Oh, the Dark Knight trilogy. For quite a long run, it was seen as the gold standard for superhero films. Completely eschewing the campier images of the world’s greatest detective previously splashed in theaters by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher, Christopher Nolan reintroduced the character to movie audiences in 2005. Batman Begins took moviegoers by surprise, retelling the hero’s origin with Christian Bale at the helm portraying Bruce Wayne. It seemed a gamble given the completely different direction, but it turned out to be a success. Nolan went on to produce two sequels, with the entire score of films being dubbed the Dark Knight trilogy.
Its success was simply unparalleled at the time, but quickly overtaken by the multiple origin stories and crossover events that comprised the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now that DC is getting its own foothold in the shared movie hero game (dubbed the “DC Extended Universe”), it’s tough to look back at the Nolan films. The trio of films were simply hyped because audiences didn’t know anything better was possible. Instead of bolstering Batman for a huge endeavor in a shared world, the Dark Knight trilogy short shifted the character in more ways than one.
CAUTION: MULTIPLE SPOILERS FOR THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY AHEAD.
15. MOST VILLAINS WERE GUTTED
It’s hard to argue that one of the most memorable things about the Dark Knight trilogy was the amazing incarnation of the Joker played by Heath Ledger. He was smartly depicted as a psychopathic gangster with few qualms about dragging people into his own madness. His stint in The Dark Knight was iconic and an instant hit with fans.
Unfortunately, other villains featured in the films didn’t get such a high-grade treatment. Jonathan Crane’s debut was overshadowed by Ra’s al Ghul, but the demon’s head was stripped of his signature mysticism. Talia al Ghul was depicted as a half-baked femme fatale with an even less-baked evil scheme to destroy Gotham. Bane was reduced to a stocky dude with the most non-threatening voice ever and Two-Face was a whiny Terminator double. For all the panache the Joker had, Batman’s other villains were poorly delivered in every Nolan film.
14. GAVE BATMAN FLIMSY LOVE INTERESTS
Part of Batman’s long comic book history was that he had an assortment of significant others that impacted him greatly. Most notable of which was Talia al Ghul, with whom he had a son, and Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman). The previous films tried to replicate these great loves of his, but were hampered by changing actors, directorial visions and the like.
The Dark Knight trilogy had three films to dive into a proper Bruce Wayne romance, but instead introduced a completely original and entirely uninteresting character named Rachel Dawes. Dawes was written poorly, seeming more like a scolding stepsister than potential girlfriend material to the hero. After her story was plodded out for a movie and a half, she was properly fridged and the trilogy jumped ship to using Selina Kyle in an equally uninteresting foray. The Nolanverse did nothing but stunt Bruce’s romances in the worst way.
13. BRUCE WAYNE LACKED PERSONALITY
Bruce Wayne is definitely a tough character to tackle. Although deeply introspective in the cowl, he does have a natural knack for convincing people in and out of costume. More often than not, Bruce was able to get folks to stand with him in the face of the most insurmountable odds, simply due to the strength of his character.
Whether it be a product of the writing or Christian Bale focusing on other aspects of the character, Bruce Wayne in the Dark Knight trilogy lacked a single shred of charisma. His relationships with his allies largely feel like they side with the Bat because he simply says so. Bruce had no real strength behind his character, with much of his personality relegated to stiff jokes and longing, despondent stares into the distance every so often. What little emotion he showed was lacking and relied upon cheap resources like Rachel’s death.
12. THAT RIDICULOUS BATMAN VOICE
Almost as important as the cowl, Batman’s disguised voice has been a big part of the character throughout the years. Some actors have simply made their tone a bit deeper when running around in the cape, while some didn’t change anything at all. Regardless of the efforts made, there was still no distinct sound for Batman’s voice in the films (discounting Kevin Conroy’s take in Mask of the Phantasm).
Nolan’s take on Batman also came with Christian Bale’s now infamous guttural growl which he used when in costume. The voice was so distanced from a regular speaking voice, that it made it genuinely difficult to understand the character’s spoken lines during the films. Batman’s throat-wrenching dialogue was mercilessly mocked and sadly remains one of the few things that stuck out from all three movies.
11. ALFRED WAS ALL BLUSTER
Alfred Pennyworth has been known for decades as Batman’s trustworthy butler, but has expanded his role deeply to that of a mentor and father figure in Bruce’s life. Earlier portrayals by Michael Gough on the big screen always painted Alfred as a wise elder, often giving guidance to other characters and cracking the odd joke.
Michael Caine took up the role in the Nolan trilogy. Unfortunately the butler was reduced to a nagging old man who was summarily ignored at every turn by Bruce. All the pieces of wisdom he attempted to impart tended to be incredibly roundabout, and his care as a guardian was muted against Batman’s escapades. Nolan’s Alfred lacked any sort of real impact on Bruce’s life, so much so that his leaving Bruce’s side in The Dark Knight Rises did nothing to deter the Wayne and ended up not mattering in the long run.
10. BATMAN DIDN’T DO MUCH DETECTIVE WORK
Throughout his history, Batman has been known as the “World’s Greatest Detective.” In past films, he was tasked with solving puzzles by Edward Nygma or deducing the weaknesses of new enemies to arrive on the scene. It wasn’t terribly in depth like his comic runs, but it showed a bit of his intelligence at least.
The Dark Knight trilogy didn’t really bother with this aspect. In Batman Begins Bruce didn’t figure out Ra’s scheme until the end, he simply beat the hell out of Joker for answers to Rachel’s location in The Dark Knight and in The Dark Knight Rises he never deduced Miranda Tate’s real identity after supposed years conversing on business and eventually sleeping with her. Simply put, the Nolan trilogy made a shoddy detective out of Batman, having him be a brutal vigilante instead of the intelligent crusader he always was.
9. MADE CATWOMAN GULLIBLE
Part of the reason that Catwoman so entrances Batman is not just due to her attractiveness, but also her fierce independence and even-keeled way of tackling things. Even if her interests were sometimes self-serving, Selina was thoughtful and above all, knew when she was being swindled. After all, you can’t out-thief a cat burglar.
Nolan’s take on the character definitely changed this outlook a bit. Selina Kyle was still very self-serving and stole things, but she was also painfully gullible. A big motivation for her was this supposed “clean slate” that could erase her identity from the world, a MacGuffin that turned out to be unsurprisingly nonexistent. The fact that Kyle would even buy the idea of such an item is not only silly, but also the fact that she’s taken in so easily by it is a slap in the face for the original character.
8. WAS GRITTY AND REALISTIC (UNTIL IT WASN’T)
The Batman films always floated between the serious and campy in years past. From rocket firing penguins to the tragic origins of Robin, the movies were comfortable in changing around tone during the action whenever it suited them. The Dark Knight trilogy stood in stark contrast, eschewing the camp for gritty, grounded realism.
This would have been perfectly fine if it had stuck to its own rules. Too often, the series found itself bending its stalwart grounded rules to give Batman leeway. Most notable was that Bruce could be terribly wounded by knives and gunfire, but escaping a nuclear blast was completely doable for him in The Dark Knight Rises. He could overcome fear toxin or break into secure buildings, but couldn’t trace a sniper. This issue just compiled over the course of the series, giving Batman special circumstantial powers whenever the movies needed it.
7. FAILED TO SHOW BRUCE’S DUAL LIFE
Another big part of the character of Bruce Wayne was his balance between his Wayne and Batman legacies. By night, of course, he was pummeling bad guys and dismantling criminal organizations, but by day, he was negotiating philanthropic business deals. This was an important balance to his character, especially when it threatened to tilt the scales one way or another.
Nolan’s take seemed to completely subvert the fact that Bruce had responsibilities outside of being Batman. Sure, in Batman Begins he ran around with a couple of supermodels and feigned having a bad boy image as a public cover, but this was dropped within the next two films. Bruce is practically a shut-in, making the rare public appearance to awkwardly run into an ex-girlfriend or track down a thief. This made Bruce seem like an imbalanced vigilante with zero interest in the real world outside of his cowl.
6. BATMAN’S ACTIONS DIDN’T REALLY IMPACT GOTHAM
What’s the point of Batman being around if folks don’t think he makes a difference? In previous films he’s hailed as a hero, a friend of those in need and even a celebrity in the city of Gotham. The Dark Knight was always seen as Gotham’s protector, but that image took a huge hit in the Nolan films.
Batman has an early career peak before calling it an apparent quits when Joker successfully gets Harvey Dent killed. Over the trio of movies, Bruce has maybe put on the cowl for a couple of years at most. The more dramatic reduction of crime was due to the Dent Act; something Gotham City enacted on its own. Batman himself may have had an indirect hand in it, but his actions weren’t nearly as city-saving as he purported them to be; until he got rid of an armed nuclear bomb unscathed of course.
5. BOTCHED THE KNIGHTFALL ADAPTATION
Fans were in quite a tizzy when it was announced that Bane would be a villain in the Nolan trilogy. In Schumacher’s film Batman & Robin, Bane was disappointingly depicted as a scrawny murderer mutated into a brawny brainless hulk. Batman followers were excited for the new iteration and possibility of the Nolan film taking a few cues from the iconic Knightfall arc in Batman.
Unfortunately, all that really seemed to make the cut was Bane’s signature backbreaking move. In the film, the villain crippled Bruce, but then left him behind in a prison where he was conveniently finds with a former doctor. A few punches in the spine and a short montage later, the hero was up to speed in no time. The trilogy had a chance to show Bruce truly lose to a villain a la Knightfall, but instead reduced Bane to a cheap lapdog of Talia’s with incredibly thin motivations.
4. MADE JIM GORDON A TERRIBLE DETECTIVE
Jim Gordon was never portrayed well in the films beforehand. Often seen as a somewhat ineffectual commissioner, the tough comic character was begging for a proper portrayal. The Dark Knight trilogy took this up to introduce Gordon as a beat cop and graduate him to being a commissioner of the GCPD.
The big issue that arose with showing Gordon’s growth was the fact that he really wasn’t all that great of a policeman. He failed to root out the corrupted officers in his department despite, you know, actually dealing with cops on the take in Batman Begins. On top of his poorly thought out confession letter to why Harvey Dent was a monster, Gordon didn’t have the deductive powers to discover the thing that everyone else managed to by the last film: that Bruce Wayne was Batman!
3. INTRODUCED JOHN BLAKE
So far in the Batman film space, the detective’s stalwart boy wonder partner Robin was only featured in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Portrayed by Chris O’Donnell, Dick Grayson was portrayed as impulsive and a bit too earnest, but it was an honest try at finally bringing the character to the big screen.
Christopher Nolan could have easily seeded Robin in his grittier world with his tragic origin. Instead, viewers got John Blake. Blake was a GCPD officer and incidentally the smartest man in the department as he discerned Batman’s identity by seeing a special look in Bruce’s eyes (yes, really). Bruce ended up giving him the keys to the cave, and the movie ended with Blake’s name of Robin being revealed. The young ward is now relegated to a throwaway reference with little else to be said. How disappointing.
2. THE FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY WAS NEVER STELLAR
Aside from being one of the greatest minds in the entire DC universe, Batman is a hero adept in hand to hand combat. Trained by ninjas, Bruce Wayne was almost always in peak physical condition and going toe to tie with bad guys every other week.
The Dark Knight trilogy seemed to rely more on the hero’s gadgets rather than his fighting skills. Bale complained about his discomfort in the batsuit during Batman Begins and it showed. Little of his proper fighting was done in the cowl, but rather in training montages. It improved a little in the sequels, but not by much. Batman whiffed punches and blatantly mistimed dodges in the few hand to hand scraps he did get in. Even his fight with Bane was lackluster, reduced to sloppy haymakers and loud screams. This painted the hero as completely ineffectual without his toys, flying in the face of the comics.
1. IT SET THE TONE FOR THE DCEU
Ever since the debut of Man of Steel, audiences and comic book fans alike have complained that the DC Extended Universe is too dark and grim. Many tout the bubblier nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the new standard, with DC being too serious for its own good.
However, fans need only to look into a mirror to see why the DCEU has pursued such a dark tone. Moviegoers lauded the Dark Knight trilogy, making its films among the highest-grossing titles in history. With its rabid success, it stands to reason that DC felt the same formula would work and applied it to Superman, Batman and more. It’s because of Nolan’s trilogy that Batman is grim, violent and has zero room for his young ward; that’s how audiences loved him before! The oppressively dark and grim tone of the DCEU now is on the fans, not the studios.
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