Well, it’s over. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES has been released and with it Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy has finished. A saga that started nearly ten years ago has concluded, leaving many fans satisfied, thankful and excited for what comes next.
But before we speculate about the Caped Crusader’s next move, it seems fitting to take a moment and reflect on the mammoth task Christopher Nolan just completed. Yes, he avoided the third movie curse. Yes, he revived a dead franchise and set the standard for superhero films. But, for me, it’s more than that. For me, Christopher Nolan just showed other filmmakers how to make a true superhero trilogy.
Nolan’s Batman films are one story. Starting with BATMAN BEGINS, continuing with THE DARK KNIGHT and closing with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, the three movies fulfill an entire narrative. The fact that Nolan would aim for that – and the fact that WB would allow him to – is surprising. The fact that he pulled it off is astonishing.
How often do we get trilogies these days? Original trilogies that aren’t based on books (like LORD OF THE RINGS)? It’s rare. Why? Well, one of the reasons is because these films make so much money. Why end a good thing? And THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is going to pull in a whole lot of money, more than enough to warrant another follow-up. But that isn’t happening. Nolan has put story above money. He could have ended with a cliffhanger (some argue he did) and handed the franchise to another director but he didn’t. Instead he decided to tell his tale in full.
This sets a precedent for all other superhero movies. While I love IRON MAN, THE AVENGERS and other comic book pictures, I will always compare them to Nolan’s trilogy. Are they telling a whole story? Do the filmmakers have foresight, are they planning ahead? Are they trying it all together? It’s not necessary, of course, but it’s such a novel yet simple idea. Filmmakers should be able to tell the stories they want and studios should grant them the freedom to give their visions a definitive end. Hopefully the success of this trilogy will encourage more directors, writers and producers to create complete visions. Superhero films – and blockbusters in general – can be more than isolated films with the same characters.
It’s really remarkable to look back at all three Bat-films and see what Nolan achieved. It spanned nearly ten years, incorporated dozens of characters and many locations but it all feels like one story. That’s not true for IRON MAN and IRON MAN 2, that’s not true for the SUPERMAN films or the SPIDER-MAN features. That’s certainly not true for most popular, anticipated sequels. It’s not the only way to tell a story but it’s gratifying and rewarding for fans who want closure and earned drama.
Of course, Nolan achieved so much more than this. He advanced IMAX cinema, he grounded superhero films, he made us all forget about Joel Schumacher’s films. But the Dark Knight trilogy will always be the gold standard of how to tell a full story. BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES are three chapters that belong to one definitive tale. It’s not often we see that and it’s not often that it’s this good.
These days it’s always sequel after sequel as long as they’re turning a profit. Christopher Nolan didn’t completely disregard that notion, he did make three movies after all. But he had a vision and he had a direction and overall story he wanted to tell about a man dealing with grief and becoming the symbol he envisioned as a conflicted, tortured youth. That story is complete now. It’s a stunning achievement for a modern blockbuster. While so many filmmakers are focused on rewarding audiences with lifelike special effects and eye-popping 3D, Christopher Nolan has attempted to give them something more: a cohesive, epic story with a beginning, middle and end.