Gotham becomes New York, night becomes day and the mystical becomes profane as the Batman becomes Bruce Wayne. The series which was so good for two films let many of us down at its climax, but I don't believe that we shouldn't have seen it coming.
Christopher Nolan had already emerged as a great director when, in 2003, his adaptation of the world's most famous crime fighting comic book character was released. At first there was some skepticism about its direction and the reboot in general however quite a long time had passed since Batman had been seen on the silver screen and longer still since it was done well. The previews for Batman Begins were promising something much different to what had come before; darker, grittier and far from the art-deco style of the previous film incarnations.
In the end, it was a successful reboot. Well cast, expertly written and with Nolan's signature style and tone. Perhaps most surprising of all was Nolan's ability to blend a grandiose reality with comic book fantasy. Using an Eastern settings and a mysterious villain like Ra's al Ghul rather than a more well known one helped to give the movie a fantastic feel even though there was a more grounded approach overall. There would be no super powers coming from science experiments gone wrong but the insane Ninja abilities and intoxicating fear gas made up for all that in a fantasy sense.
Much of what can be considered faithful to the comics comes out in the setting; Gotham with its futuristic train line, sprawling slums and a scary asylum on Arkham island really give the city a fictional and epic feel. Noteworthy is the choice to contain almost the whole movie at night, giving this a very "Batman" feel, as traditionally, he only goes out crime fighting at night. As you watch the final scenes where Scarecrow's fear gas is causing all sorts of havoc, you wouldn't find it out of place had Superman (or another DC character) landed in amidst the action.
Along with the setting, Batman himself is portrayed as an out of this world character in the action scenes. Calling bats to help him, grappling and gliding all over the place and hanging upside down as he takes on the bad guys. Even the more realistic looking devices such as the Bat-Mobile had so many over the top concepts in them that it all felt futuristic and fantastical.
So despite going for a more grounded or at least "could be real" tone, overall the movie was born from DC comic lore and it showed.
Emotionally, the film is a battle between the ideals of justice by law and justice by the sword. Rachel who is stoic in her defense of upholding the law preaches to Bruce the rights for all to a fair trial as she fights corruption. While Ra's al Ghul on the other hand, takes a different approach as Bruce's mentor, preaching vengeance, an eye for an eye. His ultimate goal is nihilistic, destroying Gotham to start afresh.
In the end, the apprentice foils his master and saves Gotham despite much cost to himself and the city. Forging important friendships with Gordon, Fox, Albert and Rachel along the way, as he grows from disgruntled young billionaire, out to avenge his parents, to an idealistic vigilante who offers hope.
The end of the film of course sets up the second part of the trilogy, with a teaser which includes Gordon handing Batman the Joker's calling card. The opening scenes of The Dark Knight cement The Joker as a wild card and villain who can match Batman, if not physically, definitely mentally.
Between the two films, Batman has been making life difficult for Gotham's gangsters. The setting is brighter and their seems much less of a Gotham feel overall to the city. However the heightened mob bosses such as Gambol and the excellent and outrageous Joker played so well by Heath Ledger along with the transformation of Harvey Dent into Two Face is enough to remind us we are in another reality unlike our own.
The Dark Knight is not an action adventure story like Batman Begins, but rather a thrilling crime drama with a psychological undercurrent, filled with suspense. Nolan's touch is more present (think Insomnia). The films popularity and craft shield it from being found out as the beginning of a comic series adaptation becoming Nolan's real world re-imagining.
The ending of The Dark Knight, like that of Batman Begins, also sets up the beginning of the next, however this time it isn't by introducing a greater character from the DC universe in order to expand the world but rather explains some legal mumbo-jumbo which will lead Batman to sacrifice himself so that the reputation of Harvey Dent can remain intact.
When the third film in the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises opens, 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight, it is with an image of Harvey Dent hovering over Commissioner Gordan as he gives a speech explaining how "The Dent Act" is keeping the city's worst criminals behind bars, and subsequently Gotham at peace. It is clear he is upset and finding it difficult to lie to the public as the only other person other than Bruce Wayne who knows the truth of things. Bruce has become a recluse, still feeling the affects of his run in with Two Face so many years ago.
The film is immediately grounded in a real world style; politics, burglars, New Jersey accents, Wall Street and a former super hero hobbling around on a cane. Everyone seems old and tired except for Bane, who appears larger than life but is never really explained in a way that gives him a real frightening awe, nor is he mysterious enough. He's just somewhere in the middle and in the end is used as convoluted plot device more so than a character. A shame considering Tom Hardy is giving it his all and Bane is perhaps the highlight of the film and along with Ledger's joker, the only other thing to come out of these films that has permeated to the pop culture zeitgeist.
The plot of The Dark Knight Rises has so many holes and is too long, without even being bloated with much of what occurs in the film is introspective brooding and walking around. Batman trades in all his cool toys too (other than the instant leg healing brace). There is no grappling or gliding in this installment, in fact there is little of Batman at all. Bruce Wayne is the hero, his business agendas, his love life, his new real world sidekick who shall not be named and his fallout with Albert are all at the fore. Everything is plausible now, even the ultimate weapon is nowhere near as diabolical as the one which Ra's al Ghul was in such a hurry to use at the end of Batman Begins.
The lack of suspense comes from the fact that Bane and his faceless henchmen are in no hurry to destroy the city, they meander around for three months while the entire police force is trapped underground. The movie has plot holes and is not generally as entertaining as the previous installments, but further to that, it lacks any semblance of the fantastical world of the DC comic universe and ends the process that The Dark Knight began in making the series somewhat mundane, ultimately losing its charm.
Unfortunately, The Dark Knight Rises, not only ends the trilogy on a low point, rather than what should have really been a transcendence and amazing climax, but also diminishes the series overall.