In honor of the release of the new Superman movie, we’ve decided to examine all eight of Christopher Nolan’s films, from Following to The Dark Knight Rises. Each day, We Minored in Film’s own Julianne Ramsey will discuss and examine one of Nolan’s movies, leading up to the June 14th release of Man of Steel. Granted, Christopher Nolan only produced Man of Steel whereas Zack Snyder directed it (although Nolan was on set from time to time). However, Nolan’s influence on the film is still where the movie’s publicity emphasis has been placed. So, that’s where we went with it.
I am going to attempt to be as spoiler-free as possible, because I think Nolan’s films are best enjoyed without prior knowledge of the paths they take. Yet there may be times in which I want to talk about a certain twist or plot development, and I will do so. What that basically boils down to is: Be warned. Spoilers may be present, but they will be minimal.
Film: Batman Begins (2005)
Tim Burton’s Batman films were worlds of heightened reality, like nearly every Tim Burton film except for…like all of Tim Burton’s films. Gotham City looks like something out of Metropolis, a city dominated by blacks and grays, and the villains get all the screen time.
After Batman Returns, with its sadistic violence, S&M sexuality, and pervading sense of horror led parent to question whether or not Tim Burton hated their children, Warner Brothers reduced Tim Burton to producer of the Batman saga and brought in Joel Schumacher to direct more family-friendly, less kinky entertainment. His second foray into the world of Batman, Batman and Robin, effectively sank the franchise, and it lay dormant until Warner Brothers handed the reigns over to Christopher Nolan, who began what is arguably the greatest series of superhero movie of all time.
I’m not entirely certain what led Warner Brothers to conclude that Christopher Nolan was the man who could revive the Batman series, but the choice was inspired. Nolan grounded his characters in reality, giving the world a believable feel. Nolan chose to tell Batman’s origin story, how Bruce Wayne became an man who felt he had no other option but to don a cape and cowl and glide through a city dressed as a bat.
Where Tim Burton’s Batman saga focused on the villains (which makes sense, as Tim Burton always seem to identify with the monsters), Nolan realized something the previous films never had: Bruce Wayne is an interesting character. Expertly played by Christian Bale, Nolan gives us a Bruce Wayne who dominates the film through a well-developed, emotionally engaging story. Nolan is given the rather daunting task of making a man who chooses to dress up like a bat in order to fight crime seem believable and sensible.
Check out this scene where Bruce disusses his plans upon returning to Gotham:
Bruce also functions as an imperfect man, with certain character flaws that remain constants throughout the trilogy first seen here. For instance, Bruce Wayne is trained by the elusive, mysterious League of Shadows but turns against them when he discovers they are willing to kill where he is not. He believes he destroys them and returns to Gotham City unaware of how much trouble he’s in. Bruce Wayne has a tendency to underestimate threats against him throughout the trilogy, and it frequently costs him.
Beyond the casting of edgy, intense, American Psycho actor Christian Bale, Nolan also cast Gary Oldman as Sergeant Gordon (soon to be Commissioner, if he plays his cards right), Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Michael Caine (before he became a Nolan staple) as Alfred, Liam Niesen as the mysterious Ducard, and Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow/ Jonathan Crane. all of whom play their roles completely straight. They’re not in a comic book movie. They’re in a crime thriller. It’s a refreshing change from the campy performances that personify the Joel Schumacher era.
Batman Begins was not an instant hit, but strong word of mouth and DVD sales turned it into a massive success. Watching it again, I’m struck by how effective Bruce’s bond with surrogate father/ butler Alfred is. There’s a moment in the film when Alfred has to rescue Bruce after he has been exposed to tthe Scarecrow’s fear toxin. When the toxin is used on Bruce Wayne, images of bats and the loss of his parents accost him in full force, and he is forced to call Alfred to come to his rescue. As he drives an incoherent Bruce home, Alfred looks pained and terrified. For all intents and purposes, this is his son and he loves him completely and worries what consequences his actions will have. Their relationship is the heart and soul of both this film and the entire trilogy. Alfred is the only character who can warn Bruce when he may be going too far in his quest.
Check out a scene between the two of them below:
The supporting cast is equally phenomenal and the imagery that stems from the Scarecrow’s fear serum is haunting and evocative. You realize that Nolan was given the green light to make a big-budget art film- a blockbuster made by an intelligent filmmaker who believed his audience would be just as intelligent. The film heralded an era of edgy, dark, character-driven superhero films, and showed a comic book movie need not be all surface and no substance.
Check out the trailer below:
Next Up in The Great Christopher Nolan Film Re-Watch is The Prestige, in which one man’s knot-tying skills (or lack thereof) have dire consequences and David Bowie shows up to be awesome (what else?).