Batman Begins (2005)
Batfan rating: 7.5 out of 10
The Dark Knight (2008)
Batfan rating: 9.5 out of 10
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Batfan Rating: 9 out of 10
Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is the greatest comic-book saga in film history and will be for a long time to come. It makes other DC properties like Green Lantern look like so much idiotic trash and makes everything in the Marvel Universe look like nothing more than mindless teenage popcorn fluff. With The Dark Knight Rises, he completes the trilogy in a way that is epic and completely satisfying to hard-core Batman fans – even though the movie isn't perfect. It also secures Nolan a spot among the greatest interpreters of the Batman mythology.
How Nolan was picked to revive the franchise is anyone's guess. At the time, he only had three feature films under his belt: Following, Memento and Insomnia. All of them were noirs that featuring embattled protagonists and works that showed a deft touch for psychological detail and technical craftsmanship.
After the childish stupidities of the two Schumacher films, which alienated fans and shuttered the franchise for nearly a decade, it was obvious Warner Bros. wanted to change tack. Besides, in a post-9/11 world, the campy version of the character and the villains he fought could no longer appeal to audiences. We had seen evil, and it wasn't wearing rollerblades.
Of the three Nolan movies, Batman Begins is the least compelling. Unlike the other two, it's not concerned with addressing the actual world in which we live, which leaves it without the resonance and dramatic heft of the two films to follow.
But that said, it is still a solid movie that does a very good job of establishing who Bruce Wayne is and why he is driven to do what he does, as well as how he is trained and equipped to become Batman – in other words, a very good first chapter.
That movie also established the fact that Nolan was going to work from some core facets of the Batman mythology and borrow from classic comics (in this case Frank Miller's Batman: Year One), but he was not going to be a slave to them. He would add elements of his own and bend the mythology in ways that served his story, like making Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson) the man who trained Batman.
Batman Begins was the kind of dark, wipe-the-slate-clean-and-start-over first chapter fans had been waiting for. And when were told at the end that there's a new villain in Gotham City and this is his calling card, and we see the Joker card, I and every other diehard fan held our breath to see what Nolan would do with the greatest villain of all time.
He didn't disappoint. The Dark Knight is the best movie in the trilogy thanks to Heath Ledger's frighteningly brilliant, Oscar-winning performance. It's hard to imagine, but when it was first announced Ledger would be taking on the role, many people criticized the choice – they didn't think he could pull it off.
Nolan again proved he would do what we wanted with characters from the mythology to make them consistent with his desire for dark realism. The Joker's skin was no longer white because he once fell in to a vat of chemicals, as in the comics. Instead, he wore makeup, "like war paint," as one character said. Nor did he have a coherent back story, always changing the tale of how he got those scars. But these were forgivable breaks with continuity because Nolan still managed to capture the essence of the character as an agent of pure anarchy.
Yes, the movie was too long and perhaps too thickly plotted, but as an examination of how far we are willing to go to fight terror it proved to be so far above other comic-book movies in its ambitions and intelligence that everything else came off as juvenile. And while Nolan was willing to engage with very difficult questions, at the same time he balanced the cerebral qualities he is so often criticized for having with the large-scale demands of a fantastic summer blockbuster.
Tom Hardy's performance as the villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises doesn't come close to matching Ledger's – but it's unfair to hold him to that impossible standard. And yes, the third and final instalment is perhaps too long and too densely plotted. And yes, Bane's words are sometimes muffled by his mask. But these faults are completely forgivable in light of Nolan's achievement.
I don't want to give away too much – there are a lot of great surprises awaiting fans. I can say that the set pieces are incredible, especially Bane's rescue early in the film. The new vehicle, like its predecessors, is a wonder to behold. Anne Hathaway's Catwoman is actually pretty great and – no surprise here – Hans Zimmer's music is still as rousing as it always has been. The movie even has some very well-timed humour, although some critics might think the plot's more preposterous elements (and there are several) are what really deserve to be laughed at. I will also tell you this, Batfans: Characters from the mythology are included in this movie, not as you might recognize them from the comics, but nevertheless in ways you will be very, very happy with. And though I won't tell you what ultimately happens to Bruce Wayne, I can tell you that he gets what he's always needed. The fans do too.
It's hard to say goodbye to Batman – fans would be happy to see Nolan keep adding more and more movies to the franchise. But as a completed trilogy, Nolan's saga will satisfy every fanboy (and fangirl) in their hearts and minds, and in that part of them genuinely moved to cheer for a caped crusader fighting to rescue a city and by doing so perhaps even save himself.
Nolan's movies haven't been perfect. But in their realism, in their reinterpretation of the mythology, in their mix of high and low, in their ability to be both personal and psychological as well as epic and action-packed, in their commitment to the core darkness of the Batman story and what it says about our world, they have expanded the genre beyond what anyone once thought possible. It's going to be a long time before any comic-book movie comes close to equaling them. Then again, with the conclusion of The Dark Knight Rises leaving room for sequels, we might not have to wait that long. But even if this is goodbye, it is an entirely satisfying one, which is a monumental achievement for a series of films that consistently faced massive expectations and then managed to surpass them.