Now that the hype is over. I feel like it is a good time to take a look back at Nolan's take on the Batman legend.
Just for reference, here is my exposure to the other depictions of Batman:
For me, the animated series was, before Nolan's take, the best. It was dark, poignant, took its audience seriously, and loaded with colorful villains and strong support characters that was definitely influential to younger viewers in a good way.
I didn't like the live action films between 1989 and 1997 as much, mostly due to having watched them in reverse order; starting with the critical flop, super campy Batman and Robin, which colored my preconceptions of the earlier ones because I thought they were done by the same production team. I did like the very first of these, but again it isn't as impressed into my nostalgia as it should have because I watched them only many years later.
Nolan's Batman trilogy, on the other hand, was the first in the franchise that I saw in theaters. The first one came out when I was in high school. The second one came out when I was in university, and the last one came out just as I began working, so in a way, I experienced each of these films with a different level of maturity and perception on society, morality and the arts.
The first film, Batman Begins, was decent. At the time it came out I was just beginning to enjoy cinema more than the saturday cartoons (Pokemon!) or whatever was on TV. I was not really expecting much from the superhero genre, having seen some pretty big disappointments such as Catwoman, Elektra, Ang Lee's Hulk and The League around the same time. The only exception was probably the Spiderman series, which to this day I still maintain is the benchmark of the modern superhero genre.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was how serious I actually took the film while watching it. Having only been exposed to Schumacher's Batman films at the time I nearly didn't go watch it because I thought it would be the same thing.
But after seeing it I was pleasantly surprised how plausible and identifiable the world of the film is. They showed effectively the journey of Bruce Wayne, the trauma his life started with, the training he went through, and the final emergence as the Batman. Every fight was practical and yet edging supernatural to his foes. Ra's Al Ghul by Liam Neeson was also very compelling as you could see that the league of shadows was not only a cult, but a serious foe within the batman's psyche. He is on that thin line between being a crime fighter, a vigilante and even a terrorist; these roles differ only on principle.
Overall there were no weak lines, no physical humor, it was a solid plot with mature characters and easily earned my suspense of disbelief. Because of this I didn't think as hard about plot holes or story problems as I do now.
I know everyone else has already said it, but The Dark Knight really was a major step up for this trilogy and the overarching superhero genre. It is the one I thought was genuinely a game-changer, where I saw the only Gotham that I thought Batman could exist in. It is easily my favorite of the three. I loved Heath Ledger's Joker, which really affected me through his embodiment of and commentary about fallibility of the human morality and ethics. I loved the dialogue, though I'll be first to admit that it's a bit heavy. However I do have a major problem with a few things within the film. They were not distracting when I first watched them, but now that I look back, they are contributors to my less-than-satisfied reaction to The Dark Knight Rises.
The first problem is the underdeveloped criminals in this story. The first movie had some solid criminals they were interesting to listen to, especially when Bruce first confronts Carmine Falcone or Rachel's encounter with The Scarecrow. In this storyline the criminals actually play a much larger role as we continue to explore Gotham and the trio's (Batman, Gordon, Dent) fight against organised crime in the city. Sadly they have much less dialogue, and do not develop at all. Unlike all the other characters which are really well defined and positioned, I did not find myself caring at all what happens to any of the criminals, except The Joker. They seem to just be getting in the way of the final climax between Batman and Joker. and the fact that both Joker and Two-Face's arcs were ended so completely, kind of disappointed as I questioned if they could top those villains in the next film.
Another problem is the traps The Joker sets up throughout the movie. I loved how much he invested into creating these scenarios forcing everyone to make impossible ethical decisions, but now that I think about it, it seems impossible he could accomplish so much with only a handful of crazies helping him. How on Earth did he plant that much explosives into a busy hospital without any of the doctors, nurses, patients or janitors noticing!? How on earth did The Joker know the exact addresses Dent and Rachel were after they were kidnapped? Did he know in advance that they would be escorted by one of the traitors in the police department? Why were there so many school buses lined up together and just so happens there was a gap big enough for his bus to fit in? For someone who doesn't believe in plans he sure had some really complicated ones which required almost everything to go according to his schedule!
Lastly, I did have a problem with the ending, but for a slightly different reason to popular opinion. A lot of people and critics have complained why didn't Gordon and Batman just blame the Joker for killing all the people that Dent killed after he broke down. This idea would fail because Dent didn't kill Ramirez (one of the police officers that betrayed them) after flipping heads in his killing spree. Having a living witness means that if they blamed the joker for all those killings Ramirez would know it was actually Dent, and eventually she might have spilled the beans to someone and everything would be undone, which happened anyway but 7 years is a long time to stay silent on something so big!
Having said this, blaming Batman as done in the movie would have the same problem! Why didn't she come out to say that it was actually Dent who did those killings? Then the Dent Act would never be created, Batman would probably be taken in higher regard by Gotham City since he's the only one that is incorruptible throughout the two stories, which would mean the third movie has a much much greater impact from the viewpoint of the citizens of Gotham.
This brings us to...
I did not like this film very much. Apart from being a step down in the complexity, depth and impact from the second movie, I just couldn't suspend my disbelief.
There were about a dozen things with the plot I did not accept even while I sat in the cinema chair munching popcorns (if I'm ever eating during a film it means I've lost interest). And since I didn't do a review of this film earlier, I will list them out my nitpicks right now:
I actually didn't like Bane. His dialogue is hard to comprehend due to his mask, and his motivation is also really confusing. I don't know if it's faithful to the original comic book character but his preaching was really obnoxious and spurious. If your release the criminals of course the city would descend into chaos, you don't need to prove it, that's why they were locked up in the first place! You have no idea how satisfied I was when Catwoman shot him where Bruce would have refused to even at the cost of his own life and the whole town.
Actually, if Catwoman did choose to follow Batman's "never kill" rule, this movie would've ended really badly right? Batman would've died, the fusion bomb would've gone off killing all of Gotham. If anything this film just proved that the rule about 'no killing' can't be a hard one.
I don't need to talk about the other characters too much. Alfred and Lucius combine to be Bruce's voice of reason but also act as his quartermaster, planning the logistics and designing the tools behind his missions, but I feel that they were played really simply. They have their stands and did not really change or evolve throughout the trilogy.
The most boring main character in the whole trilogy was Rachel Dawes (Bruce's childhood friend). She didn't seem real, and didn't even play like a real love interest for Bruce. I thought she was basically a female version of Alfred, and I know this sounds weird, but they never made it to bed!
While watching the third movie, when out of nowhere Bruce sleeps with Miranda Tate, basically a nobody, I was just thinking "What the hell! Two movies of opportunity with his childhood friend and love interest who ends up dying, and it's this random chick he ends up sleeping with!?" This was like the only time I actually cared about the Rachel character because I thought they should have consummated before her screen death. Other times I just can't stand how much of a "role model" she behaves like. Well I guess it's better than Mary Jane in Spiderman.
Looking at my thoughts about all three movies, the one thing I noticed is this: Nolan's batman trilogy aren't true superhero films. They are better thought of as character studies of the extreme ideologies within our societies, candy wrapped in comic book figures so we have an incentive to watch. The interactions and commentaries in all three films are more valuable than the actual plot itself, and honestly by the end of the movie you feel like there are no such things as real heroes, which I guess was the director's intention to some level.
Also the entire trilogy tries to convey is that "Batman can be anyone, and anyone can be Batman" fails since Bruce only did it successfully with the help of an incorrupt police, a loyal butler, Q, a role model childhood friend/love interest, and billions, billions of dollars. Also, in The Dark Knight he tells copycat vigilantes not to follow in his example. Weird.
I think Marvel's The Avengers wins against Nolan's batman trilogy when judging based on the category of 'superhero', simply because it isn't ambitious to pushing the limits of the comic book movie, but rather focus on delivering what comic book geeks want.
But, all things considered, Nolan's Batman movies do end up putting me in a good mood at the end of the day, especially the first two films. They have re-watch value, the atmosphere is capturing, and it was really good to see a more serious take on the superhero genre than was done to that point. All that needs to be done now is to create a more serious version of superman, and put them both in the same movie, then Marvel might finally have a worthy opponent at the box office!