Warner Brothers’ JUSTICE LEAGUE comes out next month, giving fans the action team movie they’ve always dreamed of. However, the success or failure of JL in theatres doesn’t hide that the DCEU has had some rocky origins.

Warner’s first three movies (MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, and SUICIDE SQUAD) gathered mixed to negative reviews and failed to gain the widespread acclaim of the Marvel movies. Warner rebounded with WONDER WOMAN, but why did it take three major films for them to succeed?

Warner and DC’s approach to a cinematic universe differed from Marvel, which on paper, sounded good. However, the overall tone of the films seemed to be too different, going too serious as opposed to the light-hearted MCU. One man gave them that vision.

Nolan
Hi, my name’s Chris…

Christopher Nolan’s effect on the DCEU existed from the beginning. On paper, it made sense. Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY was Warner’s leading comic book movie success against Marvel. THE DARK KNIGHT set box office records and even earned an Oscar for the late Heath Ledger’s performance.

Warner attempting to continue a successful style made sense. However, Nolan’s films, while excellent cinema, aren’t quite what comic book movies should be. This first part (of a two-part article) examines just what Nolan’s legacy is.

Realism

Nolan’s approach to Batman gave the character a gritty, realistic origin and tone. This approach was necessary; Batman’s last film prior to Nolan was BATMAN AND ROBIN, which seemed to embody the 1960’s camp the film series was created to disavow. Nolan made Batman much more serious, explaining details like Batman’s equipment, outfit, and early training. It was a needed touch, but it also led to problems.

Realism in Comics Movies and TV: When Being Real is a Problem

The films lose ground because of the comic book elements they have to display. Nolan describes how Bruce and Alfred assembled the Batsuit using equipment from Wayne Enterprises while using dummy accounts to mass market everything else. This comes off as realistic, as it seems like someone would have to do this to be Batman. However, it also sounds crazy when you stop and think about it.

Doing this means that not only are there thousands of Batsuit parts lying around but that the whole approach relies on colossal coincidence. It relies on Wayne Corp. having the materials to make Batman, and that those elements are also locked away in a division no one keeps tabs on. Worse, it assumes that no one makes the connection between Batman’s tech and their own.

Nolan
“Don’t we have one of those in the basement?” “Nah, our’s isn’t black.” “OK then.”

This continues throughout the movies– Ra’s Al Ghul wants to kill Gotham using fear gas, Harvey Dent can function without skin grafts, Bruce Wayne heals with a magic knee brace. These elements clash with the movie’s desired realism but have to be included because of the source material. It gives the films an uneven tone and makes the comic book elements feel out of place and silly by comparison. That’s the LAST thing you want in a movie based on a comic book.

Serious (Inconsistent) Themes

The more realistic tone is enhanced by the dark and serious tones of the films. However, the serious tone makes the comic book moments feel even more out of place. Comic book films need a certain degree of seriousness; if the concept is treated as a joke, the film falls apart. Nolan avoided trivializing those elements, but tank-cars, fear gas, and psychotic clowns can be hard to take seriously.

Nolan also tried a serious approach by attaching themes to the movies. This annoyed me, as I felt Nolan was slapping a Bat-logo over his ideas to make money. BATMAN BEGINS suffered the least– its theme was heroism being bigger than one man, and how Bruce Wayne is the mask Batman wears. However, THE DARK KNIGHT undoes that by having Bruce Wayne planning to give up being Batman to be with Rachel.

Nolan added other elements, like themes of good and evil. BEGINS examines whether or not the good of the many should come at the expense of the few. DARK KNIGHT described whether people are inherently good or evil, using the Joker and Batman as both sides of the argument.

In THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, Nolan seemed to attack the 99% movement. Selina Kyle makes a speech about rich people standing on other’s shoulders. The ‘common people’ ransack the rich brutally when Gotham falls. It makes the movie (and Nolan) seem out of touch.

Nolan’s worst theme, however, was his insistence on the idea that “anyone can be Batman.” The entire series undoes this, as we see the huge cost, physically, emotionally, and financially being Batman causes Bruce Wayne. He then leaves everything to an average Gotham City cop. It ignores the comic book history and feels like Nolan is reshaping Batman to fit his own style.

What Makes A Good Comic Book Movie?

Comic Book Inspiration

Nolan deserves credit for taking inspiration from many Batman comics. BATMAN BEGINS contains elements of BATMAN: YEAR ONE, DARK KNIGHT uses THE LONG HALLOWEEN, and DARK KNIGHT RISES uses KNIGHTFALL, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and NO MAN’S LAND. However, Nolan reshaped these stories as much as he has Batman.

BATMAN BEGINS uses the material best; it’s not a strict adaption, but it does have the same feel and focuses on Batman’s origin. DARK KNIGHT isn’t quite as well-formed. THE LONG HALLOWEEN tells an epic noir story about Harvey Dent and Batman trying to save Gotham from the mob and a holiday-themed killer, and Harvey’s eventual transformation into Two-Face.

DARK KNIGHT holds that basic premise, but it pushes it to the side for the Joker and themes about good and evil. The film ignored the mystery and depth of the book. Warner used its closing lines to advertise the film though.

Nolan

DARK KNIGHT RISES stands as the worst offender. It handles KNIGHTFALL adequately (Bane outsmarts and beats Batman prior to a takeover), but fails on the other two. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS shows an aging Batman returning to crime fighting, even though it’s taking a severe toll on him. RISES has Bruce Wayne injured, but he slaps on a magic knee brace, and he’s fine.

NO MAN’S LAND shows up when Bane cuts off a damaged Gotham from the world. However, the movie shows citizens still living comfortably, while the comic turned Gotham into a city size shantytown. This stands as the worst trend of Nolan’s films; despite a strong start, Nolan became content with sprinkling comic book elements onto movies that were about his themes, not the source material.

Final Legacy of Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan is a great filmmaker, and his trilogy should be praised. However, his BATMAN films are not comic book movies. Nolan tried too hard to be realistic, reshaped characters for his own needs, and ignored source material. He created fine films, but he wasn’t as interested in honoring Batman as a comic book character.

He lost more and more of the character and tone as he forced themes into his films. By the end, Nolan turned Batman into a crime/action piece, putting out of touch themes at the forefront, and sprinkling comic fragments over the script. Unfortunately, these movies still made money, and Warner Bros would follow his example. Next time, we’ll see just what they thought they learned.

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One Comment

  1. Nicholas Ulanowski

    October 28, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Blasphemy! Is this article saying that The Dark Knight had fundamental problems in its story telling? BLASPHEMY!! I’m taking you to comic book jail. BURN THIS WITCH!!

    Lol JK 😂

    Reply

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