The trilogy the industry deserves right now

Starting with Batman Begins in 2005, and ending this year with The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has kept audiences glued to their seats. EDITOR-IN-CHIEF FARES CHEHABI looks at the quality, impact and future of this quintessential superhero series

Bruce Wayne, with tears of guilt and shock, manages to hear his father’s last words: “Bruce… don’t be afraid.” And so English director Christopher Nolan begins a legacy, as Bruce (Christian Bale) endeavours to embody his father’s dedication to changing his home, Gotham City, for the better, underneath the valiant guise of Batman.

Prior to the Wayne family’s fateful exit from the theater, Bruce had, whilst playing with close friend Rachel Dawes, fallen into a well. Trapped in its dark confines, bats flew around the poor boy, surrounding him in screeches and terror, before his father rescued him and reminded him: “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” In a bid to overcome his fear of bats, Bruce turns it into his symbol, understanding that he must become more than a man to act as the savior of his city.

The Dark Knight Trilogy’s most distinctive elements as a superhero movie are its realism and darkness. There are no superpowers in this trilogy Batman’s only advantage over a mere townsman is his relationship with Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), who runs the Wayne Enterprise’s Applied Sciences division and mask that soon becomes iconic to the citizens of Gotham City.

It should be noted that sentimentality does not go missing in The Dark Knight Trilogy, both Fox and Bruce’s butler, the warm-hearted Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), are happy to play father figures to Bruce and remind him that his actions could have dire consequences, which only adds to the film’s realism.

In Batman Begins (2005), Nolan introduces Bruce in a Bhutanese prison, where Bruce encounters Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), the leader of the League of Shadows, a long-established organization whose aim is to destroy cities overridden with corruption so that they can rebuild again. After training Bruce in the combative art of theatricality and deception, Ghul reveals that the League of Shadows was behind the falls of Rome and London years ago, and that Gotham City is next on the list. Bruce escapes the training center and is escorted back to Gotham by Pennyworth, only to have to save his city as the caped crusader, Batman, when Ghul returns with the plan to spread a fear-inducing serum throughout Gotham. Throughout the movie, Wayne makes a rule to himself: do not kill. At the end of the climactic fight, Batman tells Ghul, “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you,” before leaving him to die.

Three years later, Nolan returned to Gotham to direct The Dark Knight, introducing Heath Ledger as the mercurial, menacing Joker, a villain who is captured at the film’s end. There is no happy ending for the hero, either, as Batman goes into hiding after taking the blame for the murder of lawyer Harvey Dent. The film was incredibly well-received. According to review-aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it was the trilogy’s most lauded by critics with a 92 percent approval rate. The film became the 13th highest-grossing of all time and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, with Heath Ledger winning Best Supporting Actor, and the film winning Best Sound Editing.

It took another four years for Nolan to finish the trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises and mark the return of the League of Shadows. Nolan had simply believed that a trilogy’s third movie was rarely ever the best. The movie was the blockbuster hit of the summer, raking in more than $1 billion and garnering critical acclaim, with an 87 percent rating on
Rotten Tomatoes.

Talia al Ghul (Marion Cotillard), daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, disguises herself as Miranda Tate, a wealthy business associate of Bruce, in a bid to complete her late father’s mission and destroy Gotham. In the process, she employs the physically-imposing excommunicated member of the League of Shadows Bane (Tom Hardy). Bruce, made aware that his city is in trouble, attempts to return as the savior with the help of robber Selina Kyle’s alter ego Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), only for Bane to literally break his back and lock him in a pit far, far away from any sort of civilization, though he does grant Bruce access to both a doctor and a television showing a live feed of the situation in Gotham. Bane, who had earlier gained access to a nuclear bomb and is planning on using it to drive the citizens of Gotham into pure dread. When asked why he did not just kill him, Bane responds “Your punishment must be more severe,” and makes Bruce watch Gotham’s demise from his prison cell.

Flashbacks from Batman Begins find their way into the film in an effort to bring everything around in a 360-degree style – prior to finally climbing out of the pit and returning to save Gotham, Bruce remembers his father saying, “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

After Talia al Ghul dies, Batman attaches the nuclear bomb, only seconds from detonation, to his plane, nicknamed “The Bat”. He proceeds to fly over the nearest body of water and out of harm’s way for the citizens of Gotham, who watch in awe as the bomb detonates, killing Batman. A great feeling of both sadness and appreciation dawns over Gotham as several tributes are paid to Batman, before Nolan brings forth quite possibly the best ending the trilogy could have hoped for. Alfred Pennyworth, who had faced enough trauma and strain caring for Bruce, finds Bruce happily alive in the company of Selina Kyle in a scenic cafe in Florence, as it is revealed that Bruce exited The Bat after turning on the auto-pilot. The film concludes with rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) entering the batcave alone and watching as Batman’s suit rises from the ground, signifying that Batman was merely a symbol – anybody can be a hero.
And by telling three epic tales, whose themes are respectively and accurately described as “fear, chaos, and pain,” Nolan has set the benchmark for all superhero films to come. It should be noted that the trilogy’s average rating on Rotten Tomatoes is an impressive 88.7 percent. That said, there are those who have been picky with The Dark Knight Rises, pointing out several plot holes, though such comments were expected – one’s expectations can only be high after having witnessed the brilliance of its predecessor, The Dark Knight. Personally, I’ve grown used to a certain faltering authenticity in cinema and such plot holes would have to be severe to detract from a powerful narrative. The Dark Knight Rises’ flaws in this area by no means took away from the film’s quality as a whole.

It is unclear what will happen to the future of the Batman franchise after Nolan produced a trilogy that was so well done. Following the success of superhero ensemble film Marvel’s The Avengers last summer, Warner Bros. Studios announced on June 6 that a Justice League film is in development. Christian Bale has already expressed doubt in returning to play Batman once more.

And if a director were to pick up the Batman franchise again, it would have to take a vastly different tone to Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy to garner any sort of appropriate attention. And vastly different might not mean as good. There are all sorts of directions that the franchise could go – it could move to a more cartoonishly dark tone, like Tim Burton’s take on the superhero in the 1990s. Or, Batman could revert to a more classical, detective-like type of crimestopper – similarly to the cheesy 1960s television series.

As the latest Batman franchise comes to a close, Nolan’s involvement with DC super heroes will not. Next up on Nolan’s plate is next summer’s reboot of the Superman franchise, Man of Steel, in which he has taken on a “Godfather” producer role. One can only hope that he has passed on some sound advice to director Zack Snyder, who will aim to emulate the success of Batman Begins in telling a tale that describes the beginnings of one the world’s best known superheroes.