Movies: ‘I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.’ Christopher Nolan and Batman
He may well never be able to shake him, you know. Nolan and Batman will exist in memory along the lines of Fred and Ginger or Laurel and Hardy; they have been the perfect match, and as Nolan watches on while fanboys the world over are driven to excited hysteria this weekend, he may well realise that his greatest triumph may also be the beginning of his downfall.
Francis Ford Coppola once commented that George Lucas was one of the most promising and inspiring directors he had the pleasure of knowing, but Star Wars was the undoing of him. With Nolan tying himself to the already funded Batman sequel as a producer, he may well too be drowning in his projects. However, there is no doubting his monumental achievements. Prior to these projects, Batman was the farcical interpretation brought to the screen by Adam West or the Gothic hero Tim Burton expected him to be. Nolan did something the others had not, he took Batman seriously. He understood the concept that unlike the other heroes in superhero realm, Batman could in fact exist.
Ask any true worshipper of the caped crusader which is their favourite interpretation of the character and 90% will point at the stunning Warner Brothers series from 1992, Batman: The Animated Series. Ironically, it took an animation for viewers to sit up and notice how incredibly seriously the comics could be taken, which subsequently made Gotham and its villains and heroes far darker. Nolan built on this base.
It’s almost difficult to include Batman Begins in a list of comic book and graphic novel films – of course it draws on them as its base and source – but the film is the tale of Bruce Wayne, and his evolution from young frightened child to confused teenager and finally to hero. Everyone knows his origin story – the death of his parents, his life with Alfred – yet even if you watch the life-changing scene when he and his parents leave the theatre once or fifty times in Begins, it will have the same impact. It’s heartbreaking. Something incredible happens; up to this point you will have invariably been jealous of Bruce Wayne, his lavish lifestyle, his vigilante antics but with Begins, Nolan managed to make his audience feel empathy for him. His deep-rooted fear of bats and his great loss become symbols of his vulnerability, and suddenly Nolan has his hero. By the time Wayne dons the cape for the first time, you understand his motives; Batman is human.
Nolan barely misses a beat. The fight scenes are visually stunning, the cast flawless – how, HOW was there any other Alfred besides Michael Caine? Katie Holmes is even reasonable. And with lines like ‘Why do we fall sir? So we might learn to pick ourselves up’, do we really need to discuss the script?
The Dark Knight was much more theatrical, more spectacle than the first, and undoubtedly Heath Ledger’s show. Much has been said over the years about Ledger’s performance, many commenting that it was his ruination, others saying the performance would hardly have been noticed if it wasn’t for his untimely death. Rubbish. Ledger’s problem was that he inhabited a character that was so successfully shaped by the Nolan brothers, it became difficult to shake. His version of the amoral villain was sweeping, menacing and enthralling; the Joker was Ledger’s greatest creation.
Disappointingly, perhaps one of the best performances was cruelly overlooked: Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. Where Begins lulls you into a false sense of security, Dark Knight is a roller coaster ride, relentless viewing. The film suddenly, and successfully, crossed the divide from fanbase to mainstream and yet still managed to hold on to its morality. Not only was there this ability to appeal to the masses but Nolan, through Gotham, asks some serious questions about our society, our dependencies and our values, perhaps most obviously in the scene with Lucius Fox and his uneasiness to use people’s phones to discover the Joker’s whereabouts. Gotham begins to ooze evil; the streets become murkier, darker, the colour of the Joker’s outfits the perfect contrast to his gloomy surroundings.
The Dark Knight arguably changed the face of the comic book and graphic novel film permanently on the big screen. Suddenly, every superhero was issued his reboot notice. None have reached the artistic and intricate brilliance of Nolan’s Batman and consequently, no other trilogy has placed more pressure on its director to deliver. The Dark Knight Rises will perhaps have the biggest opening weekend in the history of the box office, but let’s not forget who put it there. So Warner Brothers, listen up. If Nolan doesn’t want to use 3D, leave him alone. And remember, you are in the company of genius…
On a personal note, I’ve been waiting for this instalment since the end credits rolled for the Dark Knight in a deserted London cinema four years ago. Speaking of which, do you know where I got these scars?