies. What I didn’t expect though was to witness the greatest acting performance of all time. Yup. Call it a hyperbolic statement, I don’t care. Heath Ledger as the Joker in my opinion is the single greatest acting job in the history of cinema. Better than Marlon Brando in The Godfather. Better than Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Better than Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. I’m taking Heath Ledger…the end. The interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker is simply legendary. But the definitive Joker moment for me is ironically enough his final scene…hanging upside down on that ledge as he delivers his final line: ‘Madness as you know is like gravity…all it takes is a little push.’ And that final laugh he delivers…chilling.

 

But make no mistake. It’s not just the Joker that makes The Dark Knight the film that it is. It’s everything. Christian Bale will never be topped as this character. It’s just not going to happen. And as great as Heath Ledger is, I feel bad for Aaron Eckhart who really is a truly terrifying Two-Face. The Harvey Dent ark in this film is so damn tragic, Shakespeare would even applaud. Bottom-line: the Dark Knight isn’t my favorite movie of all time, but if someone wanted to argue that it was, I don’t have an issue with it.

The impact The Dark Knight left on me and the internet world is nothing short of amazing. This film really spawned a whole new era of podcasting, film discussion, and of course, more movie hype. When this film ended, the only thing people wanted to know was this: ‘When will we get another Dark Knight?’

And of course, five minutes after the Dark Knight ended, speculation on Batman 3 began, and never slowed down once…not for four years. People have the same hunger to see the Dark Knight Rises as they did when they walked out of the theater four years ago from the Dark Knight. It seems like only yesterday we were reading bull shit Johnny Depp is the Riddler, and Angelina Jolie is Catwoman rumors. Wow…that was four years ago. But after all the villain speculation, all the podcasts, all the articles, all the discussion, all the theories, all the hype…the Dark Knight Rises is mere days away. I feel like we aren’t meant to see this movie. That when the projector starts, our faces are all going to melt, ala Raiders of the Lost Ark. There is a part of me that’s sad that the build up will be over. So, I stress this to everyone: Get those last minute theories and discussion points in…because the four years is almost over. And I just want to thank David Goyer, Jonathan Nolan, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and of course the man of the hour, Christopher Nolan, and everybody else who worked on this trilogy. It’s been a blast, and I’m ready to see its conclusion. The legend ends.

Next time on Batman month – My review of the Dark Knight Rises.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.