Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Dark Knight Trilogy (An Overview)



When a forest grows too wild, A purging fire is inevitable and natural.
                               - Ra's al Ghul

Back in 1995's when Michael Gough's Alfred muttered the line "Broken wings mend in time" it seems that he was talking about the Batman franchise.

Since between Joel Schumacher's rubbish "Batman Forever" and the abomination "Batman and Robin" it seemed that he succeeded in clipping this franchises wings for good. 
But alas Hollywood seems to have fallen in love with Reboots these days and for once I am incredibly grateful as it gave us "The Dark Knight Trilogy".

"Batman Begins" The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises" are directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception, The Prestige), written by David S. Goyer and are largely head accountable for revolutionising The Super Hero genre by taking on it's subject matter as seriously and realistically as possible adding complex emotional depth and psychological studies of its characters oh and a Bat-mobile which is essentially a Tank!


The following is an overview of the entire Dark Knight Saga exploring everything from its Story Line to Character Design and as such there may be a few spoilers for those yet to see the Trilogy.



Batman Begins (2005)

- Fear.

Why do we fall, Sir?
So that we can learn to pick ourselves up
                         - Alfred
A Means to Fight Injustice. (An Introduction Part I) 
The start of the trilogy See's Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travelling the world in search of an understanding of  the criminal mind following his parents murder, Approached by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) He is offered training by the secret sect of Assassins known as "The League of Shadows" and event that will set him down the road to becoming the vigilante known as the Batman. 

Batman Begins takes an interesting step forward in terms of superhero movies with the entire film being played as closely to real life as possible in terms of Batman's gadgets and tools which are based upon realistic technology as Nolan tackles the character from the view point of "What if this were real?" approaching every aspect of the story as realistically and believably as possible in an attempt to ground the story in reality.

Unlike previous interpretations of the character the series keeps its focus primarily on Bruce Wayne rather than his Batman persona delving into the conflicts that arise in his life as he attempts to bring justice to Gotham adding a unique and complex insight into the man beyond the Bat studying the psychological issues that his double life has on both him and those closest to him.
The film begins by exploring Bruce's self imposed exile from Gotham following the death of his parents as he attempts to gain a greater insight to the criminal mind by living among them a story largely unexplored by other Batman media.

The film also delves into the impact that the persona as Batman has on his reputation as Bruce Wayne and how he is view by those people who are unaware of his secret 
as well as the way in which Bruce Wayne serves as a secret identity for Batman, not the other way around. 

Out of all three members of this Trilogy Begins takes the most liberties with its time frame, jumping from Bruce's childhood before his parents deaths (giving the audience an insight into their relationship), to immediately after the tragedy (allowing the audience to survey the aftermath) to the court case, to Bruce's exile, his training and ultimately his return.
With many of the events not taking place according to their appropriate order, allowing for a better understanding of the events that shaped Wayne into the Man/Bat he becomes as a result of these events 

More Than A Man. (The Cast Part I) 
Batman Begins features an impressive cast with many of the actors going on to become regular Nolan contributors.

Headed by Christian Bale in the main role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, Bale delivers a great performance that portrays the emotional fragility that Wayne is forced to cope with due to the burden of leading a double life in a way in which no other actor attempting to play the character has been able to encapsulate. 

The films love interest comes in the form of Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) Gotham's assistant district attorney and Bruce's childhood friend the history between the two characters makes the relationship much more interesting as the film explores the way in which his absence over the years has effect both their relationship and her view on Bruce's return, with him wanting to show her that he is more than a self-centered rich kid but being unable to do so with out putting her at risk. 


Become Fear. (The Themes Part I) 
Throughout Begins the film explores the theme of Overcoming Fear an direct example in which is that when a young Bruce Wayne is traumatized by bats eventually leading him to want to leave the theater during a scene featuring bats which in turn results in his parents death at the hands of a mugger, Holding himself responsible upon his return to Gotham he takes the symbol of the Bat as his crime fighting persona.
This theme is further enforced by the choice of Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) as the films antagonist as he seeks to exploit fear through the use of his hallucinogenic gas.

The film as delves into the influence of Father Figures on our lives with Bruce's journey being instigated by the death of his parents he is constantly shaped by mentors and father figures who better him as a person. This starts out in the form of Henri Ducard who teaches him the skill he will require when he returns to Gotham (albeit for different reasons than Bruce expected) and helping him move past the guilt he felt over his parents deaths. Upon his return this mantle is taken by three different men 
  1. Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Cain) - who acts as Bruce's most dependable and loving adviser forgiving his mistakes and helping him get back on his feet.
  2. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) - who equips himwith the equipment he requires to become Batman and advise him on technical aspects
  3. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) - Who serves of an example of honesty and Justice while helping Batman in the field. 
Each of these three character serves as a different part of a whole guide for Bruce allowing him to learn and ultimately become a better person through their continued assistance.

Time To Spread The Word And The Word Is PANIC. (The Villains Part I) 


- Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself....And Scarecrow. (Scarecrow)
As the film theme is based largely around Fear and Overcoming Fear it only seems right that Dr Johnathan Crane AKA Scarecrow ( Who would go on to appear in all three films) who personifies fear should debut as the primary antagonist for the first two acts of the movie.
portrayed by Cillian Murphy (another repeat Nolan contributor) Crane is portrayed as featuring neither a intimidating strength nor genius level intelligence but rather an deep insight into the human mind specifically fear, manipulating a deeply personalized fear response from his victims through the use of a chemical fear gas that causes the victim severe hallucinations.


- The Demon's Head. ( Ra's Al Ghul)
Liam Neeson's performance is brilliant (but what did you expect it's Liam Neeson!) as Ra's Al Ghul, Bruce's mentor and a man who will go to any length to secure his version of justice.
Ra's is an interesting opponent for Batman as the two character feature strong parallels of one another with Ra's being a strong embodiment what Wayne could become if not for the rules that he he uses to keep himself in check, a theme that reappears in The Dark Knight" with Harvey Dent's Two Face but comes across much stronger in begins as Bruce has already begun down the path to becoming like Ra's only to turn away at the last moment. 
Also the full circle nature of Student vs. Master is very well done (if not a bit cliche) and serves to show how far Bruce has come since the start of his journey.


- The Mark. (Zsasz)
Also Victor Zsasz appears very briefly. (Many of you will not know who Zsasz is but, IT'S ZSASZ!)

Spelunking? (The Equipment Part I) 
Batman Begins takes an interesting look at the assembly of the equipment that would go on to become Batman's outfit and equipment, as the film is attempting to bring the events to life as realistically as possible Batman's supplies come in the form of rejected military prototypes.

The tumbler was the first thing designed for the new trilogy as Nolan believed (correctly in my opinion) that the Batmobile is the essence of the Batman film you are attempting to create , and  "The Tumbler" is a true embodiment of Nolan's new vision for Batman, not beautiful but practical, abandoning the neon laced design of the previous installments for a more practical vehicle. that combines the speed of a Ferrari with the strength of a Tank.


Does It Come In Black (The Look Of The Trilogy) 
Each film seems to feature its own unique colour pallet with Batman Begins strongly featuring strong use of the colour orange as seen from the main publicity material such as poster but also preventable throughout the film perhaps to better highlight the dark silhouette of Batman's outfit against the brighter colour. The Dark Knight then shifts its colour tone to darker blues reflecting the darker tone of the movie while The Dark Knight Rise favors grey and whites.


The conclusion of Begins sets up (or rather hints at) the appearance of Batman's main nemesis The Joker and suggests escalation in the war on crime which continues into...

The Dark Knight  (2008) 

 - Chaos.

This city deserves a better class of criminal. And I'm gonna give it to them. 
- The Joker
All Part Of The Plan. (An Introduction Part II) 
Here sits the gem of the saga (in my opinion at least) following on from the events of Begins with the help of Lt. Jim Gordon and the new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) Batman's campaign to eliminate crime from Gotham has been largely successful, But the Mob is unwilling to give up without a fight and the appearance of a criminal calling himself The Joker (Heath Ledger) threatens all their plans.

You either Die a Hero or Live to see yourself become the Villain. (The Themes Part II) 

The Dark Knight explores the ideas of escalation in exploring the notion of Batman himself being responsible for the continued crimes of the Joker, his presence encouraging the Joker and driving him to greater and greater extremes. as well as the notion that Batman's methods could violently escalate with the creations of a device than can spy on Gotham's 30 million people slipping further and further across the line into vigilantism.

The film also explores just how much victory can cost with the lives of the characters are shattered forever in the aftermath of the Jokers reign of terror, things will never be the same, and interesting notion for the superhero genre in which films resolution more commonly feature things returning to normal.

Batman's Greatest Failure. (A Twist You Wont See Coming) 
The Dark Knight's gripping plot features a moment many of you wont see coming (I didn't) in which it is showed just how human Batman's limitations really are. This Trilogy aims to portray the story of Bruce Wayne as true to real life as possible and the unavoidable fact is that Batman is just a man, no matter how skilled he cant save everybody



Death of the Tumbler, Rise of the Bat-Pod. (The Equipment Part II) 
New Bat-Suit is made up of separate pieces to allow greater movement and fluidity in combat also allowing Batman to turn his head which the previous suit did not permit while appearing more streamlined compared to the bulky outfit of Begins.



The film also see's the introduction of the Bat-Pod that separates from the tumbler (the bat-pod consisting of two of the tumblers wheels) a smaller, faster and more mobile vehicle that still packs some of the tumblers punch, this vehicle continues the logical progression of Batman's equipment with his tools being salvaged from other tools causing the equipment developments to seem more natural (rather than look what I just built).


I Believe In Harvey Dent (The Characters Part II) 

The film introduces District Attorney Harvey Dent, who with the help of Rachel Dawes is attempting (Largely successfully) to clean up Gotham through the law, operating in a way Batman cannot.
Harvey Dent also begins a relationship with Rachel Dawes and the film explores how they form a successful duo in the court room, and other rooms...
The film also delves into the impact this has on her relationship with Bruce who still believes that she is willing to wait for him.
Rachel Dawes is the only character among the cast to be portrayed by to different actors as Katie Holmes role is replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal who delivers a competent (if a little bland) performance.

Do You Know How I Got These Scars? (The Villains Part II) 



- The Clown Prince of Crime. (The Joker)
The main antagonist for The Dark Knight comes in the form of Batman's primary villain The Joker, Nolan's version of the Joker portrayed by Heath Ledger (in his last and without doubt greatest performance in which you forget your watching an actor and simply get lost in the madness of the performance) is more threatening and unpredictable than previous incarnations of the character and stays true to the notion that the less you know about this character the more you fear him, with The Joker making up several back stories for himself during the course of the film in which none may be the true event that had lead him into becoming the Man....Clown? that he is today.


- The Two Faces of the Law. (Two Face)
The plot of The Dark Knight also gives full focus to the character of Harvey Dent and his eventual fall from grace as the Joker's campaign against Gotham takes it toll on both his body and mind driving him from his standing as "Gotham's White Knight" in which he was a figure of hope proving to the people of Gotham that the law can work and make a difference, into a corrupt vigilante who determines "Innocent or Guilty", "Right and Wrong" and "Life and Death" by a flip of a coin. Another dark reflection of Batman, Two-Face is an example of just where taking Justice into ones own hands can lead as the sense of right and wrong is abandoned for cold and uncompromising judgement. 

The Dark Knight is the first Batman film to not feature flash backs, relying on "Begins" to have done the expiation  the first time around. It is also the first Batman film to take the character of Batman outside of Gotham with the character traveling to Hong Kong to capture a criminal who has fled from Gotham's jurisdiction but as Batman doesn't operate inside of the law he is able to pursue in one of the Saga's most defining scenes.

Without going into too much detail the ending to "The Dark Knight" is rather...Dark.
Films directed by Christopher Nolan's are often most memorable through the use of the opening and ending, highlighting the drama, triumph and defeat as highly as possible in order to gauge the strongest reaction from the audience and here is a fine example with Bruce's entire world and the public's understanding of the vigilante known as The Batman damaged forever and what's more dramatic is that Bruce makes the decision himself in order to protect Gotham.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

- Pain.

Now is not the time for fear, That comes later
   - Bane
Rise. (An Introduction Part III) 
In the final installment of the Trilogy The Dark Knight Rises (Which I still believe should be called "Knightfall")  it has been eight years since the events of the previous movie and Bruce Wayne has hung up the Cowl and become a recluse as a result of the psychological damaged caused by his battle with the Joker, But is tempted out of  hiding by the appearance of a mysterious Cat Burglar Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and a cunning and brutal mercenary name Bane (Tom Hardy) who has his own plans for Gotham.

In order to protect Gotham from the consequences of Two Face's actions during "The Dark Knight" Gordon and Batman have effectively buried the truth in order to prevent the Jokers victory but any victory based on a lie no matter how hard fought will be a short term one at best and this returns in a interesting way in "The Dark Knight Rises" with crime rising from the very depths of Gotham and posing a far greater threat than anything faced before.

The biggest problem with the plot of Rises is that it happens twice, with Bruce Wayne lured out of retirement and having to learn how to be Batman again, before Bane shows up effortlessly breaks him and Wayne struggles to rise all over again, as a result the narrative struggles mid way through the movie as the film retreads ground it previously explored (but this time around with chanting), While this interrupts the flow of Wayne's tale the film avoids damage as this allows the other characters stories and situations time to mature and progress, and since Rises is by far the most ambitious yet it serves well to give the rest of the film events time to develop before bringing Bruce back into the fray.

The film also suffers from (if not multiple plot-holes then) multiple gaps in the narrative (After escaping the prison how does Bruce make it back to civilization? and then from there how does he reach Gotham?)

A Broken Bat.  (The Cost Of Being The Bat)
When Bruce Wayne is reintroduced at the start of the movie it is clear that he is not in good shape mentally or physically with the cost of victory having proved too much to bear and as a result Bruce now has hung up the cowl completely and become a recluse having lost all interest in the outside world due to his failure to protect what he cared most about.
This is handled incredibly well in film (especially by a brilliant performance from Bale) and its nice to see that the film takes itself seriously enough that Eight years on thing are not simply better because The Joker and Two-Face were defeated, the lasting impact of the consequence are played with full force ultimately leading to a heart-breaking scene between Bruce and Alfred as Alfred (in a performance that proves that he is the true dramatic punch behind the film) reveals painful truths in an attempt to force Wayne back into the world but not as Batman.

Also in a strange twist The Dark Knight Rises is probably the Batman film with the least amount of Batman featured, choosing instead to delve into the complexity's that his return to his life as a vigilante has on both those closest to him, but more to the point to Gotham as a whole, exploring the fact that may not be glad of his return following the belief that he is responsible for the death of Harvey Dent and now in fact view him to pose a greater threat to Gotham than Bane himself (a fascinating issue that is more touched upon than thoroughly explored)

We also see the first time Batman appears in combat openly in the day time a risky decision based on the emphasis of stalking in the dark enforced by the previous films, but one that works well do to the huge scale of the film and the weight of what is at risk.

And yes there are small issues such as the fact that Wayne still uses his Batman voice when around people who already know he's Batman, my counter argument to this is that while Wayne is Batman he might actually view it as a separate personality and as such so the voice instinctively. Is there any truth to this? Probably not. But I view it as a interesting theory that raises some interesting issues as regards to Bruce's mental state.

Then I Will Break You. (The Villains Part III) 


- Born Into Darkness. (Bane)
Bane portrayed by Tom Hardy is cold and calculating deducing Batman's Identity as Bruce Wayne with ease, If The Joker was a living embodiment of unpredictability then Bane is living ruthlessness from his scheme to his combat style every blow is aimed to break something. 
Posing both a mental and physical threat to Batman (especially in his weaken condition) Bane poses the largest threat to Gotham to date due to the sheer scale of his plan and its simplicity compared to that of Ra's Al Ghul. 

One of Bane's note worthy scene is the speech he delivers to a crowd of scared Gotham city residents from the steps of Blackgate Prison as he prey upon the poor's mistrust of the rich  and promises that "This Great City!" will endure all the while planning its destruction. 

The threat of Bane is incredibly apparent the first time that Batman faces off against him in single combat, with Bane effortlessly outclassing Batman, Beating him nearly to death and breaking his back in the process. 
The problem featured by Bane in the greater narrative of things is when in the Third Act a shocking plot twist is revealed (which warrant later discussion) the significance of his role drops drastically which does allow for a surprise twist in his ultimate fate but also undermines his lead villain role up until that point in the movie


- A Brazen Costume For a Cat Burglar. (Catwoman)
While not a villain Batman is forced to square off against Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) a amoral cat burglar who switches sides more than Ray Winston's character in "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull" who is looking for a chance to start anew as her life of crime begins to catch up with her.
The role of Kyle is used as an insider perspective to show that perhaps social revolution is not as fun as you may think, trapped as Gotham goes to hell,and while never overly comedic Kyle does supply lighter banter for the more serious tone of Batman.

A Little Air Superiority. (The Equipment Part III) 
In the final installment of the trilogy Batman's equipment only really receives one major new upgrade dubbed "The Bat"  which is the films version of the Bat-wing which replaces the Bat-Pod as Batman's primary mode of transport allowing for faster transport throughout the city resulting in some great aerial shots of Gotham and one awesome action sequence as the Bat and multiple tumblers go head to head.


The Tumbler and Bat-Pod both reappear reminding us that the tools that Batman uses can cause great destruction in the hands of those less deserving. 

The Knife That Cuts Deepest (A Twist That You Probably Will See Coming) 
The issue with the big plot twist in Rises (That I will not reveal) is that when the true design behind Banes goal is revealed anyone with anything above a basic understanding of the Batman Mythology will see the twist coming a mile off, and to anyone without a basic understanding of the Batman Mythology  the twist will seem like a last ditch effort to shock the audience, this is a shame as if re-watched its actually set up very well throughout the film (albeit subtly - although in my opinion plot twist should be introduced subtly throughout the film before the payoff is revealed.) 
The issue is raised by having plot twists centered around characters is that by not allowing the character enough screen time makes the reveal feel underwhelming, but in allowing too much screen time the twist becomes predictable, a difficult line to walk.

A Legend, Mr Wayne (Concluding The Trilogy)
While Rises has more (or at least more noticeable) flaws than the previous installments it is still a enjoyable and incredibly high quality movie and a worthy end to the Dark Knight Saga bringing Bruce's story and the story of those around him to a fitting conclusion as well as continuing the theme found persistently throughout the trilogy that anyone can be Batman.

Legacy (The Future and Lasting Effect of The Dark Knight) 
With the completion of this trilogy and Nolan's and Bale's departure from the character what does the future hold for the Batman franchise and what impact has these films had on the Superhero genre?

As previously mentioned The Dark Knight Saga can be considered as one of the main forces behind the idea that superhero movies can be as heartfelt or dramatic as any other genre, with this trilogy featuring a tone not found in other superhero movie (a notion seemingly deliberately juxtaposed by 2008 Marvel Movie "Iron Man" which took a more fun and light hearted approach)

There are already talks of another Reboot for the caped crusader as DC try to match Marvel's "Avengers" success and get a "Justice League" movie off the ground, a plan that may take a while as DC characters are hardly cross-over ready meaning it might be a long while before Batman returns to the big screen and this may be a good thing since after a trilogy of this caliber to rush off and reboot it immediately following its completion would completely undermine these great movies, and they are great movies, a new and different take on a character many audiences are familiar with, reinvented in a way which had never been done before and telling a engaging and moving story of one man's quest for justice along the way.

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