In Part 1, I discussed some of the larger successful aspects of The Dark Knight Trilogy that are commonly focused on by many viewers. In this week’s entry, we wrap up our discussion of the series’ successes by taking a look at some of the finer details as well as a few aspects that will be remembered years from now.
Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s work on The Dark Knight Trilogy walks a fine line between being subtle and being instantly recognizable. Rather than create overtly iconic character pieces like 1978’s Superman, and much of John Williams’ work, many of the pieces consist of one or two notes that only become associated with a character after repeated viewings or use during multiple films.
Batman’s theme, a rising two note minor third, becomes more and more prominent throughout Batman Begins as Bruce Wayne more fully embraces his role as a hero. In The Dark Knight, the theme continues to represent Batman, often cutting in as he arrives on the scene or interrupts the schemes of a villain. This can be found when Batman interrupts the faux Batmen at the beginning and tackles Harvey Dent off the building in the finale. In The Dark Knight Rises, the theme has a secondary interpretation as a single child singer, which Zimmer has stated represents Bruce’s lost yet frozen in time childhood.
While characters like James Gordon, Rachel Dawes, and Alfred Pennyworth do not receive their own themes, each villain gets his or her own. Ra’s al Ghul has a theme similar to Batman’s, represented by two notes played on a woodwind backed by low strings, giving it a mysterious, cold, and Eastern feel. On the opposite end of the spectrum is The Joker’s theme, a rising and whining single note on an electric cello that sets your teeth on edge. The rising note is punctuated by two notes, D and C, on an electric guitar, making it a raw and brutal piece that is uncompromising.
Harvey Dent’s theme begins majestically, with rising horns and light piano that feel bright and warm. However, like Dent’s embrace of anger and hatred, the piece turns dark and heavy as notes become lower and slower. The theme for Selena Kyle, Catwoman, is mysterious yet swaggering, almost feeling like a thief making off with a bag of jewels and coins. Finally, Bane is giving a theme as in-your-face as The Joker’s, with driving strings and low bass plays under chanting in a foreign language. In a keen turn of events, this chanting and its meaning eventually become a key part of Bruce’s “rise.”
Each of the trilogy’s films introduce a new vehicle for Batman to use in his war on crime. While The Bat in The Dark Knight Rises is easily the least impressive, it is still a vital aspect of the series and stays in line with a real world tone that displays Batman’s advantage when it comes to technology. Each vehicle represents a different aspect of Wayne and also reflects a theme of each film.
With the design of The Tumbler as this series’ Batmobile, Nolan was able to further ground the film in reality while also paying homage to the character’s comic history. Of all comic book vehicles, The Tumbler is most like the tank-like Batmobile in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. The movie vehicle’s aggressive and intimidating design help to show that this is a Batman that is more about function than style during his war on crime.
The introduction of the Batpod in The Dark Knight is as exciting as seeing it chase The Joker through the streets of Gotham. Rather than choose to use the Batpod, it explodes out of a critically damaged Tumbler as Batman continues his chase. Batman’s battle against The Joker is taking its toll on him, but he simply will not stop. Additions like side-rotating wheels and a twisting seat give the vehicle an extra wow factor.
Finally, The Bat in The Dark Knight Rises gives Batman the edge he needs when coming back to fight crime. While the battle against a cadre of Tumblers in the finally is impressive, its best moment is its introduction, rising out of a dark alleyway and thoroughly overwhelming dozens of Gotham officers. Unfortunately, The Bat is more of a story telling device than any of the other vehicles, as Gotham would be destroyed and Batman would not be able to make his heroic sacrifice without its awfully timely introduction in the film.
Batman and Jim Gordon
Prior to Batman Begins, no other live action film had truly done the Jim Gordon-Batman relationship justice. Films like Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s entries limited these interactions to brief encounters, usually involving a Bat Signal being lit or some sort of information on a criminal being exchanged. At points, it seemed as if Batman actually looked down on Gordon. During Adam West’s tenure as Batman, Gordon was simply another cop to give support and congratulation to the Dark Knight Detective.
But by cribbing heavily from comic book stories including Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween, the Nolans and Goyer put an early focus on the two characters and their journey both together and apart. In the comic books, these two are heavily entwined, with their relationship sometimes firing on all cylinders and at others clashing to the point of guns being drawn. While Batman originally chooses Gordon as his connection in Batman Begins, the two quickly realize that the only hope they have to clean up Gotham is to stick together. When The Joker arrives, their relationship is put to its greatest test.
Questions of Morality
A strong suit of the first two films, and especially The Dark Knight, is the morally-focused questions that are asked of both the characters and the audience. While some of Batman’s choices in Batman Begins have moral quandaries at their center, literally every main and secondary character in The Dark Knight is forced to make a moral choice and has a character arc that revolves around their morals.
While The Joker is an unchanging force of nature, fully committed to anarchy from start to finish, characters like Batman, Alfred, and Jim Gordon must make a choice by the end of the film. Above all, Harvey Dent has the grandest story arc, tracing his rise and tremendous fall as he gives up on the world and is consumed by his rage. Best of all, none of the choice or the focus on morality seem clichéd or forced. It’s also why The Dark Knight Rises seems lacking in comparison when its focus on good versus evil seems so plain and simple.
Those Wonderful Toys
Batman has always relied on a wealth of gadgets to give him the advantage over criminals and super villains. After all, no matter how strong, fast, or agile he is, he is still only a man. Over the years, Wayne’s arsenal has advanced as both real world technology and the ambition of writers have grown exponentially. Today in comics, Batman’s weapons include everything from simple Batarangs to giant robotic exoskeletons.
Throughout the trilogy, Batman uses many different tools in his war on crime. While these sometimes seem to be beyond our current grasp, they do not delve into the realm of science fiction. Part of the excitement of each film is seeing how Wayne will advance his tech and what weapons he may pull out at any minute to save the day. Without the gadgets, not only would this version of Batman not seem right, but the films would take on an even darker feel.
The Batsuit itself is a great piece of realistic yet strikingly fun piece of tech in the films. While Batman Begins had Bruce in a suit similar to his previous incarnations, its upgrade in The Dark Knight helps to place it firmly in the real world. The suit’s actual limitations are addressed and become the impetus for the upgrade, with the new suit using metal place, mesh, and a motorcycle suit inspiration. This gives both Batman and Christian Bale as an actor more flexibility for better fighting and better shot fighting scenes.
Standout gadgets include the Bat Sonar Caller, Sticky Bomb Gun, and the Electromagentic Pulse Rifle. Additionally, Batman’s standby tools like the Batarang, grapnel, and gliding cape also make their presence known. However, Batarangs make a woefully small appearance in the series as a whole. The utility belt also gets a believable real world interpretation, with a magnetic track taking the place of dozens of pouches.
Combined, these gadgets help Batman feel grounded in the real world setting while also providing a sense of fun. Similar to a James Bond film, even the most grim of these films is lightened by the wonder that these tools bring to the screen.
Thematic Use of Colors
Each film has its own color palette, and while there are many colors shared between them, each has its own focus.
In Batman Begins, a burnt orange, browns, and blacks pervade much of the film, starting with the bat swarm opening title. The dirty, rusty orange found mostly in scenes that take place in the underbelly of the city convey the crime and corruption that Bruce has dedicated himself to cleaning up. Scenes like Batman’s first encounter with Scarecrow and his Tumbler chase against the police heavily use these colors.
In The Dark Knight, an electric blue fills many of the scenes. Almost like a shroud of darkness brought by The Joker, Gotham is sent is a murkier and more ambiguous look as the characters struggle with their morals. The color is only broken up by reds, many of which come from fires and explosions. The river ferry sequence at the end of the films uses a heavy amount of blues while Harvey’s transformation employes the use of reds.
In The Dark Knight Rises, a much starker black and white informs the look of several pivotal scenes. The onset of a harsh winter in a concrete-filled urban setting provides much of the natural black and white look. Additionally, Batman’s first encounter with Bane plays in a largely black and white arena. Darkness and light play heavily into many of the movie’s themes as well as many of its set pieces.
Next time, we discuss The Failures of The Dark Knight Trilogy. I’m coming for you, The Dark Knight Rises!