Well, that’s all folks! Christopher Nolan has swawn that The Dark Knight Rises (2012) is the final chapter of The Dark Knight Trilogy, a film saga which in many ways, set the bar for comic book adapatations to a whole new level. Whether it be dark or otherwise, what he has simply achieved is a standard of franchise movie making, which goes a step beyond the mundaine tranferance from source to screen. He took the subject of Batman, drew from more obscure comic book sources, added a more plausable flavour to proseedings and more importantly, made a film, rather than an episode.
If Batman Begins (2005) had been the only film in this revival, I would have been a happy man, with Begins taking one of the top spots in my Top Ten, but that wasn’t to be. Back in 2005, Nolan was just moving into the mainstream. He had his indie hit, Memento (2000) and his remake of Insimnia (2002) behind him, but Batman Begins was being re-interpreted and revived by an unknown and untested action director. In short, no-body thought that this was going to work. Well, they were wrong.
Nolan brought a taste of something quite different to table, avoiding the traps of falling back on the ten-a-penny and predictable villains, instead choosing lesser known ones, a making this about Batman for the first time. Creating a plausible motivation, skill set and avenues to pursue, Batman Begins was not only a realistic take on the genre, but a film about Bruce Wayne in which the action played second to this complex character story.
So, three years later, after the critical and commercial success of Batman’s return, The Dark Knight (2008) premiered, but not after the tragic death of one of its leads and the man who played the most sought after villain of the Batman universe, Heath Ledger, aka Joker. It was as much his performance and the interest in his untimely death, only 29 at the time of his passing, which helped propel The Dark Knight to the heights which it would enjoy. But The Dark Knight was a tightly scripted masterpiece, taking the franchise and the story to the next level.
Begins had left Batman as a character with a cause and methodology, both elements which would be challenged to epic effect in the second film, from a director who had proven himself once, but nobody expected to do so again. This is the freedom which is needed to produce real, unfettered art. So far, we have a similar model to Star Wars (1977), with its sequel taking the franchise to new and unexpectedly satisfying levels, but would it end with another Return Of The Jedi (1983), with the need to satisfy its audience with grand scales action and an epic conclusion draining the substance out of the film itself?
Not quite, but this was not The Dark Knight. With a story taking up from TDK but 8 years later, I was hoping for that gap to have been filled with Batman fighting those villains who are less likely to feature in Nolan’s universe, such as The Penguin and The Ridler, though he may have already appeared in The Dark Knight as Mr. Reese, but anyway, that didn’t happen. Wayne had been sulking for 8 years after the death of his girlfriend and D.A. Harvey Dent, “Gotham’s White Knight”, whole death would lead to the Dent Act, which gave the judisury and the police power to lock up criminals without parole with much greater ease, there by cleaning up the streets of Gotham. But he needed to return to fight The League of Shadows once again, going full circle in order to save Gotham City from both the leagues’ relentlous desire to sack the city and its peoples disillusionment.
The plot takes its cues from Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of To Cities, which was quoted by Gordon (Gary Oldman) in one of the final scenes at Wayne Manor but Nolan also chooses to take Batman out of the action for a while, a questionable choice only to allow Bruce to discover what most of the audience can would out in five minutes, yet it takes him 5 months! You don’t need the rope and you need to fear death, Jeez! But the finale makes up for any of the films shorter comings and it was the weakest of the three, but weaker that what I consider to be two of the greatest films of all time, well, that still can’t be bad.
What I love about Nolan’s trilogy goes beyond the films themselves. Its the justified hype, the old school approach in a world of changing values and release stratagies. He made a film in 2005, and it worked, so he made a second in 2008 and shattered box office records and took critics and viewers by storm. He also took IMAX to a new level by embracing the large screen format and filming so much of his movies in the cumbersome but beautiful HD format. Then, it was 4 years before his final and eagerly antisapated threequel would hit, but not before he made his own pet project as a sweetner from Warner Bros. to come back to Batman, Inception (2010), which again was critically aclaimed as well as a summer blockbuster!
This is in contrast to Harry Potter (2001 – 2011), Twilight (2008 – 2012) and the upcoming Hunger Games (2012) sequels which were all aiming to be an annual feature, with little integrity to the franchise as a whole, rather just making sure that the films were released. That’s not say that any of those franchises were bad, but just think how they might have turned out with the time to nurture them? Then we have Marvel, who have tried something amazing with there Avengers super mash-up movie, with each main character having their own blockbuster first, leading to Marvel Avengers Assemble 3D this summer, and with a whole new wave leading up to next one, in 2015. This is different, stabilised and regular but it does at least play faithfully to intent of the source materials and their ideals and is a new way of making comic book movies. But in many ways and to their credit, The Dark Knight Trilogy are not just comic book movies, they are fully realised films in their own rights.
Star Wars is making its grand come back in three years and how will that play out? They have always come out three years apart, but with Disney leading the way, George Lucas hopefully pushed in to background leaving the director’s chair open added to the fact that Disney now own Marvel Studios who are responsible for The Avengers, then will they maintain this classic release strategy or adopt something more akin to Marvel?
And how will Nolan’s Dark Knight, or Zack Snyder’s/Nolan’s upcoming Man Of Steel play into the planned Justice League movie? In short, this could be one hell of a decade for blockbusters or it could be one hell of disappointment. Let alone Star Trek’s return thanks to J.J. Abrams, who is making them in the traditional manner, with one film at a time and see how it goes but either way, The Dark Knight’s journey is over, his legacy is secured in both his saga and in the annals of film history.
At this time of the year, it is worth sparing a thought for those who lost their livers back on the 20th July 2012, at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado.