“It is not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” In the seven years since audiences first heard Christian Bale’s hardened caped crusader growl these words in Batman Begins,Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has become something of a cultural phenomenon. Now the Dark Knight has risen in 2012, it is the time to ask what the rebooted Batman has really done.
If we are talking merely figures, then Mr Wayne has more than paid his dues. The Dark Knight itself took over $1bn worldwide, and it currently stands as the 12th highest grossing film of all time. At the time of writing The Dark Knight Rises has grossed over $160m, taking the title of the highest grossing opening weekend from its predecessor. From a purely financial point of view, this series has proven itself incredibly worthy.
However, the truly amazing thing is how it has taken this money. The Dark Knight trilogy has not catered to its audience or given in to pressures from the studio. Whether it be with detailed plot intricacies, dark and disturbing twists, or even in pure length (The Dark Knight Rises clocks in at a mammoth 165 minutes), the films have smashed any ideas of how a blockbuster should be made. Take note Mr Bay. Nolan respects his audience, and expects them to be as smart as him. Sure, he knows how to blow stuff up in a cool way too, but as a filmmaker he seems to have found that perfect balance between action and plot which appeals to a large base of people.
In the summer of 2008, The Dark Knight was one half of a superhero double header (the other being Marvel rival Iron Man)that exceeded box office expectation. Both focus on manmade heroes, people who use their inherited wealth and vast skills to help the world. While they remain exceptional people, it is from their own endeavours that this is possible. There are no effects from nuclear fallout, no science experiment gone wrong. Instead, the films, especially The Dark Knight, come across as almost believable. Steeped in realism, it focussed more on the moral ambiguity of the Bruce Wayne character, and the anarchy and impact of the Joker than anything more typical of the superhero genre. While comic books, and therefore the films they inspire, can be seen as social commentary, they typically approach this through mirroring world events into their own storylines. The Dark Knight proved that a superhero film does not always have to deal with superhero problems, opening the genre up to further expansion.
The series certainly has the credentials. Stars flood each film: Bale, Cane, Freeman. Ledger, Hathaway, Neeson. Hardy, Oldman, Murphy. In Christopher Nolan it has one of the world’s most respected directors, a filmmaker’s filmmaker who also happens to make a bag load of money. But, if it is what we do that defines us, the Dark Knight saga has become legendary. It reinvigorated the Batman series, changed the superhero genre, introduced an intelligent form of blockbuster and became a cultural icon. The Dark Knight trilogy has been one of the key series of the 21st century so far, and will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest series of all time.