Nine years ago Warner Bros. sat and watched as comic book films were making a come back. Films like X-Men and Spider-Man were breaking box office records and causing people to come to the theater in droves. WB still had the stink of 1997′s bomb Batman and Robin lingering around them and decided it was time to revisit the Batcave. Coming in to take the helm and reshape the lasting image of one of DC’s biggest icons was a man whose film experience before this lied in Thrillers and films that played with your mind, that man was Christopher Nolan. Along with him came a writer who was already wrist deep in the comic film cookie jar having penned the Blade series, David S. Goyer.
These gentlemen took the idea of Batman and went back to square one, looking at the character and stripping away anything overly fantastical, all things cheesey, and doing away with bat nipples. What was left was an environment where Batman existed in a somewhat practical world (as practical as you can get for a Billionaire who gains ninja training and fights crime to avenge the death of his parents in a bat costume) where the cities were gritty and crime infested, villains were real and used possible means to meet their goals. That world became Batman Begins, the retelling of Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming Batman and his first encounter with his first in a long line of rogues in The Scarecrow. The film was a relative success and put Warner and DC in it’s own category when it came to comic book films.
The climax of the Dark Knight’s return did nothing but put the hype train in motion for Nolan’s next venture into Gotham. The Joker Card that was placed into Batman’s hand began 3 years of anticipation for The Dark Knight. It was a sometimes bumpy road, with fans questioning casting (Heath Ledger as Joker!?!), only to have their negativity transformed into recognition (Heath Ledger IS Joker! Oscar Oscar Oscar!). What came out in 2008 was a film that at that time became the highest grossing comic book film ever made. It’s meteoric rise in revenue could have many factors, the stellar script that Goyer and Nolan put together, the phenomenal acting put on by the entire cast, and even the show of respect to a fallen actor all played part in The Dark Knight crossing the $1 Billion mark. The film also blurred the line between good comic book film, and just good film in general. It was a Superhero film, a Crime Drama, a Thriller, a Revenge Film, it blended so many genres together that it couldn’t receive just one classification. The film simply cried out for one more entry.
So here we sit, 4 years later and 5 days away from Chritopher Nolan’s final entry into the world of the bat. Speculation ran wild for this film from the moment people exited the theater for the previous entry. Original plans were stated that had Heath Ledger not met his premature end, The Joker would of carried over into Bruce Wayne’s final chapter. It would of been appropriate for the Dark Knight to hit the finish line battling his greatest foe, but it wasn’t meant to be, Heath Ledger’s role was not one to be replaced. So the guessing ran wild, maybe Two Face would somehow return and go from being the icon that turned the city against the caped crusader, to the menacing figure representing redemption. The Riddler was heavily suspected, with big names like Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio tying to the character. Nolan however chose Bane, the menacing villain who was not only responsible for breaking Batman’s back, but also the first to figure out Batman and Bruce Wayne were the same person.
Nolan desired someone who was the polar opposite of the Joker, and also respected the fact that Bane was as intelligent as he was powerful. Tom Hardy was then brought in to portray the brute and many fans were impressed, given how large Hardy could become based on his role in Bronson. That positive attitude as since been fluctuating from Bane’s look, to his size, to many other things seen via pictures and reports. Yet now that we are in the home stretch, and trailers are becoming frequent, and the foundation of the plot is clear, these worries are starting to subside, yet there was only going to be one thing that would calm the ever concerned fanboy, critical impressions. Those reviews have started hitting newspapers and websites today, giving everyone the 4-1-1 on whether for not the last chapter in this world of Batman is a proper finish, or falls before crossing the line.
Fifteen reviews currently sit on the world wide web, with all of them positive and garnering the latest installment a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. I won’t go into detailed responses from critics to avoid the potential of spoiling ANYTHING, but if you want to read these impressions yourself you can visit the film’s RT page HERE. Worries seem to be quelled as quotes like “greatest trilogy ever” and “best 3rd installment to any franchise” run rampant and only add more passengers to the hype train as it comes to it’s final stop on July 20th. Once this film runs it’s course and lays waist to box office competitors, Christopher Nolan will step away from the character and the genre. If Warner Bros. wants Batman in the ever long rumored Justice League film, it will not be this version of the Dark Knight. A new tale will have to be told to bring the caped crusader into a world where heroes like Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, etc. all exist. This is going to be a heavily criticized endeavor from people who feel the character CANNOT be improved upon past these 3 films. Plus God forbid if the next Batman franchise wants to use the Joker, as fans will be looking on with judging eyes during every step of that venture.
It will be the biggest uphill climb a film will ever see and one that the companies involved will have to tread lightly with. With all of this being said, is Batman the perfect comic film franchise? No, it has it’s issues like any franchise that currently or has ever existed. People don’t like Christian Bale’s gravely Batman voice, action scenes tend to be filmed a bit too close to know what is going on, because everything is so real it eliminates some of the more beloved villains of the franchise. These issues however all get pushed aside by the high level of story telling done by Goyer and Nolan. These are the things that all other Batman films will be judged, but I feel should NOT be the things that ALL comic book films should be judged upon.
This franchise shows that when put in a practical world superheroes can evolve into more then popcorn affairs, but that does not mean every hero needs this approach. Several reviews that have come in hold up Dark Knight Rises as if it were Simba and look down upon all the other comic films telling them they are nothing compared to this, they are only a child’s play thing compared to this film. The genre needs films like these to keep it fresh, to be a contrast to the other films that are on a lighter and more over the top scale. Turning all comic films into The Dark Knight will just drive the genre into the ground. Every genre of film has a pinnacle that many fans agree on, yet not every film of that said genre tries to mimic. What future comic book films SHOULD take from this franchise is that these characters and their stories can be more then simple summer fun. Characters can mean something, drama and suspense can be built and it doesn’t always need villains 10 feet tall or from other planets or with laser beams for hands. If it makes sense a practical story telling approach can work, but the genre needs BOTH, not one or the other. So those clamoring for every comic film to be like this franchise should come to the conclusion that this genre is always evolving and instead of looking for more films to be like one specific feature, look forward to what new ideas a franchise like Nolan’s Batman will bring to upcoming comic book films.
Dark Knight Rises is the final act of a franchise that wanted to do something different with comic films, and it looks to have succeeded far more than maybe even Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan had imagined. In 5 short days we will all know for sure if this is one of the best trilogies ever made not only for comics, but for all movies in general.