Having just watched the DVD of The Dark Knight Rises, I think its time I weighed in on Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies.
In 2005, I walked out of Batman Begins with a bunch of enthusiastic friends who really liked it, and I snobbishly declared it a serious, well-filmed and well-intentioned epic that makes the same mistakes Tim Burton’s Batman did. Only worse. It ends with a gas attack on Gotham City that by all rights should be the central focus of the movie, but isn’t. And really, the big scheme of Ra’s A-Ghul and The League of Shadows is completely under-motivated. They want to destroy an entire city. Why again? Because it’s corrupt? Huh? Why don’t you just kill the corrupt politicians. What’s with having to kill everybody? And there’s Liam Neeson explaining this goofy history of the League of Shadows how they caused The Plague and on and on, and I just don’t believe they’ve thought their cause all the way through. And then! The big gas attack, hits a few people, then it’s over and forgotten about and we’re treated to an unconvincing fight on a model train. And while I enjoyed Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, I thought his performance as Batman was laughable. Putting on hoarse voice and growling about everything seemed silly to me. Most of all, since the movie was grounded in some sort of reality, I kinda thought that the overly serious tone made Batman seem unnecessary. The movie had everything I wanted Tim Burton’s Batman to have: a gritty, realistic tone, big epic fights, a large canvas, and yet, it didn’t work. At its core, Batman Begins was soul-less.
Things that work in comic books don’t quite work in reality. Batman Begins is a glaring example of that. I wasn’t a huge fan of Tim Burton’s theatrical, puppet show Batman movies, but I after Nolan’s versions, I had to admit that Mr. Burton’s movies work in their own silly little universe. Yes, Burton couldn’t film action to save his life, made the character look funny and move funny, and gosh darnit, The Penquin riding that giant rubber duck?! And circus gangs after The Joker?! Don’t get me started, but after all is said and done, Michael Keaton works as Bruce Wayne/Batman. I buy that Bruce Wayne dresses up as Batman. And, as I found out later, that’s a big hurdle to jump over.
The Dark Knight in 2008 only seemed to exacerbate that problem. This big sprawling crime pic that many geeks hailed as “better than the Godfather” and such baloney, really called into question Batman’s usefulness and the likelihood that anyone would go to the trouble of being Batman. There’s this scene after Joker blows up the warehouse with Batman’s true love, where Batman is standing amidst the rubble, and the shot evokes 9-11 imagery, and all I could think of during the scene was, “Who’s the dork in the Batman costume.” IT DOESN’T WORK! Forget all the holes in the story, they’re just comic book-ish plot contrivances, I can live with them. I can’t live with the movie where the entire time I’m thinking, “Why does he dress up as Batman!? It’s stupid!”
So that leaves The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. And believe it or not, this movie works. Plot holes? By the truckload! Silly? BANE WITH A SEAN CONNERY VOICE? Bane’s stupid plot where anyone could simply shoot him and be done with it?!! Cops and Bad guys duking it out like it’s a union busting scene? Absolutely. It has a “Hoo! Hoo! Ha!! chanting scene straight out of a King Kong movie. And yet, despite everything, I buy Batman as Batman and even better, I like his chemistry with Catwoman. When they kiss and end up together, it warmed my heart a little. It took three films for Christopher Nolan to get me to believe his characters and get emotionally attached to them.
So to sum up: Christopher Nolan’s Batman films have look and feel of great movies, but they’re really just pulpy comic book movies. And they’re only barely successful as those sorts of stories. Like with Spiderman, the real great Batman movie has yet to be made.