I find it difficult to begin this post. I have so many things on my mind about Batman as a character, his history, his films, and this Christopher Nolan-helmed series specifically, it’s tough to sort it all out. I’ll take the Siracusian route to my writeup, and begin with an abbreviated history of Batman on film.
It all started with the Batman serials. While they aspired to depict a gritty crime story, and it does succeed in parts, it can’t help but depict Batman and Robin as happy go-lucky chums. Robin entered the comics surprisingly early in Batman’s history (less than a year after Batman’s debut), so this isn’t surprising. But Robin ends up causing one of Batman’s conundrums: can Batman be presented in a serious manner with Robin tagging along?
More than 20 years after the serials, we got the Batman TV series and movie, featuring Adam West. A pop culture phenomenon which saved the Batman comics from the brink of financial ruin, it stayed pretty close to the tone of the comics of the time. In a word, they were “campy”. This successful adaptation didn’t attempt to create a “dark tone” in the least, and created the longest-running image of Batman’s character in the public consciousness.
Nearly 20 years after that series’s conclusion, Batman’s turn toward the darker version we know today began in the comics, thanks to brilliant writers and artists like Frank Miller and Alan Moore. These 80’s comics raised the stakes in Batman’s conflicts with his foes, and treated the character with the utmost seriousness. If you haven’t read Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, or The Killing Joke, go pick them up immediately. If you like Batman at all, you must read them.
Tim Burton updated the pop perception of Batman’s character to reflect the contemporary comics with 1989’s Batman, and turned it even darker with the sequel Batman Returns. Burton kicked off what is still the longest-running series of Batman features, but something happened after Burton’s first two entries. The movies turned goofy, and guess who showed up? Yes, Robin. With Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, the series went from dark and serious to goofy and campy. With the series brought to an unceremonious end as the iceman cometh, fans like myself wondered where they would take Batman.
Warner Brothers decided on a path which seems obvious now, but broke new ground back in 2005. They rebooted the series with Christopher Nolan in the director’s chair. What makes it a “reboot”? Certainly, Tim Burton’s take was even more different from the prior series. To me, it’s considered a reboot, because everyone at the time still considered the 90’s Batman movies to be current. Batman & Robin had come out only 8 years earlier. Prior reboots had been separated from the earlier series by at least 20 years. So to me, it’s a reboot, because it’s released during the time frame in which you would expect a sequel rather than a new story. This is common now, but broke new ground then.
Going into Batman Begins that summer, I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be the same Batman, would it still be good? As goofy as the 90’s movies got, those were the Batman movies I grew up watching and anticipating.
What we got in Batman Begins was a complete rethinking of Batman, incorporating a completely new vision of him. No longer campy, I would call this movie “grounded”. Everything about this movie attempts to depict what would “really happen”, so to speak. If Bruce Wayne were real, and decided to fight crime, how would he go about it? By bringing in characters from the comics who had never been seen in a movie (Scarecrow, Ra’as al Ghul, Lucius Fox, Carmine Falconi, and others), he created a well-rounded world for Batman to inhabit. Realistic motivations and character traits drive the story forward, and characters fall into serious peril with dire consequences.
Inspired by the same 80’s comics as Burton, Nolan ended up creating what was the best superhero movie to date. With top-notch acting, great action sequences, and more than anything else, and a high degree of the intangible “cool factor”, Batman Begins changed the game when it comes to superhero movies. Where could Nolan possibly go from there? A teaser in the last seconds of the movie tantalized audiences, who would have to wait 3 years for the next installment to arrive.