Batman Begins (2005) & The Dark Knight (2008) Directed by Christopher Nolan
Knowing that Astrid isn't a big fan of these films, I thought I'd watch the Nolan movies back to back before she comes home.
Batman Begins is the origin of how the caped crusader came to be. Christian Bale plays the Batman/Bruce Wayne protagonist with the right amount of American Psycho for Wayne and the requisite steeliness for Batman. Unfortunately it's very hard to feel much for Bale as an actor, although he is a fine one. I don't have empathy with Bale as this character. I feel that Nolan knows this so a supporting cast of amongst others, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy and a poorly cast Katie Holmes try to fill that space. Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon is the peace in this film. Oldman finding a role where he can downplay for a change, amongst the shouting and fighting his humble presence gives the film some well needed contrast to the often overwhelming action.
Nothing in Nolan's previous films suggest he would be able to handle such blockbusters. The technical aspects are superb. Great set pieces fill the screen with little use of the overused CGI. Nolan prefers to keep things real. Unfortunately the film is half an hour too long and with no one on screen to identify with the last part is hard work. Still, this is a bold attempt to bring some life back into a franchise that had been quite abused with the dreadful Batman Forever.
The sequel, The Dark Knight is a more accomplished film and holds more interest. It's hard to believe this is the 5th most successful film in cinema history. What drew audiences to such a nihilistic movie? The Joker as played by Heath Ledger is a revelation. His anarchy, chaos theory and terrorist beliefs play on the 9/11 paranoia which I factor was a big part of the films appeal. The Joker's terrorizing of Gotham and dueling with the Batman is dark fun. Of course, they compliment each other and Nolan at least broaches the subject of vigilantism with the Batman character. The casting has also improved and although the likes of Bale, Caine, Oldman and Freeman return, replacing Katie Holmes' Rachel Dawes character with Maggie Gyllenhaal was a good idea. Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent/ Two Face also gives the film a threesome of central performances to cling to.
This film also boasts one of the best car chases in recent times. The truck driving mash up through winding under passes is inspired. Nolan's eye for a skydiving set piece is thrilling cinema also, you almost feel vertigo in some scenes. When Batman and The Joker share the screen there is an intense chemistry, it's electric viewing. A big influence on the look must have been Heat, The Dark Knight certainly shares a similar aesthetic to Mann's LA based heist movie.
A let down and spoiler is Nolan once again making his film too long. A shorter Dark Knight would have elevated it's worth.
As some claim, Nolan's film is a on the face of it a political treatise on what state we're in. I think he's trying to say that everything is chaos and fucked up and maybe we are looking for a Batman to sort everything out, weather he's good or not. Not so deep then. The final scene with Batman running into the shadows as a wanted man is a nice nod from Nolan to the classic western Shane. So what next for the Batman films, how does Nolan follow this? If Nolan waits twenty years and adapts Frank Miller's excellent The Dark Knight Returns, that would be worth the wait.