In the world of comic book movies, there is one that soars high above the others. Despite the overwhelming success of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers earlier this summer, its grittier, darker predecessors Batman Begins and The Dark Knight hold steadfast. After four years of anticipation, rumors, and mixed feelings over casting, the third and final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series is finally at hand.
Though The Dark Knight holds most of the spotlight for the series so far – understandably so, with a remarkable performance by the late, great Heath Ledger – Batman Begins deserves a second watch. After the unintentional hilarity of the Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin (1997), Nolan (Memento, The Prestige, Inception) and screenwriter David S. Goyer (Dark City, Blade, Man of Steel) began work on a reboot that has become a now modern classic – a realistic take on caped crusaders.
Delving deep into what motivates Bruce Wane into taking on the bat, Batman Begins (2005) explores the humanity in its characters. Similar forces drive the heroes and villains in Nolan’s Gotham, and as Batman’s story progresses, the line between them becomes more and more blurred. Rather than jump right into Bruce Wayne’s transformation to Batman as previous incarnations, Nolan explores his fear, martial arts training, and eventual metamorphosis. Wayne’s history with his mentor and eventual enemy, the draconian Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) is exposed through a series of back-stories. The result is a believable hero, one who left audiences more than eager to see what happened next.
Christian Bale has described his role as four separate entities – Batman’s terrifying image to his foes, Bruce Wayne’s shallow playboy persona, the young man hell-bent on revenge, and the man who becomes Batman – a man with a purpose. From a charming, sociopathic serial killer (American Psycho) to an emaciated machinist (The Machinist), Bale has time and again shown that he will go to extreme lengths to get into character. His nuanced portrayal of Batman toys with Nolan’s fluid notions of good and evil in a way that is utterly captivating and believable.
The Dark Knight re-enforces the strength not only of Bale, but also of Nolan’s supporting characters. Gary Oldman gracefully plays Jim Gordon with a subtlety rarely seen in his outrageous characters. From confused police sergeant to a solid follower of Batman’s ideals, Gordon inspires everyday-Joe heroics. Michael Caine is, as ever, perfection as the wise, sarcastic Alfred, keeping Batman as grounded as he can be. Where Katie Holmes lacked chemistry with Bale in Batman Begins, Maggie Gyllenhaal stepped into the role with the fire that Rachel Dawes needed.
Of course, the real star power in The Dark Knight is the late Heath Ledger. His performance as the Joker not only set itself apart from Jack Nicholson’s; it rivals the most iconic villains in cinema. The chaotic mania was so ensconced in Ledger’s eyes that it’s difficult to not equate his untimely death with the character. From his artfully crafted Joker voice to specific movements, body language, and wry humor, Ledger literally stole the show from its titular character.
The Dark Knight kicked up its effects and design, from Harvey Dent’s “Two-Face”, to the infamous Batmobile chase scene involving IMAX footage, an overturned truck, and a truly awesome Batpod transformation. The film is held in such high regard that The Dark Knight Rises has some tough competition, from its new characters, villains, and the end of an epic story.
Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy join the cast as Catwoman and Bane, two characters that have previously been immortalized in respectively phenomenal (Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns) and absurd (Jeep Swenson, Batman & Robin) performances. Hardy has demonstrated in trailers that he makes a convincing, notably grunt-less Bane, and Hathaway appears to purr convincingly enough. She will no doubt face the most scrutiny, after the failure of Halle Berry’s Catwoman, and Pfeiffer’s iconic portrayal of the femme fatal. Nolan seems to give the feline villainess more of an anti-heroine role, challenging Batman while, perhaps, coming to his aid.
For big Batman fans, the questions keep piling up – will Ra’s al Ghul make his return? Is Marion Cotillard really only playing a potential love interest, or is she Ra’s al Ghul’s sometimes-good, sometimes-evil daughter, Talia? What about Joseph Gordon Levitt? Will Batman make it out alive? Nolan is known for his secrecy, and despite titillating scenes revealed in trailers and TV spots, there is absolutely no way he doesn’t have some surprises up his sleeves.
For midnight moviegoers, the time to act is now. AMC alone has sold 100,000 advance tickets, and there are still three weeks to go til opening night. Die-hard fans bought tickets in bulk the morning they were available, and hopefully some will be dressing up in costume for this momentous event. Will the third Batman epic beat The Avengers’ climbing box office success? Only one thing is certain – movie fans around the globe hold their breath in anticipation of Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.
For Fans Of: Batman, Christopher Nolan, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight
Why We're Excited: epic conclusion, Catwoman, the Batwing!