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What we loved about the Nolan Batman movies…

Don’t get us wrong, we did enjoy the two Burton films (I have a soft spot for Batman Returns, despite fandom’s opinion of it). It’s just that the Nolan films – Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – managed to perfectly capture what it was about the Caped Crusader that we really loved. There was just something about them that really worked, and we thought we’d take a look at five of the reasons why we liked them so much.
Reason #243: excellent cinematography...

Reason #243: excellent cinematography...

They weren’t just good Batman films, they were good films
This is perhaps the most important reason. Nolan didn’t treat the concept as anything particularly special. He treated them with the same love and affection that he would any of his other films. Batman Begins was an intense character study, it just featured Bruce Wayne as it’s subject. The Dark Knight was a crime saga that called to mind the work of Michael Mann – it just happened to feature a man dressed like a bat and a homicidal clown. The movies were well-scripted, well-directed and well-cast. There no sense that Nolan was doing these movies to earn a paycheck or to earn brownie points with a studio to make the films he wanted to make. Everything about the movies was up to standard, and no corners were cut because it was an established character.
They were respectful to the source material
This goes hand-in-hand with the above – while Nolan made sure they were good films in-and-of-themselves, he never felt the need to flout the mythology and conventions of the characters unnecessarily. He kept the Batmobile. He gave Batman white eyes during the climax to The Dark Knight. He didn’t venture excessively far from the comic book – as, say, the film adaptation of Wanted did. He retained the spirit of the character and comic very, very well. It’s almost as though he distilled 70 years of the character into five hours of screen time.
They gave us a Bruce Wayne to match Batman
In Burton’s Batman, Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed, so he dresses up like a bat and beats up criminals. There’s very little explained from the practical stuff (where does he get those wonderful toys?) to the more abstract stuff (why a bat?). Nolan looks at the character of Bruce. It’s telling that his costume doesn’t appear until an hour into Batman Begins. The movie gives us a tortured soul who doesn’t know what else to do. It shows us why and how he became Batman in one of the stronger comic book origin stories commited to film. Bale’s time outside the costume doesn’t drag in the way it did in most of the earlier films (nor does it function solely as an extension to his time in the suit. Instead, the suit and the character come from inside Bruce. He’s a fantastically realsied and complex character brought to life in a way that it seems like his function is more than to dress up and provide the audience with action scenes.
The villains are pseudo-realistic
In that they’re as realistic as your usual movie villains. Nolan wisely cuts out the more cartoonish or over the top elements of each of his villains (the Joker has bleached skin from a chemical bath; Ra’s Al Ghul is actually immortal), but keeps them true to the spirit of their comic book counterparts. Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul is recognisable as the comic book villain, but doesn’t seem out of place in a movie built on making Batman seem real. He takes the core of each character (the Joker’s anarchism, the Scarecrow’s love of fear, Two-Face’s tragedy) and manages to make many of the characters truer to their four-colour origins than their earlier counterparts (where Tommy Lee-Jones’ Two-Face looked the part but was really a Jack Nicholson impression, for example). If Nolan made us believe in Batman, he made us believe in his rogues too.
Nolan realises Batman isn’t a hero
At least not in the same vein as Iron Man or Superman or Spiderman. He is a very disturbed individual trapped in a downward spiral that really can’t end well. Having the focus and determination and obsession to do what he’s doing is not necessarily a good thing. Batman isn’t thrill-seeking or having fun, he’s doing this because he’s compelled to. He must take at least part of the blame for making Gotham the city it is – removing the mob and allowing the ‘freaks’ to take root. He tries to help, but there’s a legitimate debate to be had over whether he does more harm than good. Everyone knows Batman isn’t a superhero with superpowers, but many assume that he triumphs over villains thanks to his gadgets (a notion reenforced by the 1960’s television show). Nolan gets that’s it’s more than that: it’s endurance and stamina and sheer willpower that get him through. Nolan also realises that Batman is a master strategist – there’s a reason they call it a Batman Gambit.
Those are just five reasons, but they’re what pops to mind when we consider why we love Nolan’s two films so much, and why we’re hoping against hope for a third. Even if that doesn’t happen, we do hope that whoever succeeds Nolan takes these lessons on board in crafting the follow-ups.

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This is one of a series of articles being published to celebrate the anniversary of the release of The Dark Knight and the seventieth birthday of the character. There will be one-a-day for the week – but don’t worry, it won’t interrupt our other coverage of pop culture happenings.

2 Responses

  1. This is a stellar list, and I can’t see how anyone stubborn (is stubborn the right word?) enough to believe Burton’s “Batman” movies are untoppable couldn’t break down and agree that Nolan has reinvigorated a very tired series. (Let’s all agree to forget that George Clooney ever, EVER put on the mask.) I always thought Batman was the best superhero because he’s dark, he’s flawed, he relies on gadges and force of will, not superpowers. He’s a human being above all else, and Nolan gets that. And he found the perfect actor to communicate that bruised humanity. As long as he keeps directing Batman films, I’ll keep watching them.

    M. Carter
    http://mcarteratthemovies.wordpress.com/

  2. […] and the character – from a review of the film to a look at the iconic status of the Joker and why we love the Nolan franchise so much, as well as thoughts on where it might go next and an obituary for a character who has enjoyed an […]

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