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The Dark Knight Legend: A Retrospective

With the release of The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan’s Batman trilogy has finally come to a close; a trilogy which has been incredibly well received by critics and audiences worldwide. This feat is made all the more remarkable when you consider that the film proceeding the trilogy was the disastrous Batman and Robin, a film that earned critics’ scorn, Razzie awards and even the film’s star George Clooney commenting, “I think we might have killed the franchise”. Nolan’s resurrection of the Caped Crusader as a property has seemingly straddled the perfect line of comic book influence and director’s independence to create a Batman story that is uniquely Nolan’s. In many ways I believe that Nolan’s success is seeded in his choice of source material and its compatibility with his own distinct art and story choices, these choices not only resulted in a brilliant trilogy but perhaps also a new direction from which to approach comic book films.

When it comes to Nolan, the inspirations that he chose for his trilogy are the ‘modern classics’ Batman, drawing from Frank Miller’s Year One and The Dark Knight Returns with their gritty narrative and imperfect characters, alongside Alan Moore’s influential The Killing Joke and Azzarello’s recent Joker with its depiction of a psychotic and shabby Joker bearing a striking resemblance to Heath Ledger’s performance . In drawing from the more modern work, Nolan doesn’t build a world for Batman to exist in but builds a contemporary Batman that could exist in the real world. Batman’s gadgets aren’t flashy but simple, the Batmobile is stripped down and functional as opposed to flashy and donning giant fins; even the traditionally campy villains become more conservative, Joker isn’t building elaborate Jack-in-the-box explosives, Bane isn’t wearing his Lucha Libre mask and Scarecrow is only ever seen in a suit. The success of this trilogy lays very much in this toning down: while the Marvel films retain the elaborate citywide fight scenes and wisecracking heroes, the Batman films are darker, slower and more adult. Much of this comes from Nolan’s own personal style, across works such as The Prestige, Insomnia and Inception, the enduring image is of sharp suits, dark alleys and imperfect heroes – an image that lends itself well to Batman. It breaks the mould of comic book adaptations being aimed at children, as increasingly the audiences are becoming older, and as a fan of comic books I appreciate this approach and would like to see it with more properties.

Nolan’s next project (albeit in a producing capacity) also seems to take this approach with Man of Steel, in which he and director Zack Snyder seem to be creating a reluctant Superman, one that unsurprisingly feels alone on Earth with the most recent trailer portraying a much more melancholic and washed-out atmosphere than any earlier interpretation.

As such, it seems that the resurrection of the DC universe needs to focus much more on these lines. Nolan has shown that a focus on the psychology of the character and a sense of realism can create a successful comic book film. For DC at least this formula works, with the Dark Knight Trilogy, Watchmen and V for Vendetta all performing well with their darker and more violent style, whilst the more colourful and campy aesthetic of The Green Lantern resulted in commercial and critical failure. Consequently, Nolan’s legacy may be more than just reviving the Batman franchise but providing a different direction for all of DC’s movie endeavours, with the focus placed more on the work of modern artists and writers coupled with a push for realism and audience empathy.

Frank Green

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2 Comments on this post.
  • Isabel
    28 August 2012 at 12:49
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    I think you’re right in that DC have realised they need to make their adaptations grittier- watching the trailers for both Dredd and Man Of Steel definitely support that. I’m intrigued now as to how the script for the Justice League movie will shape up and who they’ll get in the director’s chair.

  • Frank
    29 August 2012 at 16:43
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    Me too, they could easily adopt the Avenger’s approach but I beleiev that would be a mistake.
    On the animation side two new projects have just shown up again:
    Firstly an animated version of The Dark Knight Returns (which looks awesome)
    and in a completly other direction a test short of Batman based in 1930’s Shanghai that also looks pretty impressive.

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