Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
Producer: Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, and Larry Franco
Cinematographer: Wally Pfister
by Jon Cvack
Throughout junior high and during the first couple years of high school I use to kick off most summers with the Indiana Jones trilogy, starting the series in June and ending before the fourth of July. I recall hot summer mornings, with the air conditioner running high, and my mom coming in and out of the house, refilling her water as she floated in the pool (she was a special ed teacher).
Before Indiana Jones it was Star Wars, inspiring to me to head straight to my toys and act out stories from its universe. And of course Back to the Future (1985) was a movie I remember from my earliest days of cinema, going so far as to provide a very distinct melancholy when I initially finished the trilogy, knowing that the story had concluded and that I could no longer live in the world; distinctly sad that such a story could never be possible.
The thing all of the great trilogies have in common is their ability to transport the viewer across approximately nine hours of time, all of which should be new and thrilling to watch - a limitation that relatively low budget television is simply unable to accomplish. A great summertime trilogy is filmmaking of the highest order, creating content that is loved by all - both lovers of cinema and the general moviegoing public.
There are of course single films that provide the same - Jaws, Jurassic Park, The Goonies, Stand by Me, etc. - but an entire action/adventure trilogy where the worst film is one of the greatest compared to most of its peers, is an incredibly rare accomplishment.
Having craved these types of films over the last few summers, The Dark Knight Trilogy has earned an equal position on the pedestal. I don’t rush to these films as I’m now so precious about over watching certain classic movies that, like a fine bottle of whiskey, I take them in small doses; often years apart.
Having just seen Dunkirk and catching Interstellar in the theater for a second time, I’ve admired Nolan’s commitment to realism, as it functions almost as a foil to Spielberg, with the pair both achieving equally impressive work with complete different styles. Nolan’s Batman is someone who took on a Christ-like story of returning after a long period of meditation, hardship, and training, ready to live his mission in life. I was surprised to see Christopher Nolan was only thirty years old at the time of production, as I swear the guy looks to be in his forties.
Christian Bale embodies the spirit of who I consider Batman (though I do hope Michael Fassbinder one day gets the chance to try it out). I think of all the other ways it could have gone, getting a more traditional dark and attractive man, and how easily the story could have become gaudy. The same goes for the rest of the cast - Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson all take on relatively supporting roles, sinking into them with such ease that I forgot how incredible the ensemble was. Like Nolan, Katie Holmes embodies the spirit of Rachel Dawes, providing my one major criticism of the trilogy when she was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Growing up with Dawson’s Creek, which I still think is her best work, this role was a close second.
Like any great film the story takes on political significance, serving as a harbinger, if not a looking glass self to its Chicago setting. Gotham City has been overrun with corruption and crime, controlled primarily by mob boss Carmine Falcone (Wilkinson) who’s got the majority of police and the court on his payroll. Rachel Dawes watches as power is increasingly grasped and exploited, especially in the courts as they once again allow psychologist Jonathan Crane (Murphy) to send another murderer to the psychiatric hospital, pleading insanity.
While it’s never specifically mentioned (not even in the comic book from what I recall), there’s an impression that Bruce Wayne’s father had a significant/informal role in managing the city, leaving me wondering why he wasn’t just the mayor, kind of like an altruistic version of Donald Trump. Thus when murdered and Wayne Enterprises is controlled by the Board of Directors, it’s clear that their commitment to the community is displaced by a determination to make themselves rich by making the company public.
Bruce’s return comes amidst the chaos, as he hopes to take all he learned about the criminal underworld in order to apply it toward battling the enemy. He utilizes the Military R&D department with the help Lucius Fox (Freeman) in order to gain access to the equipment he requires, assembling his bodysuit, tools, weapons, and of course, the batmobile, all while preparing a base with the help of Alfred (Caine) in the underground cave system beneath Wayne Manor. While Alfred is wary of the risk, he demands that Bruce at the very least make public appearances; to which Bruce abandons his charm in favor of a lewd persona in order to curtail any suspicions that he might be Batman.
We learn that Jonathan Crane is the Scarecrow after he betrays his arrangement with Falcone, putting on the mask and giving us a first taste of the absolute fear it commands. While I had once been turned off by the VFX, knowing their position in the complex plot, I now found Nolan’s balance between artificial and practical effects incredible; especially when Batman turns the poison on the Scarecrow who sees the Batman as a charred skin demon, expectorating black sludge with every word. It’s assisted by the fact that Nolan seemed to have known that this film was all about setting up the universe in order to provide us one of cinema’s greatest sequel by drifting from exposition and into character, all before moving onto the relatively weakest final film of the series (though still a great movie), which also had the greatest action sequences (brought about by its ~$250 million budget; $100 million more than Batman Begins).
We learn that Crane had worked with Falcone’s men to steal a shipment off a barge that was due for Wayne Enterprises - the military division specifically - which was able to convert all water to steam across miles of piping, allowing the Scarecrow to pour hundreds of gallons of his fear potion into the water supply and take the weapon to the middle of Gotham’s lower class denizens whilst releasing Arkham Asylum’s most dangerous and psychotic criminals. WIth repeated viewings allowing me to recall more details from the other films, the idea of chaos versus purpose extends across all of the films.
While I’d have to watch The Dark Knight Rises (2012) again to retrieve the proper details, The Dark Knight’s (2008) Joker simply wanted to watch the world burn. Scarecrow gives the same impression, until we learn that it was Bruce Wayne’s instructor Ra’s al Ghul’s (who trained him to join the vigilante League of Shadows) intention to destroy Gotham in order to put an end to all of the crime and corruption. Similar to his demand for Bruce to behead a convicted murderer, Ra’s al Ghul wants Batman to understand that his city is past saving. Just as Bruce refused to kill the convict, he also refuses to watch Gotham destroy itself. Unfortunately I can’t recall and cannot find exactly what Ra’s wanted from Scarecrow, but Scarecrow gets away while Ra’s is killed in an absolutely brilliant El-train sequence - which is all the more impressive having been from Chicago and watching the ways Nolan’s utilized the city.
One of the greatest features of Batman is his stoicism combined with absence of superpowers. We never get the impression that he actually likes people other than Alfred, Gordon, and Rachel. His commitment is toward eradicating the evil that led to his parent’s death, not necessarily because it’ll keep Gotham safe (though he might say it), but mostly because it'd make him feel vindicated. In some ways the film plays as a nightmare (or maybe Hell, in sticking with the biblical structure) - looking at one man’s life of pain and alienation whilst endlessly battling against great forces of evil; unable to ever fully escape his fate. It’s the reason I don’t want to get into the comics, as the seemingly infinite scope would never end, and yet it’s what makes Nolan’s trilogy so perfect. It’s a novel length version of the rise and fall of Batman.
BELOW: An incredible Chicago/Gotham City hybrid
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