Film: What Sets Nolan's Batman Films Apart In Superhero Cinema

Back in August, we posted a review of the "Ultimate Edition" of Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, and it's fair to say we were probably more enthusiastic than most about the project. Reviews for Zack Snyder's much-publicized film were so-so in the larger critical community, but from our perspective it was a powerhouse of a movie for comic book fans. Sure, there were some issues, but BvS was a blast that respected the source material.
Nolan's Dark Knight work cemented a relationship with Warner Bros that was as artistic as it was profitable.

With that said, there are still a lot of people, including yours truly, who believe that Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy still perches on a higher tier than all other superhero films. We could debate endlessly about whether or not Nolan's movies were as true to the comics, but purely as films they were of a higher caliber and produced a broader impact than most.
The Bat-Man couldn't help Harvey Dent.  Maybe the National Accident Hotline could get him some justice.

To support that assertion, we could dive into all kinds of talk about the Nolan brothers' filmmaking. We could go film-by-film discussing Nolan's higher brand of storytelling, better pacing, and more effective attachment to something loosely resembling reality as compared to other superhero projects. But that, for the most part, would make for a very subjective discussion. Instead, consider the following categories as reasons (in addition to pure quality) that Nolan's trilogy still stands apart.

The Experience Of The Cast

To be perfectly clear, this is not meant as a slight to the cast of any other superhero film. Actors work hard, and no one who's bad at the job is being considered for $100 million-plus superhero blockbusters. But from the standpoint of experience, and general critical acclaim, Nolan's films operated with a higher class of performer. Over the course of three films, Nolan employed Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Heath Ledger, Anne Hathaway, and Tom Hardy; that's to say nothing of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, and Marion Cotillard in supporting roles. For what it's worth, in that first group of six main actors, each one has at least one Oscar nomination, and there are 15 between them (Marion Cotillard adds two more). If that seems a little bit high, you may be surprised to learn that Michael Caine has six.
Michael Caine has appeared in no less than six of Nolan's movies since 2005.

Not everything should be measured by the Academy Awards, of course, but that's a pretty heavy stockpile of accolades that speaks to the general quality of Nolan's cast. Compared to the average superhero film, be it from DC or Marvel, it's fair to say the Dark Knight trilogy simply employed more serious and accomplished actors—and in the opinion of this writer, it showed.

The Gaming Influence

It may sound like a small thing, but superhero and comic fans like their entertainment to exist on multiple levels: comics, graphic novels, TV shows, toys, costumes, films and, yes, games. And this last area is one in which a lot of the biggest films and franchises have struggled mightily. But Nolan's trilogy has arguably had the most success in the genre.
The Dark Knight videogame was shelved after the death of Heath Ledger.
To begin with, there were games based directly on Nolan's work. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight both produced console adaptations, and there was a mobile game designed alongside The Dark Knight Rises. Additionally, an online slot reel based on The Dark Knight even managed to work its way in among the most popular movie slots online, a rare category in which Marvel films otherwise dominate. But perhaps most significant of all is the Rocksteady "Arkham" gaming series, which, while not directly dealing with Nolan's trilogy, came to be just after The Dark Knight hit theaters. The "Arkham" games take inspiration from numerous films and comics, but there's a resemblance at times to Nolan's series and the timing suggests the games rode a wave of popularity from the films. For that reason, they're easy to associate as part of the Nolan films' success.
Grant Morrison's graphic novel Arkham Asylum has been the springboard for 4 games; Asylum, City, Origins & Knight all carry the "Arkham" title.
A Complete Story

Getting back to the film, we have to address storytelling. Quite simply, the Nolan films stand out because they had a beginning, a middle, and an end, whereas other modern superhero projects always feel unfinished. This was a point made by Joseph Gordon-Levitt when he acknowledged our general attachment to the Marvel movies but lightly criticized them for feeling like an "endless series." The same can be said of Snyder's films and, in all likelihood, the coming "DC Universe" that will expand with Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Justice League. Now, not everyone cares about this. Many adore the idea of a continued, ever-expanding narrative in a shared universe. But the idea that there were completed stories and consistent, but not repetitive, themes did quite a bit for Nolan's films. And even if you don't believe they're definitively better than other superhero films, this made them different.

The Villains
Whether you know them as the League of Assassins or the League of Shadows, Ra's is the "head of the demon".

Actors aside, it's difficult to dispute the idea that Nolan's villains are simply more compelling than those in most superhero projects. Marvel's are forgettable, underdeveloped, and at times almost interchangeable. Snyder's Zod was little more than a human wrecking ball, and Lex Luthor, while intriguing, was overacted by Jesse Eisenberg. By contrast Scarecrow, Ra's al Ghul, Joker, and Bane were unique characters that in large part drove their respective films. This, perhaps above all else, is what set Nolan's films apart.

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