Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy: The Problem With Dramatic Comic Book Movies

We all know Batman.  We all know Chris Nolan.  And we’ve all seen his Dark Knight trilogy.  It kicked off in 2005 with Batman Begins, a fresh reboot of the popular character after he had languished for eight years in the great silence left by the utterly baffling 1997 production from Joel Schumacher, Batman and RobinBegins offered viewers a new, refreshing, more realistic take on the Batman origin story, featuring characters more grounded in a conceivable and relatable reality, an emphasis on cutting-edge technology, and a steady directorial hand in drama.  Drawing from the grittier, noir-inspired Year One and Long Halloween, it functioned as an ode to the modern world of its time, tackling issues of vigilantism, corruption, and self-deception, in addition to being an thrilling romp through the familiar tale of Batman’s canonical formation.

But therein lies the rub.  Exactly how serious is the trilogy?  Does its content justify its tone, or vice-versa?  How much should the audience actually suspend its disbelief when watching it?

It’s difficult to tell, and opinions are divided on the subject.  Presently, The Dark Knight is commonly ranked among the best—if not being the best—superhero movies ever made, probably because it’s so sleek and generally well put together.  Its filmic qualities deserve exploration another time, and numerous commentators have already discussed its cinematography, editing, and casting choices elsewhere.  My purpose here isn’t to address the visuals but rather the vision; was Nolan’s Dark Knight project a success or a failure?  Is Batman believable?  Should he be?

Comic Books

The comic book versions of Batman vary widely from writer to artist, and that’s to be expected given that the character was created almost eighty years ago and has been continually written and developed ever since.  When hundreds of different individuals have contributed to a single character over generations of time, extreme variations in the character’s appearance and persona should be expected.  But some consistency remains.  The general impression of the character remains one whose presence exudes deep brooding; he’s supposed to be a supreme martial artist with a razor-sharp intellect, have access to money and technology that would put the entirety of Silicon Valley to shame, and be paranoid beyond the rational scope of imagination.  Essentially, his character boils down to the following: he’s prepared for everything, and he’s a quick enough thinker to improvise what he isn’t prepared for.

Big shoes to fill for a flesh-and-blood actor in a Hollywood action flick—and certainly ones that have yet to be filled effectively.  Comic books, as dumbed down from literature as the medium is, remain still a medium heavily reliant upon the reader’s imagination.  High-octane action movies a la Hollywood blockbusters lack the room for nuance and subtlety, even as little nuance as there is in comic books.  You can’t get a complex depiction of a complicated character on film without straying into the territory of the ‘art film’—something comic book adaptations haven’t the ambition, the money, nor really the need to do.  And while Batman is hardly a complicated character at heart, he’s got enough different manifestations and enough traits to make any on-screen depiction of him flat by comparison.

This is true of pretty much any attempt to synthesize a long-standing comic book superhero onto the screen.  Hollywood adaptations always start in the same place: begin with an origin story and throw in a recognizable villain to defeat in the last act.  If the movie does well enough, they’ll have some fun with character development and a more consistent villain in number two, and for an additional option, follow up with a third movie that ties everything together.  Raimi’s Spiderman, Nolan’s Dark Knight, and to lesser degree, Donner’s Superman and Burton’s Batman movies followed the same pattern.  Usually the third movie sucks.  Marvel’s MCU efforts are merely the latest manifestation of this, although they sort of go completely off the rails.  I’ll focus on these as a series of posts in the future.

A director only has so much screen time to work with.  And when you’re stuck rebooting a superhero franchise, you’re supposed to introduce, develop, and cover the basic gist of that character’s origin story.  You’re obviously not going to have the time to really develop the character the way the comic books did—and in fact, if a silver screen version of the character even remotely resembles his comic book counterpart, then kudos to the director.  Especially in a case like Batman’s.

Which brings us back to The Dark Knight trilogy.  Was Nolan successful in crafting a Batman similar enough to his comic book counterpart to be worthwhile?  I don’t think he was, but I think that’s part—if not the main component—of the trilogy’s strength.

If the basis of Batman’s character is cunning, paranoia, and capableness, then the core elements of Nolan’s Batman was his personal tragedy.  Batman’s always had that element of personal tragedy in his character, and Nolan’s iteration of him features cunning, paranoia, and capableness in spades, so it isn’t as though the Nolan version isn’t recognizably Batman.  But the fundamental elements differ—Nolan’s Batman is somewhat easily fooled, a poor researcher, and downright mopey.  He’s got very human drives and very human tragedies that he runs from—he’s not the distant, impersonal, possibly psychotic brute of a detective that is featured so heavily in the comics.

And that’s what I mean.  In comic books, that sort of writing flies.  In movies, not so much—and not even because movies have to draw a larger audience.  Blockbuster movies need a source of drama, and the best source of drama is personal conflict.  Nolan’s Batman, again, has this in spades.  The comic book version?  Well, if after eight-plus years of publication, the writers still return to the death of his parents as the driving source of personal conflict, then I’d say it’s about time the cowl was put out roost.

This divergence from the comic book caped crusader is such an obvious one that I’m sure more has been written on this subject by people with more of a dog in the fight than I.  My point here is that there isn’t really a way to depict the sort of story Nolan wanted to shoot without making these transformative changes to the character—and, of course, to the world.  The issue is whether or not Nolan’s vision for The Dark Knight trilogy was a fitting one.

Realistic Crime Drama with a Realistic Man in a Bat Costume

The truth is, Batman is pretty absurd.  The comic books all reflect that.  He’s ridiculously wealthy, intelligent, hardy, competent, and talented—which is why, instead of pursuing realistic goals like inventing the cure for cancer as a top doctor who works closely with law enforcement officials while teaching martial arts in his spare time, he dresses up as a Bat and hits criminals with his fists.  And he has all sorts of colorful foes, from psychotic psychiatrists, clownish gangsters, and cat-obsessed burglars, to a frozen man who can only live in subzero temperatures, a fiendishly strong drug-addicted immigrant with miraculous intellect, and woman whose genes were spliced together somehow with plants.

In a comic book, you can play a lot of this stuff up to completely insane levels.  The Joker started life as a crime boss with a clown shtick as his gimmick, but since then he’s been depicted as a rogue agent of self-interested madness, an anarchic loner, a serial-killing psychopathic gangster, and pretty much every gradient of insanity in between.  The writers assert pretentions of Loki-like exuberance for devilishness and an overactive Thanos-impulse to destroy, drinking deeply from the modern Kool-Aid of comparisons between today’s comic scene and the ancient mythologies.  It doesn’t really hold water when you consider that, in this instance, the Joker is basically just a crazy guy dressed as a clown waging a one-man war with another crazy guy dressed as a bat, and just a half-second of self-reflection makes plain how silly it all is.

But it’s a comic book.  It works.

Tim Burton’s Batman films appealed to a similar sense of zaniness, trying to maintain the gothic aesthetics that were popular in the Batman comic books of the time without sacrificing the innate silliness of the concept.  And they were alright, but by indulging in the zaniness, the films themselves come across at best as either cheap knock-offs or insufficient dumbing-downs, and at worst, grimacingly dated and poorly stitched together.  Joel Schumacher’s sequels—Batman Forever and Batman and Robin—continue that trend, turning the zaniness up to eleven and blowing out the franchise in the process.

They’re movies.  It uh… doesn’t work as well.

So 2005 rolls around and Chris Nolan is brought in.  The idea had already been floating around Hollywood for some time to bring Batman back to the silver screen.  Darren Aronofsky was at one point already on board to direct an unnamed Batman film, and scripts for an adaptation of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns had been passed around a few times.  The big idea shifted more toward adapting Year One, also originally written by Frank Miller.  It was another origin story—for the better, given the disgusting vomit-like taste that the previous movie had left in everyone’s mouths—and this time it was more grounded, more staid.  Grittier.  More realistic.  Dramatic.

The question as to whether Frank Miller’s Year One ‘works’ or not is mostly irrelevant, but I’d argue that it does.  Again, it’s a comic book.  The surreality of a hardboiled crime story that involves a crazy man dressing up as a bat can work out, even when it’s played straight.  And the art style helps.

Begins focuses extensively on Bruce Wayne donning a mask and fighting crime dressed up in an elaborate and, to some degree, practical costume.  Unlike his comic book counterpart, who in almost every incarnation embraced the bat as his iconic symbol of terror after encountering one during a particularly desperate episode alone in his study, Nolan’s Bruce picks it purely because it terrified him as a kid.  Seems more realistic reasoning, right?  Sure, but this is after half a movie of extensive training in the remote areas of the Himalayas by a cult of assassin fanatics who are well-versed in the ways of toppling civilizations.  And this is the same movie that features integral scenes in which the importance of a high speed rail line, Gotham’s poverty-stricken underclass, and the rampant organized crime world are all revealed in relative detail.

The silliness of Batman ends up maintaining itself inside some of the cheesier practical effects of the final act’s chaos; Scarecrow’s efforts to drive the city insane, the set design around the high speed rail that gets destroyed, and a great deal of the dialogue sends the narrative shooting straight into the realm of comic book camp, though jarringly so.  But nonetheless, the juxtaposition of the bat suit and the bat-themed paraphernalia against a well-defined world of Italian mobsters never seems to stray far from the imaginations of children.  Charmingly outdated, perhaps, since the most obvious face of organized crime today wear bandanas instead of fedoras, and their indiscriminate bloodshed is a bit too brutal to explore for a high-budget superhero flick, but nonetheless the tonal clash is one that must simply be accepted.  It’s never even really explained.

By the end of Begins, Bruce Wayne has let his mentor die, barely saved Gotham, lost his girl, and is no closer to the ambitious ideals he had when he donned the mask than he was when he started.  It’s a pretty dark movie, and if it wasn’t about a man wearing a bat costume, it could work well as a sort of gimmicky neo-noir.  Heck, given to a better director, such a neo-noir might actually be pretty good.

The second and best received film of Nolan’s trilogy begins on such a note.  But, like the first movie, it doesn’t go for neo-noir.  It goes for the police procedural aesthetic; stark, clean, sleek, filled with shots of the metropolis and interspersed with the sort of drama expected of primetime cable shows that come out today.   Upping the ante, The Dark Knight tackles the concepts of order and anarchy, returning to the subject of organized mafia-style crime, and introducing to the picture an idealistic prosecutor and a lunatic fringe-ball anarchist.

More than the first, The Dark Knight attempts to ground itself in a realistic setting.  It features none of the somewhat cheesy sets that plagued the final act of Batman Begins, none of the campy hallucinations brought on by a psychiatrist’s fear toxin, and none of the amusingly foreign training sequences featuring cool swords and badass body armor.  Instead, it has cops and SWAT teams, panoramic establishing pans of the cosmopolitan Gotham city, news anchors, and a sleek Batcave underneath a skyscraper.  This is a movie in which the sort of gadgetry prefixed by the ‘Bat-’ moniker really is out of place and silly, but simply changing the name of the Batmobile to the Tumbler and never mentioning the Bathooks, Batarangs, Batcycle, etc. etc. etc. by their nomenclatures doesn’t change what they are.  They still function as comic book gadgets designed for knock-offs to be sold at Toys R’ Us, even if they supposed to be more menacing.

The Dark Knight’s treatment of the Joker is, perhaps, Nolan’s attempt to move past the limits of the Batman ethos.  In Begins, he makes liberal use of established Batman canon to suit his vision, and given his reputation, that’s fine.  Ra’s Al Ghul, ancient and immortal leader of a cult of assassins, is transformed from a debonair mastermind whose biggest claim to fame were the Lazarus pits he used to constantly resurrect himself from the brink of death to a sword-fighting Hassan-like ideologue who had inherited the legacy of a civilizational counter-force.  Dr. Crane, similarly, lost the grandiose theatrics in favor of a more realistic, clinical approach to sadistically researching the effects of fear, while taking some dirty money in the process.  While both of these were integral aspects to their comic book counterparts, it’s fair to say that, like Batman, the emphasis of each character was shifted rather dramatically—likely out of convenience.

In the Joker’s case, that emphasis is shifted even more.  The Joker is perhaps the most iconic villain of Batman’s rogues gallery, and as a result, has about a million different incarnations and depictions.  But he’s always crazy and, in his more iconic depictions, he has all sorts of outrageous Joker-themed paraphernalia—helicopters with his face on the front, steamboats shaped like his head, lethal hand buzzers or acid spewing corsages, that sort of thing.  And that’s the point; he is the joke and everything he does is a joke, like some kind of post-2010 internet shitposter with access to tons of money and firearms and if he was born at the height of the mob-run prohibition era Chicago.

Not so with The Dark Knight.  Obviously, a Mark Hammill-style Animated Series Joker wouldn’t come across well in a movie intended to be a sequel to the Year One-treatment of Batman Begins.  But in cases where the villains were altered without having been fundamentally changed, the Joker seems to have been taken a step too far.  Nolan attempts, largely unsuccessfully, to elevate the Joker from lunatic criminal mastermind to the realm of Camus-like absurd nihilist, a force unto himself, and one who has no real jokes and goes more for an existential sort of terror than a practical kind.  The problem is that this is effectively like putting clown make-up on Pontius Pilate and wheeling him out with a tommy gun as he asks the audience, “What is truth?”

To be fair, that was the only way Nolan could depict the Joker; The Dark Knight’s world is not one receptive to comic book surrealism, even as it tries to court it with the costumes and the characters.  Which again, is my point.  Whether uninterested in the Batman aesthetics or simply driven by a compulsion to find myth-like archetypal meaning in the characters, Nolan ceased to pay even the pretentions of lip service to the source material with The Dark Knight, plunging full steam into a procedural crime story riddled with personal conflicts loaded with metaphor.

The 2012 conclusion to the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, is, to some extent, a return to the somewhat schlocky elements of Begins mixed with the attempt to ground things in a realistic setting with The Dark Knight.  The cult of assassins returns in force, this time led by Bane—depicted on film in a radically reworked form from his comic book source.  Other characters, like Selena Kyle and Talia al Ghul, also make appearances but, for the most part, contribute very little to the drama.

Dark Knight Rises is a miserable mess of a movie, plagued with confusing editing, nonsensical dialogue, and character motivations that seem to come out of nowhere.  It’s not a good movie, but it does function as the termination of the character arcs for Nolan’s Dark Knight universe.  So how does it all end?  A megalomaniacal terrorist backed by Ghul’s old League of Shadows comes to Gotham to destroy it, harkening back to the plot of Begins.  In doing so, he intends to cripple the city, torture it throughout the winter months, and then blow it up with a nuclear bomb.  Meanwhile, Batman has to come out of retirement to fight him off, gets debilitated, sent to an overseas prison, breaks out, and conquers death.  Somehow, everything works out and everyone except the bad guys live happily ever after.

So what’s really going on here?

 

Big Themes, Big Guys, Bigger Explosions, and the Silent Nothing Beneath All of It

Ultimately, Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy represents a secular attempt to struggle with the age old question of “why do bad things happen to good people?”  Although, given that most of the characters in the series are hardly paragons of virtue, a fitting modification to the problem of evil must be added: “why do bad things happen to innocent people?” or, perhaps, “why do bad things happen at all?”  The series struggles with the concepts of justice, fear, madness, and sadism, each of which are depicted in turn through the films by the antagonists involved.

Batman clearly stands in for the ambiguous sense of justice—a figure of order intended to keep the city safe.  But because of his backstory, he’s never fully absolved to be the blind arbiter that justice requires, so he’s generally relegated to the realm of vigilantism, if not simple vengeance.  The line is introduced and intentionally blurred in the first film.  Begins focuses on Batman’s exploration of fear and the use of it as both a tactic and a weapon, but it is never something which he himself comes to embody.  It is instead Dr. Crane, with his medical prescriptions and his experiments, and his literal fear toxin, who comes to embody that fear.  He is the personal terror, the nightmares of unending silence in the face of the ontological void.  In the Dark Knight’s world, there is no natural order to appeal to that is recognized; justice and folly remain the whims of Man, and those who subscribe to that ideal react to it first in fear.  Dr. Crane, clinically attuned to such an attitude, is manifestly aware of it.

But it is his employer, and Batman’s own mentor, Ra’s al Ghul, who brings such a fear to its ultimate conclusion.  He is a destroyer, relying on the fear of a desperate and discombobulated populace to destroy a corrupted civilization, but he is driven himself by the fear of the abyss he hangs over.  Vacant of any intrinsic moral order, it remains quietly beneath his every action and, try as he might to instill his will upon the world, his own speech betrays the meaninglessness of his actions.  He decries his student’s attempts to save Gotham from itself, all the while, it’s clear that he holds out no hope for either himself nor for the race of creatures he seeks to help in carrying out Gotham’s sacrifice.  His actions are empty, morally bereft, and his actions are driven by his reaction to the moral vacuum.

The second film kicks off with an amusing show of mockery towards notions of honor and class—“Criminals in this town used to believe in things.  Honor.  Respect.  What do you believe in?”  The line functions as an obvious allusion to the Joker’s anarchic nihilism, but it speaks also to the Dark Knight’s world as a whole.  The gangsters respected each other only inasmuch as they could be themselves satisfied by truces, not out of any appeal to a moral framework.  In any case, the scene is quickly followed by another presumed assertion of Batman’s appeal to justice, as he takes out a couple of gangsters, captures Dr. Crane (whose operation has moved into the drug dealing), and beats up some amateur vigilantes impersonating Batman.  One of them even asks what makes their vigilante actions different from his?

“I’m not wearing hockey pads.”  No, dude, your bat costume is just much more convincing.

His quipped response intends imply that he’s a more qualified judge and enforcer of the law, but it also highlights his own arrogance.  He can only say these things because he’s got more access to sophisticated weaponry and he had the opportunity to train himself to peak physical condition.  But like them, he’s only human, and like them, he’s still prone to mistakes.  That’s the chief difference between Nolan’s Batman and the comic book superhero; the Batman in the comic books seems to meticulously plan even his own mistakes.  It’s completely unrealistic, but it’s a comic book.  Again, it works.  Nolan’s movies can’t follow such absurd logic.

What he’s saying is that there isn’t anything that makes his actions different other than effectiveness.  The cause of his actions, his reason for doing so, is ultimately the same.  He has no justification.  Claiming simply that it works is just begging the question.

But these two scenes—the introduction of manifest anarchy and the question of vigilante justice—form the conflict of The Dark Knight.  Instead of hockey pad-wearing imposters who force Batman to question his own motivations, it is instead a man working within the criminal justice system who does so.  The new district attorney, Harvey Dent, is held up as a metaphorical white knight come to fix up the town and right the wrongs of the justice department.  But he’s just a man, and the system he’s in is run by men; it is only fitting that Dent’s character plunges into the depths of vengeance even deeper than Batman’s own before the end of the film.  Justice must be believed in, and when the abyssal void of nihilism lurks behind every secular facade, man’s frailty will give into it.

Or so the Joker believes, rightly so, given his own logic.  But his own climactic plan never comes to fruition, because a vague notion of justice lives on like a splinter in the mind of its characters.  Most of the city’s inhabitants want to live life happily, if perhaps not altogether morally; they want to be left alone, but they don’t mind helping each other, and they have no interest in destroying one another.  Not, at least, while they’re comfortable.

And so we come to Dark Knight Rises.  If the antagonists in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy are manifest reactions to confronting meaninglessness—first fear, then nihilist tantrums—then Bane is the manifestation of the Sadist urge to wantonly destroy.  The Joker’s nihilism was just looking to inflict his will upon the world, while remaining uninterested in accomplishing anything.  He just wanted to have fun, I guess, even if it involved high explosives and ruining people’s lives.  But Bane is the culmination of that will.  He wants to bring pain.

Suffering is the name of the game in Dark Knight Rises, made clear in both the suffering of its protagonists—many of whom spend a while in hospital beds—as well as in the torturously confusing twists of the narrative it inflicts upon its audience.  Only in pain can the nihilist find some semblance of a will distracting enough to fill the void of secularist ethics.  That’s the last word Dark Knight series has on the subject, because Batman ends up abandoning the mantle entirely, giving up on his personal vendetta against crime to live a more fulfilling life romancing a pretty girl and spending money at expensive vacationing destinations in Europe.

Interestingly, the emphasis on materialism that drives the undercurrents of The Dark Knight Rises mirrors Bane’s efforts to torture even the soul of Gotham’s people.  Pain, apparently, is something transcendent, and by torturing the body—depriving it of pleasures, wealth, and then subjecting it to discomforts and violence—so too does he believe he can torture the soul.  Again, this only makes clearer the nihilistic philosophy espoused by the Dark Knight antagonists—and Batman’s reactions, suffering but growing stronger, eventually abandoning his own quest to bring salvation to ‘the people’, seem to imply that he too has bought into these vacuous values of modernity.  Morality, and justice too, are things for Men and by Men, it seems, and they can be ignored and destroyed at will.  In doing so, we are made to suffer, and it’s unpleasant, but there is no greater meaning to life that.  The only reasoning to be found is the reasoning invented and reinvented by men.

Significance and Influence

So Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy embraces wholesale the secularist pitch of vapid ethics and an arbitrary moral judicial standard (even, ironically, when appealing to an objective one when claims of corruption and righteousness are thrown around).  But we return now to the question of whether or not all of this works.  Is it convincing?  Are the movies capable of handling these themes?

I assert that they are not, primarily for two reasons: 1) the values they appeal to and assert in the first place are wrong, and 2) exploring themes regarding the moral virtue of Man using a man crazy enough to dress up as a bat seems contradictory.  The first of these reasons is not worth discussing here, as a lot of my recent work on this site has been dedicated to exploring secularist ethics.  But the second was supposed to be the topic of this essay.

Bruce Wayne, in Nolan’s universe, is not the obvious example of a normal human being.  The comic book Batman isn’t either, but the comic book Batman doesn’t seem to regularly tackle themes of human virtue—and even when he does, it’s a comic book and not a serious medium of personal reflection.  Nolan’s Wayne, however, is a broken character riddled with grief and with aspirations of grandeur; he is an arrogant man who believes he can save an entire city of people from itself, all the while pursuing personal romance.  For the most part, he just wants to be happy, but he uses crime-fighting as an excuse to indulge in his drive for self-sacrifice.

Some of this is relatively relatable.  Many of us do or know someone who projects their own griefs and despairs against external events, crusading for vague concepts and putting their faith in abstract ideals instead of addressing the personal problems that drive them to do so.  Not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing, either; a great deal of human good and charitable work can come out of it.  But most of us don’t dress up as bats to fight crime in order to satisfy this urge, either.  Instead we drink.  Or write articles for reactionary blog sites on the internet.  Or both.

My point is that Nolan tried to ground Batman in a realistic world so that he could explore these themes and be taken seriously.  He could easily have explored them in a more absurd, wild, and zany universe—one that looked more like Burton’s depictions, maybe—but then he wouldn’t have been praised for trying to bring realism to the comic book movies.  Nolan knows that the more relatable a film is, the more receptive to its content the audience will be.  They might pick up on themes regarding justice and anarchy in a high-budget fantasy sci-fi movie, but they’re less inclined to give them serious thought when aliens are going on monologues versus human criminals are.  Nolan clearly found the issues tackled in these movies to be ones that people needed to think about.

On that level, he was successful.  People have talked about this stuff a lot after seeing the movies.  Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker sparked off internet imitations and reenactments for years, and many allusions and criticisms have been made with Rises’ treatment of the then-active Occupy Wall Street movement.  But at the end of the day, Batman is still a story about a super-rich madman who hits people with his fists while dressed up in a glorified Halloween costume.

Whatever magic Nolan tapped into, it’s still working for Hollywood today.  Since The Dark Knight, comic book movies continue in TDK’s vein of semi-serious drama masked with colorful caped surrealism.  The scale varies: Zach Snyder’s amusingly terrible Watchmen adaptation, stylish and sleek, sits on one side of the scale, attempting to dissect the characters in the same fashion as its source material did to legendary appeal in the 80s; on the other side of the scale sits the likes of Iron Man and Captain America, blending the realistic elements of trained martial fighting, cutting-edge technology, and semi-believable scenarios.

And despite the obnoxiously smug, confusing, blathering garbage that was Captain America: Civil War, it got people talking about government oversight.  Ant Man had people discussing the penal system.  Etcetera.  Nolan really got the ball rolling on that sort of crap, but that’s all it is: crap.  If audiences need their drama delivered to them in quips, then the drama is going to be dumbed down to be suited for quips.  That means taking the heavy themes audiences apparently like talking about and oversimplifying them to the point that they no longer adequately represent issues of any substance.  There’s no room in any of these movies for the sort of nuance and subtlety necessarily to adequately explore a lot of those subjects, so the directors dispense with it and just go for the most obvious, lowest-hanging fruit.  This just frames whatever themes they’re tackling in a dishonest framework.  The audiences leave the theatre feeling like they’ve watching something profound, and they’re more interested in that feeling of profoundness than in actually grappling with the subjects these movies portend to depict.

And certainly, some movies are worse than others in this regard, and I would concede that Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is probably the least-bad of the comic book adaptations that struggle with high-minded and self-important themes.  But it doesn’t make them any less egregious.  And I think the reason for a lot of this is the glorification of nostalgia and the how the movie industry has embraced childishness as a new form of money making.  Audiences buy into it, too.  Here’s another movie about some crap you played with when you were five years old, this time with more guns and boobs in it!  And because you aren’t five anymore, we’re throwing in quips and pretending to be smart to draw you in, rather than bright colors and fart sound effects!

This is the trend in Hollywood today.  Bigger budgets, bloated movies, dumber ideas, simpler characters, all under the guise of being better, thought-provoking films full of intrigue and substance.  The sort of drive that funds comic book superhero movies is simultaneously destroying whatever is left of the creative industry in Hollywood, and rotting out the entire film industry as a whole.  Maybe that’s a good thing, but given how much money these titles keep racking in, I’m not holding out hope for anything better to fill the void when it all comes crashing down.

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