That Christopher Nolan is a Genius needs no discussion. One simply has to look at his portfolio of movies to understand why he deserves this accolade, and many more. But more than that, he’s a magician. Because only a magician could have rescued an icon like the Batman from it’s lowest point in cinematic history and take it to stratospheric heights in the span of a trilogy. To understand how he accomplished this impossible feat, you need to look away from ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy and at another one of his mind boggling movies, ‘The Prestige’.
‘The Prestige’ talks about the rivalry between two magicians but that is quite besides the point. During the very first scene, which sets up the tone of the movie, Michael Caine explains that every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. ‘The Pledge’, ‘The Turn’, and ‘The Prestige’. That’s it. If you understand this, you understand it’s manifestation in ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy.
‘Batman Begins’ was ‘The Pledge’. Nolan adopted an icon that was nothing but dead. After the disaster that was the George Clooney starrer ‘Batman and Robin’, the caped crusader was written off and no one dared go down the path of resurrecting and flashing the Bat Signal again. Nolan dared. He also made a solemn promise to the Batman faithful. He would keep the movie true to its character. Batman would be dark, gritty, brooding, and the criminals’ absolute worst nightmare. The first movie would do what ‘The First Year’ did. It would establish Batman as the giant bat in Gotham who struck fear in the criminal mind with so much of a flash of the Bat Signal. Nolan made sure Batman’s legendary status in superhero folklore as the greatest detective was also revived in the process. Nolan showed us the original Batman. The Batman movie that should always have been. He asked us to check if this was correct and that he was faithful to the comic character. He kept things basic and concentrated on building the foundations. Simple things like the tumblr jumping from roof-tops, the ‘back-up’ in Arkham asylum. Nothing that was NOT in the comic. He kept things ordinary, simple till the last scene.
The last scene in ‘Batman Begins’ truly defined his pledge – that he will take it to the next level and bring back The Clown Prince of crime. Gordan handed over a playing card in a ziplock plastic packet to Batman. He turned it over to find it’s a joker. That one moment was enough to send shivers down the spine, with your mind already fantasizing over the countless possibilities that hell would break loose in the next part of the series.
Nolan kept his word. And how! Heath Ledger’s Joker exploded on the scene and made ‘The Dark Knight’ his own. He unleashed anarchy without pride or prejudice. He turned Gotham upside down. He created doubts in the minds of the bravest and strongest believers. He took a city with a fearless D.A. and turned him into a psychopath murderer who decided a man’s fate on the flip of a coin. He took away hope and replaced it with despair. He took away law and replaced it with chaos. He made Batman doubt himself and almost give himself up to save people, such was the brilliance of his schemes. He pushed Batman to go to the extreme step of illegal surveillance of the entire city, all the while teasing him to break his one rule, safe in the knowledge that Batman will never break it. By the time he finished with the city, he almost blew up half the population, created a monster and forced Batman to become a fugitive wanted for Dent’s murder to save his identity. In the span of two and a half incredible hours, Nolan turned Batman from the one ally Gotham’s bravest could trust to the most wanted criminal, answerable for Dent’s murder. He turned Batman to a hero that Gotham deserved, but not the one it needed. Nolan had just executed the most brilliant Turn in the history of magic.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ was always going to be ‘The Prestige’ in Nolan’s magical trilogy. Simply because the next antagonist to step into Heath Ledger’s Joker had to be more than any ordinary goon. It had to be someone who knew Batman more than Batman himself. Someone capable of turning the tables on the Bat and beating him to pulp. Enter Bane. While the Joker was Ledger’s creation, Bane was Nolan’s. Tom Hardy just played that part to perfection. Not only was the character well written, but Hardy’s expressive eyes (remember that most of his face was hidden behind his ominous mask) and his beefed up physique took Bane to a whole new dimension. And he broke the goddamn Batman’s back. He fucking broke his back! If you didn’t feel all hope deserting you when you watched a crippled Batman being dragged away, you were just watching moving images on a screen. You never connected with the magic. Nolan took everything to an epic level in this movie. In TDK, Gotham was held hostage. In TDKR, Gotham was under a siege counting down to it’s death. In TDK, Batman had to come to terms with people dying around him just because someone wanted him to show his true identity. In TDKR, Batman had to come to terms with not only death, but loneliness, betrayal, bankruptcy, and near complete mental and physical breakdown. Batman had to start from scratch, resurrect himself from the pit of hell and take the fight to Bane, no matter the cost. He did just that. In the most epic way possible. And then just you felt like you were in a vacuum created by a mushroom cloud on the horizon, Nolan played a masterstroke and restored everything back to normal. Despite the inevitability of the end of this trilogy, enough seeds were sown for another one to sprout, if someone cared to nurture them.
I believe ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy was one the most spectacular things to happen to cinema in a long time. And in hindsight, I don’t think any other director could have done the caped crusader more justice than Nolan.
He became the magician Batman deserved, and needed.