Brandyn Johnson's Batman Film Retrospective (Part III)
Batman Begins (2005)
Batman and Robin may be the movie that represents how to kill a franchise, but Batman Begins is the opposite, the posterchild for how to reboot/revitalize a franchise.
I will just come out and say it. I love the Nolan Batman trilogy to pieces, they are my favorite movies of all time. Feel free to call me a Nolan fanboy or a "Nolanite" (outside of his Batman movies I have only seen Inception so I don't have an opinion of him as a director outside Batman). If you find The Dark Knight trilogy overrated or it's just not your cup of coffee, that's absolutely fine. I won't lose sleep over it because it won't tarnish my enjoyment of the films. I say this because I notice a very vocal group that seems to despise them or simply think they are overrated and anyone who likes them is an idiot who doesn't know "real cinematic art." Um...okay fine.
Batman Begins is my favorite of the Dark Knight trilogy. The Dark Knight is an amazing movie but Begins was just better to me. I enjoyed Rises but it's easily my least favorite.
The reason why I like these movies is because it's more like a deconstruction of the Batman. It takes place in a pretty realistic universe so we see how Batman and some of these villains would be like in real life. Christian Bale dons the batsuit and he is my favorite Batman. Yes the voice was a little over-the-top [in the sequels], but all in all I think he was an excellent portrayal of the psychologically tortured soul Bruce Wayne, and his rage fueled heroic alter ego Batman.
Even though this is an origin movie, it isn't boring because the hero's origin is nicely tied into the plot and the villain he's fighting in a way that feels natural and not contrived. The reason Batman Begins is my favorite is because it just...flows. As in, the pacing is pretty good and there are no disjointed events or happenings, everything ties into the story and plot of the movie like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. It takes itself seriously, but isn't totally humorless (has a dry sense of humor that works well for the universe and character). It's also the most lighthearted and uplifting. The theme is fear, and throughout the movie we see Bruce take his fear and channel it into something amazing to help out the greater good, as well as using it as a weapon to intimidate those who would prey on the weak. But it's also more sophisticated than the average superhero movie. It isn't just a series of fights and disjointed conflicts leading up to a showdown with a one dimensional bad guy, it's about fighting bad politics and corruption itself in a seemingly hopeless city, and about making Batman a symbol, or as Bruce puts it "a dramatic example to shock people out of apathy", as it is that same apathy that allows bad guys in real life to win much of the time.
Lastly, I thought that Ra's Al Ghul was a great villain (excellently portrayed by Liam Neeson) and frankly he was better written than the Joker and Bane. (Take notes Iron Man 3, this is how villain twists should be done). He isn't trying to causing chaos for the hell of it ( in any credible story the villain should have a motive other than " just because he's evil/crazy"). He sincerely believed that what he was doing was ultimately better for the greater good, like Ozymandias in Watchmen. In the sequels it even sort of raises the question "was Ra's Al Ghul right?" With Gotham City being a breeding ground for criminal scum like Joe Chill and the Joker it almost makes it seem like no matter how much Batman does it will be consistently plagued with corruption and on occassion flat out terrorism. But in the end, there are plenty of good and innocent people worth saving and that Ra's al Ghul's brand of justice is so extreme that he's hardly better than other terrorists.
I also got a kick out of Scarecrow, played by Cillian Murphy and was disappointed he didn't have as more screentime or a bigger role in sequels.
It was both the Batman movie we deserved, and the one we needed. Especially after Batman and Robin.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Much like Batman Returns, The Dark Knight is decidedly darker than its predecessor. However, the difference between the two movies is that in TDK, the darker tone and overall tragic events and ending serve the overall story of the series. It takes the ideas presented in Batman Begins and it expands on them. I'm just glad they were creative enough to not name it Batman Continues.
Taking place a year after the events of Batman Begins, Batman taken a huge bite out of organized crime in Gotham City. This is also due to the city's new D.A., Harvey Dent, who is actually able to prosecute criminals and get them behind bars permanently whereas before it was simply a revolving door as previous prosecuters were either not skilled enough or too afraid of the mob to effectively put the bad guys away for good. Desperate, the mob turns to a colorful criminal mastermind known as the Joker to neutralize Batman so they can control the city again. However, once they "let the clown out of the box", it becomes clear that he has his own agenda for Gotham City.
The Joker provides an interesting foil for Batman because he challenges Batman's ideals and beliefs regarding bad guys. Toward the beginning Bruce tells Alfred, "criminals aren't complicated, you can beat them once you figure out what they're after." But as Alfred puts it, "some men just want to watch the world burn". How do you reason with someone who has no end game, no leverage you can use against him? Whereas Batman believes that anyone can be a hero, Joker believes that everybody is really a monster without the rules and inhibitions that come with living in a civilized society. He believes civilized society is just a facade and that humans are on an instinctual level, very selfish creatures who want to steal and kill. Something I've always found ironic is how oppososing they are visually. Batman, who believes in heroism and justice dresses in black and is always grim and brooding whereas the Joker has a colorful appearance and more upbeat (albeit insane) demeanor. As others have pointed out before, the scary part is that Joker sort of has a point, evidenced by some occurances in human history. Plus, by the end of the movie he manages to take Gotham's most righteous "white knight" and turn him into a monster.
Heath Ledger steals the show as the Joker and while I feel his death caused the movie's praise to be a tad inflated, that doesn't change the fact that he did an amazing job. Aaron Eckhart was also fantastic as Harvey Dent/Two-Face and his performance is pretty underrated. Two-Face stole the show for me at the end. Another reason why I love the Dark Knight is because it breaks the mold. Let's just say the hero definately doesn't get the girl at the end, and everything isn't hunky dory at the end. Batman has to make a huge sacrifice and it's not the typical Hollywood ending at all. It's not a typical superhero or action flick where the characters are black and white, the good guy simply has a punch up with the bad guy until he wins, and that's that. It's a morality tale about the clash of ideals, which is why some people would classify it more as a crime drama guest starring Batman characters, but I think it's an interesting and more sophisticated interpretation of the universe and I like a movie that leaves room for contemplation and discussion. Rather than just, "I'm Batman, you're a bad guy, I beat you up, get the girl, and go home."
If you haven't heard this a million times by now it's a must see. Swear to me you'll see it. SWEAR TO ME!!
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The Dark Knight Rises is my least favorite of Nolan's trilogy, but it's still a solid movie and a good conclusion to the saga.
Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Gotham City's streets have been cleaned up and its a safer place to live than it's ever been. This is mainly due to the Dent Act, which has effectly wiped out organized crime in Gotham for good. As such, Batman isn't really needed anymore and he has been on hiatus (that and he is now an enemy of the state after taking the fall at the end of TDK). However, Gotham's peace was built on the lie and covering up of the truth about Harvey Dent, something that has been mentally troubling Commissioner Gordon. When a new criminal mastermind known as Bane comes to town and sinks Gotham into anarchy, the Dent lie might just come back to haunt them and Batman finds that he's needed more than ever.
TDKR brings everything full circle. The theme of TDK was escalation and in Rises, Batman finds himself at rock bottom and must...Rise. For the first time he finds himself at the mercy of an opponent who is physically superior and must rediscover the will to live for both Gotham City, and himself.
Christian Bale reprises the role for the last time as Batman and Tom Hardy is Bane. Hardy does a great job of acting through his eyes and gestures, though looking back Dwayne Johnson would have been ideal (especially since he has the more fitting skin color for it given the character's ethnic background and nationality in the comics, but mostly because Johnson is bigger whereas they had to use camera tricks to make Hardy seem taller than he is). Anyway casting nitpicks aside, TDKR brings everything full circle. In Batman Begins, Ra's Al Ghul thought Gotham was beyond saving through conventional means or Batman's heroism. That's why I love the sequence where Bruce hallucinates seeing him and Ghul says something along the lines of "But the peace was based on a lie!" referencing the Harvey Dent situation and posing the question was Ra's plan the better way after all? Personally I thought it would have been better had Ra's actually turned out to be alive and they had had a longer conversation about it. Also in Batman Begins it touched on learning to pick yourself up when you fall, and in Rises that's exactly what Bruce must do.
The reason Rises is my least favorite is because pacing wise it just feels slower and more disjointed. In reality its run time is only ten minutes longer than The Dark Knight, but it feels much longer because there are some slow and flat out boring parts. Also, Batman does not have much screentime in costume. The Stock Exchange heist, the first fight with Bane, and the rematch with Bane are the only times when he is in costume. I mean it's still a superhero movie guys, we want to see the actual costumed alter ego more so than the man behind the mask, even though I guess that is kind of the point. It didn't bother me too much but still. Also the movie just has a couple plotholes that are just distractingly big.
Still though, it was a thrilling conclusion to the trilogy and worth seeing. I was really sad to see this trilogy end, but it will live on in DVDs and well made fan films on YouTube. I hope you enjoyed this Retrospective, and now I must Crash this page....with no survivors!