Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is one of the most celebrated, and debated, film trilogies of all time. While serious takes have been given to superhero films before there had never been one to take the notion to quite the same degree that Nolan had. Now, with Ben Affleck announced as our next Batman and a year after the final installment of Nolan’s trilogy the question comes up of just how well it holds up as a cohesive work of fiction.
The Batman presented in the trilogy is most definitely NOT the Batman of the comic books. This is a point of contention between the general audience member and the hard core comic fan. This is even a point of frustration for myself. It’s understandable that in order to adapt a comic book, or book of any kind, some sacrifices need to be made in order to make the best film possible. The problem however, is that from the Dark Knight forward Batman ceases to emulate the source material in a way that at times helped the character and at other times hurt.
Christian Bale absolutely nailed the Bruce Wayne sides of Batman, both as the billionaire playboy and as the man between masks that only Alfred truly gets to see. He truly encapsulates the part of Bruce that’s haunted not only by his parents’ deaths but by the corruption that inherently caused it. However, his portrayal as Batman has some flaws that hinder us from seeing him as the same character from the comics.
One of the biggest separators between the Batman in Nolan films and the Batman of the comics is actually a good thing: his stamina as a fighter. The Batman of the comics is able to take on ten combatants without breaking a sweat. This is usually due to the fact that his run of the mill thugs aren’t very well trained. While the Nolan Batman is an expert fighter, he is always visibly tired after fights. This is a big step towards humanizing the most human superhero of all.
One of the biggest problems with Nolan’s adaptation of the character is that as the series progressed Batman stopped seeming like Batman. In Batman Begins we end the movie fully believing in Bruce as the Batman we’ve grown up with. However, that all changes when he gets his new costume in The Dark Knight. It can’t even be called a costume. While the new suit makes a great debut in the Hong Kong kidnapping scene and looks pretty amazing in that silhouetted shot from the warehouse, something primal was taken away from Batman as a whole. In Begins Batman looked like a beast thanks to the bulked up neck of the cowl and the way the cape draped over his shoulders, giving him an otherwordly form. Batman was a monster. In the Dark Knight he’s a guy wearing para-military gear with a Batman mask. The price of Batman being able to turn his head was losing all of his mystique.
Batman almost completely drops using his tactics that make his enemies believe he’s something other than human until part of the end of Rises. Even then, he only uses the techniques in desperation in his fight with Bane. However, one thing that did get progressively monstrous as the films continued was the growly voice. In the first film the voice worked. It was something that Bale was able to use sparingly. But in the Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises it becomes more and more intelligible and actually works against Batman as a threatening character.
The biggest problem, as previously stated, with the Batman presented in the trilogy is that he never really becomes the Batman fans know him to be. That problem came from taking away his mystique as the series progressed. However, if we judge the films as their own iteration of the character without the burden of source material we find we are still left with a great performance from Bale.
In Part 2 we discuss the Villains!