Superhero movies wouldn't be what they are today were it not for the Dark Knight trilogy. In revamping the masked vigilante for the mainstream, filmmaker Christopher Nolan elevated a pedestrian genre to the realm of high art, earning universal praise and the genre’s first Oscar-winning performance with Heath Ledger's Joker. The performances did not stop with Heath however, as the overall cast brings many famous characters to life.
Nolan’s mastery of emotion, epic scale, and neo-noir tropes has aged incredibly well since The Dark Knight Rises wrapped things up in 2012, and the trilogy continues to be the superhero golden standard. The series set an unprecedented representation of Gotham, that many filmmakers have failed to achieve throughout the years.
That being said, the films themselves aren’t perfect. For every masterful decision that Nolan made, there was the occasional misstep, missed opportunity, or choice that simply didn’t align with what fans expect from Batman. Although the decisions are, in majority, fitting and necessary, those missteps take some of the magic out of these iconic films, leading the audience to confusedly stumble around at times.
Here are 10 Things Christopher Nolan Got Right About Batman (And 10 Things He Ruined).
20 Right: Batman’s Impact on Gotham
No superhero is as personally invested in their hometown as Batman is. His love for Gotham, his desire to see it free of crime and poverty, are crucial as to why he put on the mask in the first place, and Nolan does a fine job of illustrating that throughout.
In Batman Begins, the titular hero rejects his mentor’s attempt to cleanse the city, maintaining that there are still people worth saving. In The Dark Knight, Bats goes as far as to assume the mantle of villain, so that the people of Gotham have someone to unite against.
The fact that his actions are so intrinsically tied to the city he loves gives the films an emotional foundation that other iterations lacked. Tim Burton’s Batman always seemed more invested in his foes than he did Gotham, and Zack Snyder’s Batman seems too jaded to care about anything. Nolan’s is the only one that makes explicit the character’s urge to defend his home turf.
19 Ruined: Bruce Wayne Going Bankrupt
Bruce Wayne’s wealth is an integral part of the Batman story. Were it not for the billions he inherited from his parents, he would not be able to afford the gadgets needed to fight crime. Stripping away his wealth would be a gutsy decision, but one that could, ostensibly, add emotional depth to the character. Unfortunately, Nolan’s decision to bankrupt Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t achieve that - it doesn’t change him as a person, nor does it force him to cope without gadgets or the Batsuit.
It creates plot holes that wouldn’t have otherwise been there. When Bruce escapes the pit that Bane left him in, how did he have the funds to travel back to Gotham? How can he afford to vacation with Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) at the end of the film? In a trilogy characterized by sharp writing, it feels like the bankruptcy angle was simply crammed into the larger narrative and then discarded when inconvenient.
18 Right: The Batsuit
The Batsuit has gone through some awkward phases over the years. As menacing as Michael Keaton’s suit looked, the poor guy couldn’t move his neck to save his life. George Clooney is still getting flack for sporting nipples on a Batsuit, and Ben Affleck’s Batman v Superman armor lost authenticity by veering a little too far into Iron Man territory. This leaves Christian Bale’s suits, as they evolve over all three films, as the quintessential live-action example.
Bale’s suits are easily the most functional, doing away with the flaws of past models. A scene in The Dark Knight addresses it head on, Wayne states: “You want to turn your head?” “It would sure make backing out of the driveway easier.” Bale is actually able to move with the speed and agility of someone who spends their nights scrambling on rooftops, a crucial distinction to be made in Nolan’s semi-realistic world. It doesn’t hurt that the actor looks fantastic to boot, covered in all black and chiseled body armor.
17 Ruined: Batman Is Only Active For One Year
Yes, technically Nolan took inspiration from Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel Batman: Year One, but Miller never specified Batman was only active for literally one year. And yet, that seems to be what happens between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The consensus is that the latter film takes place about six months after the events of Batman Begins, meaning that Bats was still relatively wet behind the ears when he ran into the Joker and a scarred, vengeful Harvey Dent.
This condensed timeline may be the result of Nolan wanting to keep the films as grounded as possible, but when you step back with that in mind, it loses a little dramatic weight. When Batman considers retiring to spend time with Rachel, it’s coming from a guy who’s been on the job for half a year! A small issue perhaps, but one that doesn’t seem fitting of the Batman persona.
16 Right: Batman’s Use Of Gadgets
Seeing as Batman is a normal guy and not some indestructible superhuman, it makes sense that he would need to rely on gadgets. While we’ve seen this trait used for laughs in the 1960s TV series and the Joel Schumacher films (unintentional laughs, but laughs nevertheless), the Dark Knight trilogy strikes arguably the finest balance between ordinary and practical coolness.
Here, Batman’s use of things like sonar and echolocation technology makes for some truly stunning set pieces, like the massive bat attack in Batman Begins or the abduction of Lao in The Dark Knight.
Other changes are more subtle, if not just as effective. The batarang becomes Batman’s calling card throughout the trilogy, and the forearm triangle blades are given an origin and a purpose beyond looking like a cool costume accessory. Again, if Batman were real, these are the ways he would use gadgets.
15 Ruined: The Batcave
While the gadgets in the Dark Knight trilogy are all fine and dandy, the Batcave feels like it gets the short end of the stick. We’re given a memorable introduction to it in Batman Begins, but it's quickly destroyed along with the rest of Wayne Manor and Batman is forced to move his operations elsewhere. The Dark Knight, the most beloved installment, features no Batcave whatsoever, and even after it's rebuilt in The Dark Knight Rises, very little of it is shown. All together, we get a handful of scenes scattered amidst an almost eight hour runtime.
Whether this is accidental or because of Nolan’s urge to shy away from things that could be seen as boring remains is unclear, but it would have been nice to see the Batcave become more of an established hub throughout the films-- especially given how impressive it looks in Begins and TDKR.
14 Right: Batman’s Alliance With Gordon
Prior to the Dark Knight trilogy, Jim Gordon was a useless character. As played by Pat Hingle in the Burton and Schumacher films, he was a goofy, ineffective policeman who seemed as though he wouldn’t be able to keep his job were it not for Batman catching all the bad guys. In Nolan’s hands, Gordon, portrayed by Gary Oldman, became a partner for Batman, an equal who could be counted on to help protect Gotham. We see glimpses of this in Batman Begins, but it's more obvious in The Dark Knight, where the two sacrifice their safety to put the mob behind bars.
Gordon’s arc over the three films is, in many ways, a parallel to Batman’s, showing the pitfalls of being decent men in an indecent time. At the same time, being someone in the public eye, Gordon is more vulnerable, and subsequently, a more tragically heroic figure. His relationship with Batman is one that’s pivotal to the trilogy, even as it largely goes unpraised.
13 Ruined: Batman Retired For Eight Years
Even more outrageous than the point about Batman being active for one year is that he retired for eight years after that. That’s a wildly unbalanced ratio, given the weary, aging Bruce Wayne angle that Nolan plays up in The Dark Knight Rises. The other characters in the film, from Selina Kyle to the Gotham police, speak of Batman as though he was this great beacon of hope, when really he fought crime for a few months, then disappeared following Harvey Dent’s death. It doesn’t seem as though it would be enough to warrant such praise.
Beyond that, Nolan kind of wrote himself into a corner with the end of The Dark Knight. The notion of Batman going ghost for the greater good was brilliant, but coming back and telling us that he’s been hiding out for eight years feels a tad contrarian to the driven, obsessively protective Bruce Wayne that we knew in the first two films.
12 Right: The Impact Of His Parents’ Passing Away
Could there be a more depicted scene in superhero history? So many filmmakers and actors have taken it upon themselves to show the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and the emotional anguish that it caused him as an adult. The trick, however, as seen in Nolan’s films, is to let the tragedy inform the character without having it define him completely. Batman Begins is a superb instance of this, showing Wayne’s journey from vengeful young man to matured hero, using his pain to help others.
There are references to his parents throughout the series, particularly in The Dark Knight Rises when he struggles to climb out of the pit, but for the most part, Nolan doesn’t hammer you over the head with it. When compared to something like Batman v Superman, with its recurring flashbacks and groan-worthy “Martha” scene, it makes you appreciate Nolan’s tact and emotional taste even more.
11 Ruined: Batman’s Superhuman Healing Ability
Batman succumbs to plenty of injuries throughout the series, but in The Dark Knight Rises, his healing abilities become a little suspect. He starts the film with a limp, presumably from the fall he suffered eight years earlier, which is suddenly fixed in seconds through a brace that snaps his leg back into place. Then, he gets his back broken by Bane played by Tom Hardy, only to have it fixed by hanging from the ceiling and having his spine popped back into place. We aren’t doctors, but we assume that is not the ideal remedy for a broken back.
He manages to recover without any medical attention or nutritious food. Those repeated falls, tied to a rope that would almost certainly destroy a weakened spine, didn't help.
Kudos to Nolan for doing something as daring as adapting the Knightfall story arc from the comics and incapacitating his hero, but Batman’s recovery is so swift and convenient that it’s kind of hard to swallow.
10 Right: The Bruce Wayne Persona
Over the years, we’ve seen just as many Bruce Waynes as we’ve seen Batmans, but few have been as compelling as their masked alter ego. With the Dark Knight films, Nolan made a point of addressing that, and focused on making it a story about Bruce Wayne - a deeply troubled man who made out like he didn't have a care in the world. For the first time, we got to see Bruce as the womanizer he was always said to be. He buys a luxury hotel just so that he and his date(s) can swim in the decorative pool, throws lavish parties, and shows up late with a dozen models on his arm.
In a standout Batman Begins scene, his worlds collide, and he pretends to be drunk and combative to clear out a party and save everyone’s lives. Much of the magic comes from Bale, who basically tones down his American Psycho performance, but Nolan best understands the character’s duality, and the drama that can be pulled from it.
9 Ruined: Batman’s Love Interests
As interesting as the Bruce Wayne character is made out to be, he becomes painfully stiff when faced with potential love interests. It's clear that romance isn’t Nolan’s forte, given his propensity for lost loved ones (Memento, The Prestige, Inception, etc.) and the various female characters he introduces throughout the trilogy bear the brunt of this disinterest.
The relationship between Bruce and Rachel (Katie Holmes) in Batman Begins is devoid of any chemistry whatsoever, and while things get better in The Dark Knight (presumably due to actress Maggie Gyllenhaal), the characters still feel as though they don’t really click.
Further improvements are made in The Dark Knight Rises courtesy of Selina Kyle, but again, a genuine sense of affection is nowhere to be found, and Nolan’s dialogue bears all the hallmarks of a forced romance. Given the rich history of female characters in Batman comics, it’s a shame Nolan wasn’t really able to capitalize on any of them.
8 Right: The Parallels Between Batman & His Villains
Batman has arguably the deepest catalogue of villains in comic book history. What makes them so strong, beyond the memorable aesthetics that each possess, is the acknowledgement that they are mirror images of Batman. They parallel him, reminding him of what he could have become had he opted for a vengeful life of crime.
Nolan masterfully weaves these ideas into the fabric of each film. Batman Begins sees Batman fight an organization that took him in as their own, only to reject their violent ways. The Dark Knight Rises sees him fight a student of this organization, the unrelenting force he was groomed to become.
The most memorable instance is Batman’s encounter with the Joker. The interrogation scene in The Dark Knight makes explicit their similarities, as the Clown Prince labels them both “freaks” and insists that they complete one another. Batman knows the Joker's right, as we do, but his resistance to the madness is the very thing that makes the scene so engrossing.
7 Ruined: Batman Didn’t Do Much Detective Work
Batman is the world’s greatest detective-- unless, of course, you’re referring to the movies. Since 1989, Bats has been surprisingly ineffective in his detective work, as filmmakers have much preferred him whizzing around and beating people up. Nolan, for all his stellar mysteries outside of the trilogy, is no exception. His Batman doesn't have many clues to decipher, and scenes where he’s analyzing or doing research on one of the villains are mainly wasted.
In fact, any mysteries that occur throughout the trilogy have to be revealed to Batman, rather than discovered by him. In Batman Begins, he has to be shown that Ra's al Ghul is behind the attack on Gotham, just as he has to be told about Talia’s betrayal in The Dark Knight Rises. These aren’t major flaws, but when you compare it to a film like Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, or any of the seminal comic stories, the title of “World’s Greatest Detective” feels a little unearned.
6 Right: Batman’s Training
Batman Begins was a crucial moment in the character’s history, not only because it erased the abomination that was Batman & Robin from memory, but because it showed us how Bruce Wayne came to be the caped crusader. Previously, we were forced to assume that the broken little boy in the alleyway taught himself how to fight, how to build gadgets, and how to be the living embodiment of cool. Here, we saw him struggle to find himself and with the desire to end lives, only to choose the side of the morally upstanding.
By giving us insight into a less polished Batman, Nolan allows us to empathize with the character like never before. We feel his frustration as he learns how to fight, his pain as he goes out on his first mission. These steps are crucial to building him up as a character, and are a big part as to why so many fans cite Nolan’s Batman as the quintessential screen version.
5 Ruined: The Introduction Of Robin
In Nolan’s gritty, neo-noir world, introducing Robin was always going to be a tough sell. So when he tried to shoehorn the character into The Dark Knight Rises, the results were appropriately mixed. It’s not that Robin-- or John Robin Blake-- is annoying, or that Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a bad job with the material - it just feels so extraneous to the larger Batman narrative. It’s clear from the onset that he’s being set up to take Batman’s place, but Nolan doesn’t give him much purpose or personality beyond that.
Plus, there are so many things about Blake that are confusing as the film concludes. Is he Robin or the new Batman? Is he going to be working alongside Alfred (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman)? How is he going to acquire Batman’s skill set? We see what Nolan was getting at, but he doesn’t really pull it off here.
4 Right: Batman’s Relationship With Alfred
Alfred Pennyworth, pop culture’s most famous butler, was always treated as a stoic assistant to Batman. He ran errands, was a sounding board for ideas, and occasionally fretted over Batman’s injuries. Michael Caine changed all that.
Alfred became the heart and soul of the trilogy - a father figure who supported and loved Bruce Wayne in a way that went beyond a loyal servant. Caine instilled the role with a warmth that was previously lacking, and his dry humor brought a looseness and a camaraderie to Bruce that we didn’t really get to see with anyone else.
Their relationship provides the trilogy with some of its most touching moments, such as the elevator scene in Batman Begins and nearly every scene involving Alfred in The Dark Knight Rises. They’re so good that when Zack Snyder tried to give us a more traditional Bruce/Alfred dynamic in Batman v Superman, it felt like a step backward.
3 Ruined: The Batman Voice
Christian Bale’s Batman voice is a love/hate dichotomy. On one hand, it's incredibly memorable, and people will be imitating it for decades to come. On the other hand, its intensity can make certain scenes tough to get through.
It wasn’t so bad in Batman Begins, but by the time we rolled around to The Dark Knight Rises, and lines like “Where's the trigger?!" became fodder for memes and hilarious skits, it was clear that it had crossed the line of normalcy. The fact that he was facing off against Bane, perhaps the only superhero character with an even sillier voice, didn’t help.
Once again, Nolan’s penchant for realism works its way into the story, seeing as Batman would absolutely have to change his voice to avoid revealing his real identity. Seeing as Ben Affleck’s voice-changer in Batman v Superman has gotten the meme treatment as well, it seems as though filmmakers are still figuring out how to best disguise Batman’s voice.
2 Right: Batman’s Moral Code
For a superhero who isn’t supposed to end lives, Batman does away with a lot of people onscreen. He incapacitated a number of baddies in the Tim Burton films (Joker and Penguin included), and Zack Snyder’s Batman seems to relish the fact that his body count is so high. This leaves Nolan’s as perhaps the only screen iteration of Batman who preaches a “mercy” policy and actually sticks to it. The fundamental struggle that it provides, especially as he encounters villains like Ra’s al Ghul and the Joker, is a source of great drama, especially as he grows increasingly more cynical.
It’s what separates him from the criminals. It’s how he’s able to distinguish himself from someone like the Joker, even as the clown begs him to break his “one rule.” Nolan understands this, and it’s proven so effective with critics and audiences alike that the historical perception of Batman is of someone merciful. Leaving an impact like that is no easy feat.
1 Ruined: Too Many People Know Batman’s Secret Identity
As careful as he is about his one rule, Nolan’s Batman is incredibly careless when it comes to maintaining his secrecy. He spills the beans to Rachel in Batman Begins, and Coleman Reese puts the pieces together in The Dark Knight. Where things get really indefensible, though, is in The Dark Knight Rises - Bane, Talia Al Ghul, Catwoman, John Blake, and Gordon all find out Batman’s secret identity. Even worse are the ways in which they find out, like John Blake saying that he noticed a certain look in Bruce’s eye. Really, Blake?
People criticize Justice League for announcing Batman’s identity every chance they get, but there’s a similar carelessness here that’s really confusing given the relative tightness of the first two films. That’s not to say Justice League and The Dark Knight Rises are comparable in any way, but just that Batman movies need to tone it down with the loose lips.
What did you think made the Dark Knight trilogy better? Let us know in the comments!