Once the credits roll on ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, Christopher Nolan will have completed his journey with the Batman franchise. 3 films (and 2 side projects) later, it’s all over for him and the caped crusader. Now, with the release of this final film less than 2 weeks away at this point, what better time is there to take a look back at Nolan’s path with the franchise? I’ll be looking at the past, the present, and the future here, trying to paint a portrait of what this era actually was like for the filmmaker, if that makes any sense. I think Nolan evolved both as a writer and a director while working on the franchise, most notably in terms of scale and what he was willing to do on the big screen. I’ll start with his entrance into the world of Batman and then conclude with where his career might go now that he’s come to a close in this particular type of job. Christopher Nolan has walked a very interesting path while making ‘Batman Begins’, ‘The Dark Knight’, and ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, and I’m going to try and follow in his footsteps while telling this story. Let’s dive right in and get started, shall we?
Christopher Nolan entered the world of Batman after a successful transition from indie fare like ‘Memento’ to the world of high quality studio filmmaking with ‘Insomnia’. He had actually wanted to make a Howard Hughes biopic next, but he tabled it when Martin Scorsese took on similar material in ‘The Aviator’, and when Warner Brothers tapped him to reboot the franchise after it had been ruined by camp, Nolan dove in, and the result was ‘Batman Begins’. As I wrote in my Historical Circuit Review of ‘Batman Begins’ (found here): “Christopher Nolan turned out to be the perfect choice to co-write and direct this project. He made a dark and brooding tale, miles apart from what Tim Burton or Joel Schumaker did, but he didn’t do that just for the sake of being different. Nolan wanted a smarter and more realistic Batman…a superhero that could exist in the real world. He also knew just what to keep from the mythology of the character and what to get rid off, but more than that, he and co-writer David Goyer knew exactly how to integrate them here. Things are given a reason, a purpose, and most importantly…a solid meaning”. The movie was a critical and financial success, ensuring that Nolan’s career was on the rise and that a new franchise was under his control. This was just the start for Phase 2 of Christopher Nolan though…
Before returning to Bruce Wayne’s story after the well received reboot that was ‘Batman Begins’, Nolan opted to adapt a book he’d had his eye on. This turned into ‘The Prestige’, a clever tale of dueling magicians that represented the filmmaker trying something a bit different. I enjoy the film for what it is, but I’m not over the moon about it or something. It’s an important part of his filmography though, so it deserves its due. One might have wondered then if this was Nolan letting loose in anticipation of what he thought was going to be a stuffy “for hire” job on the impending Batman sequel, but as we all know now, that wasn’t to be the case in the least.
I don’t think any of us quite expected what we got with ‘The Dark Knight’. One of the best sequels of all time (and some would say just plain best films of all time), this movie blew just about everyone away when it came out. A superhero movie in name only, this is more an epic tale of good and evil and a grim crime movie. Nolan had gotten the origin story out of the way the last time out, and now free to do as he pleased, he gave Batman a struggle that fit right into the political parallels of the time. It’s hard not to see the Patriot Act all over Batman’s surveillance device or terrorism in the sadistic attacks by the Joker. It was an incredibly large scale movie, an incredibly realistic movie, and just an incredible movie overall. The flick was a critical and financial juggernaut, and its exclusion from the Best Picture category at the Oscars that year is widely regarded as the catalyst for the rule changes that the Academy has since adopted for the category. Nolan was officially a moviemaking god.
The world was Christopher Nolan’s oyster, and what did he do with his clout? Well, he finally made a film he’d been trying to do most of his life…’Inception’. Now, I’m not as huge a fan of this flick as many are, but I recognize that it’s a grand bit of ambition and is really well directed. My issues are at the screenplay level, and while I like it just fine, I don’t love it. Still, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a movie that pushed Nolan further as a filmmaker. The confidence in large scale action that he honed on ‘The Dark Knight’ served him incredibly well here. It was time then to move on to his final Batman outing, and he planned to take everything he’d done so far and use it for one last Caped Crusader hurrah.
Now, Nolan is back in the world of Batman with the impending release of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. As of this writing, I haven’t seen the film yet (my screening is about a week and change away), but the very first reports from screenings have been overwhelmingly positive, claiming there are tears and standing ovations coming from the crowd. Should we have expected any less from the man? The film looks even larger in scale than ‘The Dark Knight’, and certain clips seem to suggest more than a little ‘Inception’ in there too. The journey has taken him from a gritty realism that existed on a smaller scale to gritty realism on a literally massive one.
From here, it really is anyone’s guess where he goes now (besides likely continuing to godfather the new Superman franchise and possibly doing the same for the reboot of Batman we know is down the pike), but there are a couple of potential projects that could catch his eye. There’s the possibility of him going back to his Howard Hughes film, but more likely he’ll take on a large project for a studio (remember, he was courted recently for ‘The Twilight Zone’). One can also dream about him getting to make a James Bond movie, but don’t hold your breath there. Essentially, Nolan can make whatever the hell he wants now. The question is, what will that be?
There you all have it…Christopher Nolan’s journey with Batman. He’s emerged as a master of the craft, and one of the most influential filmmakers in Hollywood today (especially in terms of utilizing IMAX). I’m very interested to see what he does next, and I know you all are too. For now though, let’s all begin counting the days until we see his vision for Batman completed. We’ll all be thrilled to see it, but if you’re like me, you’ll be a little sad too that Nolan’s time with the Bat has come to an end…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!