The Dark Knight Trilogy Rises Above All

Eric Cunningham

Eric Cunningham is the editor-in-chief of Elections Daily. He is a lifelong resident of western North Carolina and graduated from Appalachian State University. You can follow him on Twitter at @decunningham2. @decunningham2.

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42 Responses

  1. Kolohe says:

    I thought the Dark Knight was the rare movie that would have benefited from executive meddling and the desire to make more bucks at the box office. Specifically, breaking it apart into two movies, one that featured the Joker, the other that featured Harvey Dent/Two Face.

    The fact the Heath Ledger was so good made it inevitable for the movie to lose steam once he was no longer literally in the picture. The rest of the film was too long for a coda, but too short to flesh out the turn of Dent to the dark side, as it were.Report

    • North in reply to Kolohe says:

      Hmmm it’s a good thought but if you view Dent as merely the final victim of the Joker rather than as a co-Villain I think it works pretty well as a narrative.Report

    • Eric Cunningham in reply to Kolohe says:

      I was tempted to agree the first time I watched – Aaron Eckhart did a great job. But I think the way they set the sequel up made it necessary, plus there is no way in this more grounded universe that a guy with a massive facial gash would last long.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Kolohe says:

      All three of the movies had about 30% more movie in them than an average (or even long) film. That’s true of Nolan in general.

      It’s a little like the recent OT discussion of progressive rock – it wasn’t trying to match convention, so you can either compare it to something it doesn’t want to be, or you can grant it its own terms. Either is reasonable.Report

  2. Jason says:

    While the movies are generally entertaining and good, they’re far from perfect. Ridiculously complex plans from the villains that would require some kind of prophetic vision don’t hold up. Neither does all of Gotham being held hostage for six months by Bane. There are plot holes that are a bit more than nit picks. That said, you have a good point about the films being a complete arc; so far, the trilogy has been the most successful superhero series in that aspect. I enjoyed watching them, but after watching them multiple times, I no longer enjoy them as much, as they’re kind of silly. They don’t rise to the stupidity of Avatar, but they’re not sheer genius either.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jason says:

      Here’s my biggest nit-pick with The Dark Knight: Joker wasn’t crazy.

      There. I said it.Report

      • Jason in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yeah, I gotta agree with you there. I think that was intentional; for all his talk of “chaos” he certainly seemed to be all about planning (I mean, he had to because of the ridiculous complications of the plot, but still).Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Jason says:

          When I understood that they weren’t movies about Batman but movies about 9/11, it changed the way that I enjoyed them.Report

          • Jason in reply to Jaybird says:

            Yeah, I remember thinking “these are clearly post 9/11 superhero movies”. I did enjoy them. I was a comic book geek as a kid (now I have multiple nerd interests), and was happy to see Batman done well. But perfect they ain’t.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Jason says:

              Yes. Batman was done well and don’t get me wrong: I couldn’t take my eyes off of Heath Ledger. He was *AMAZING*.

              But if you want a perfect Batman movie, watch Mask of the Phantasm.Report

      • Eric Cunningham in reply to Jaybird says:

        Oh, he’s not crazy like in the cartoons or the Burton film. But he is insane, and that’s close enough to the source material for me.

        What makes Joker work for me in a way a ton of other insane villains is that you can actually understand his plan and point of view. Nolan does a really good job of this in his films, with maybe Scarecrow being the only exception (is he crazy, or does he want to hold the city for ransom, or what?) – and given the year-long trend of incredibly weak villains in superhero films, it really shows that he created films where you understand everyone’s motivations clearly, enough that a disturbingly large amount of people kind of agree with the Joker.Report

        • What makes Joker work for me in a way a ton of other insane villains is that you can actually understand his plan and point of view.

          I don’t think so.

          I go back and think about all of his lines and I’m trying to think of one where I’m confident that he wasn’t lying.

          “What doesn’t kill you makes you stranger” might be the only one.

          Every other line of his is arguably a lie (or, at least, a statement with a truth value completely unimportant to him because he knows his statement cuts to the quick of whomever is hearing it).Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

        He was a dead man walking.
        That’s suicidal in more technical terms.
        Which makes him crazy, in a “REALLY depressed” sort of way.Report

    • North in reply to Jason says:

      Yeah Joker did seem to have some kind of hyper competence for logistical planning. His plans ultimately didn’t pan out but if you needed to smuggle tons of explosives into a hospital or a Ferry and set them up to blow without anyone asking any questions or calling the police Joker was your guy.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to North says:

        I still think my favorite example was how Batman dug the fragments of a bullet out of a wall, constructed a life-fire test sequence to determine how bullets would fragment in different sorts of wall, used those tests to reconstruct the fragments into the original bullet, recovered a fingerprint from the reconstructed bullet and used it to identify the criminal and learn their home address…

        …and the Joker knew he would do all this and set a trap for him there.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to DensityDuck says:

          I don’t know that that is necessarily true. Joker could have simply abandoned that place long ago with a boobie trap just in case. He didn’t need to know Batman would arrive. And he didn’t need to bank on any particular path for Batman to get there. For all we know, there are apartments all over Gotham that the Joker once resided in that have unsprung traps.Report

          • North in reply to Kazzy says:

            If I recall that scene correctly, Kazzy, Batman arrived there just in time for a booby trap in that apartment to go off making it look like batman had taken a shot a the commissioner or the mayor or someone. So not only had Joker predicted Batman would find the place, but also when.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to North says:

              You may very well be right. I loved the movie but haven’t seen it in a while.Report

            • KenB in reply to North says:

              Really the only plausible way he could have predicted that is with some sort of device that let him see into the future. I don’t think the movie covered his origin story, but I assume he was just a normal guy until he used the device to look years into the future, saw that Trump was going to be elected president, and immediately sank into despair and madness.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    Have you watched Person of Interest? If you haven’t, you need to. It’s like a five year arc of Batman stories, only Batman is split into two people… the billionaire mastermind and the special-ops ninja warrior. It wasn’t Christopher Nolan but his brother Jonathan… but you can see how they spent a lot of years arguing over the best themes for this kind of story as there is a *LOT* of overlap between the Batman trilogy and PoI.Report

  4. Pinky says:

    Ooh, best trilogy of all time. I sense a good Tuesday topic.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Pinky says:

      Umm. Lord of the Rings? Or Episodes IV-V-VI of Star Wars? I can think of nothing else.

      Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is in the same league, I guess, but if it makes the playoffs, it gets in on a wild card and is eliminated in the first round.Report

  5. Derek Stanley says:

    I think I am the odd one. The best out of the three was Begins. Dark Knight was decent,but way to dark for my tastes on superhero movies. Rises was too dumb plot, still too dark for my tastes, and not enough Batman being Batman. I only go back and watch Begins these days.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Derek Stanley says:

      Batman Begins is the only one I own, so it’s definitely the one I’ve seen the most. I think it’s the best of the three as a stand-alone movie. No offense to Heath Ledger fans, but I found Cillian Murphy far more unsettling. He looks only slightly more like a human being than Ledger in full Joker makeup. He’s remarkably in-control as a mastermind of the organization, but the way he’s so terrified of his superior increases the tension. Joker follows his own script, which makes him dangerous but detached from reality. Joker is like a bad fever compared to the terminal cancer of the League of Shadows.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Pinky says:

        “Batman Begins is the only one I own, so it’s definitely the one I’ve seen the most. I think it’s the best of the three as a stand-alone movie. ”

        Which makes sense because it wasn’t supposed to be the start of a trilogy, just like 2008’s Iron Man wasn’t supposed to lead to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.Report

        • Pinky in reply to DensityDuck says:

          I still don’t understand why Iron Man was popular. What a lousy movie. What a lousy lead character.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Pinky says:

            speeeeeeak for yourself there, bro.Report

          • North in reply to Pinky says:

            Tony Stark was kind of a jerk, sure but Americans loooooove a smart ass. Also Iron Man launched the MCU and the MCU has been bringing my marvel fanboy heart joy ever since so I could never think ill of Iron Man.Report

            • Pinky in reply to North says:

              See, for me it played out in the opposite way. Tony Stark alienated me from the franchise. I wasn’t going to see Iron Man 2, and I never got around to seeing Captain America, and pretty soon it felt like picking up a TV series in season two.Report

              • North in reply to Pinky says:

                I can see it. You’re in the minority there though apparently as Marvel/Disney have been geysering money out of the franchise for years now.Report

              • Pinky in reply to North says:

                Oh, yeah, I realize it. The Avengers is right up there with autos and flavored carbonated beverages in terms of successful business ideas. For me, Iron Man had no arc. The hero went through some things and came out identical. The villain was as obvious as he could be (Stane!?!), was never fleshed out, and had no turning point. The romance had no sizzle and no resolution. The most interesting thing that happened was in the last minute. I wouldn’t have thought that carbonated beverages would sell either.Report

    • I can’t speak for the Dark Night Rises, which I haven’t seen. But I definitely liked Begins better than Dark night.

      To my taste, Dark Night seemed a bit too cliche and forced. Cliche: Yes, I understand that Batman worries about the conflict between vigilantism and justice and worries about his own motivations, but that was covered in Begins already. Forced: It just seems strange and too convenient to the story line that the Joker would have as a motivation to demonstrate Batman’s venality.

      I may very well be missing something. I saw Dark Night only once, when it came out. I’ve seen Begins several times. Also, I probably like origin stories better than non-origin stories when it comes to superheroes. That said, I’m not well-acquainted with the genre, which could also explain why I’m missing something.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        I don’t think these movies are nearly as historically great as Eric does. But I absolutely agree that Batman Begins is the best film of the three. It has the most taut, convincing script and the best acting. The others try to succeed by piling more and more spectacular weight on thinner ideas – and don’t.Report

        • That’s mostly my take (along with Burt’s analysis below). I should add the caveat, however, that I’m by no means a connoisseur of the superhero genre. There may be things in part 2 I’m just not seeing (in addition to my apparent inability to remember to write “Knight” with a “K”).Report

    • I’m with you on this, @derek-stanley . While I enjoyed the other two films immensely for their spectacle and for the performances of Heath Ledger and (yes I do mean this) Anne Hathaway respectively, I think the OP hit something here:

      While you can’t call a film about a rich orphan with military-grade vehicles and weapons who fights criminals in a bat costume realistic, you can call it grounded.

      I would call it emotionally realistic. Which may be what the OP meant with the word “grounded.” Bruce’s childhood fears and traumas, his resulting revulsion of street criminals and fear of bats, aimlessness and descent into hedonism, then his rejection of his legacy, pursuit of violence, all make a great deal of emotional sense. They resonate and create identification. Even if Gotham City and the fancy military toys made by Wayne Industries are silly, the heavy emotional journey pushes us right past those things and leave us rooting for Bruce to create the Batman and use him to attain mastery over his past and himself.

      The Scarecrow got a very nice interpretation, IMO, but the real antagonist is not Scarecrow or even R’as al-Ghul. The antagonist is ultimately Bruce Wayne’s inner demons and when he conquers himself internally, the external bad guys don’t stand a chance. I love the emotional journey Nolan takes us on in Batman Begins and however clever Inception and Memento might have been and however beautifully-envisioned Dunkirk might be, this is the story that resonates with me.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Agreed on all of this, though of those other Nolan films you mention, I think I would put one or two over Batman Begins.

        But I’m mainly commenting to thank you for reminding me that I thought Hathaway was the best thing in Rises by a Gotham city block. I had totally forgotten that performance. Shows how memorable the film was for me.Report

  6. Kazzy says:

    The only reason this might be the best trilogy ever is because the Fast and Furious folks look down there noses at trilogies and made an octogy.Report

    • North in reply to Kazzy says:

      I do not hate the Fast and the Furious series because I, long ago, resolved that I was not allowed to hate something I didn’t at least generally understand. Which means I’d have to watch Fast and Furious before I’m allowed to hate it. And that feels like too high a price to pay.Report