by Drew Kiess
It’s been five years since Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies came to a close with The Dark Knight Rises. A trilogy that was once thought to be a game changer, proved to be an outlier of what the possibilities were (and still are) for comic book characters on the big screen. For many of us too young to remember the Bat-mania of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, Nolan’s Batman gave us a fresh, modern window into discovering the greatness of the character behind the cowl.
My history with Batman before Nolan is sketchy. There was the animated series, of course, which I would later come to adore, but my image of Batman was initially created by the Joel Schumacher films. Even as a six-year-old, I knew Batman Forever and Batman and Robin weren’t cool. I very clearly remember having merchandise and toys from various kid’s meals from these movies, but I had no real connection with the characters. I also remember a live performance I saw at Six Flags in Chicago that captured my imagination, but comic books were still foreign to me, whatever enthusiasm I had for the character had nowhere to go. Anything cool Batman did was an outlier in my mind, because those movies were awful.
I became a comic book fan following Raimi’s first Spider-Man in 2002. Ten-year-old me was mesmerized. And two years later, it was followed up by what is still among my favorite movies ever made, Spider-Man 2. This was, for me, akin to people in 1978 believing that a man could fly for the first time. I was in love. I could not get enough of superheroes. I ate it all up. In 2005, I had seen a trailer for a new Batman movie, called Batman Begins. This didn’t look like Batman to me. Where was all the neon? But my curiosity was piqued. Leading up to the movie, my local library had set up copies of classic Batman stories in trade paperbacks. In my memory, there was a spotlight and angels singing as I walked up to grab Frank Miller’s Year One. I read the whole book right there. I had been lied to my entire life. Batman was cool.
Batman Begins may not have been the biggest blockbuster of all time, but it was a lifechanging experience for me seeing it in a movie theater. What resistance I had to being a batfan was now gone—I was all in. This was my fandom now, and I couldn’t get enough of classic DC stories. From The Dark Knight Returns to Man of Steel, to Crisis on Infinite Earths, I built up my knowledge on DC lore. Nolan’s respect for the core of the character bled through every frame, and Christian Bale’s performance of the tortured, unsure Bruce Wayne in the opening hour of the film still stands as some of the best character work in a comic book movie.
Three years later, the rest of the world would join me in my newfound Bat-mania and we would all be asking the same question: “Why so serious?” The Dark Knight took the world by storm, and for good reason. Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker was in and of itself a phenomenon, winning him a posthumous Oscar for the supporting role. But while everyone was going crazy over The Joker, a story about whether or not the means justify the ends in a time when I was first becoming interested in politics (this was the year of Obama’s first election), I was once again taken aback at the kind of stories a character like Batman
There is not much I can add to the legacy of The Dark Knight. I think it is fairly secure. Year after year, every new comic book movie that people liked is hailed as the best comic book movie since The Dark Knight, before it is forgotten about at the release of the next comic book movie, which is, too, compared to The Dark Knight. It will forever be the gold standard.
When Batman Begins came out, I was in high school, only thirteen years old. The trilogy came to a close in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises, and I was now in college and a month away from being old enough to drink. The world was different in so many ways. Even just within the geek community, 2012 saw the culmination of Marvel’s Phase One with the Avengers and Sony’s first reboot of Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man. For many, I think this Batman series had grown some rust in the four years it was removed from the spotlight. The Avengers were in, and to this day I wonder if things would have been different had the two films swapped release dates.
The Dark Knight Rises, despite being warmly received by critics, has a reputation in fanboy circles as being “the bad one”. I don’t see it. The Dark Knight Rises continued an upward slope of quality in my opinion that all Nolan films have had, and hosts the greatest Batman moment on film of all time, with Bruce rising from the pit, that was foreshadowed all the way back in Batman Begins. It was a brilliant story about the place Batman has in Gotham after his mission is complete, and a villain who was successful in breaking the body of Batman, taking away the city that he loves. It is a lonely, broken, operatic epic.
Five years removed from these films, I think we can sometimes become critical because of the things that it didn’t do as fanboys. I have been as guilty of this as anybody. Was it accurate to canon? Of course not. Was that voice sometimes a little annoying? Yes it was. Would it have been nice to see more villains? Who knows. But, we received perhaps the most complete superhero story every created in any medium, comics included, with a definitive beginning, middle, and end, that had something of value to say about the culture we live in. Those are the kind of stories that stick with us and matter. My fandom of DC was founded on the foundation of what Nolan did with those three movies, and while there will always be new Batman stories being told, this trilogy will forever stand as a testament of the power of these characters to reflect us, as all mythology is supposed to.
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