The hero we deserved

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” These words have become iconic to fans of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy. To many, when Aaron Eckhart delivered this famous line it represented no more than a revealing moment in the plot of The Dark Knight, one which set up the conflict of the third film in the series, The Dark Knight Rises. However, for me, one of the trilogy’s more die-hard fans, the phrase had a much deeper meaning.

Before I get into that deeper meaning, though, let’s go back a ways in Batman history. Let’s remember a time before The Dark Knight Rises, before The Dark Knight, and yes, even before the historic release of Nolan’s first Batman film, Batman Begins. I’m talking about those age-old movies that were first helmed by Tim Burton in 1989.

While everyone has their own unique opinion of Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the Caped Crusader in Batman, and of his return to the role in Burton’s 1992 sequel, Batman Returns, I’m almost positive that most of the world’s Batman fans can agree that the two films that followed can best be described as atrocities.

Director Joel Schumacher certainly took a more cartoonish approach to the story of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, but as it turned out, this was not what Batman fans were looking for. Schumacher’s first Batman film, the 1995 Batman Forever, brought with it an air of demented humor and flat-out unnecessary cheesiness.

Returning to Aaron Eckhart’s famous line from The Dark Knight, “you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Mr. Schumacher could have been a hero to fans of the Caped Crusader worldwide, and let his awful take on the legend of the Dark Knight die with Batman Forever (there’s that deeper meaning I was talking about). Unfortunately, Schumacher lived up to the latter portion of Eckhart’s line when he went on to direct what is considered to be one of the worst films in history, the 1997 Batman & Robin.

Ultimately, Schumacher became one of Batman’s most vicious adversaries to date: a corny, desperately comical, and overly flashy menace to the very reputation of the legendary superhero.

What I’m getting at here is that after one man single-handedly destroyed Batman for millions of fans, we needed a hero of our own to bring the Dark Knight back from the pit into which he had been thrown. Nolan, the mind that brought about Memento, The Prestige, and Inception, stepped up to this challenge.

In Batman Begins Nolan took a much more realistic approach to the story of the Dark Knight than either of his predecessors, and the response from audiences was astoundingly positive. It was so positive, in fact, that it prompted the production of yet another Batman film, which is ranked by many as the best superhero film ever made.

Nolan’s second Batman film, The Dark Knight, explored the complex relationship between Batman, his allies, and his enemies in a way that no previous film had come close to doing. What truly stood out about this masterpiece was the performance by Heath Ledger, who portrayed the infamous clown prince of Gotham City, the Joker. He took on the role of the self-proclaimed agent of chaos masterfully, and audiences were left wanting more as soon as the credits started rolling.

Christopher Nolan, who only works on a single film at a time, took a short break from his Batman series, only to return to work on The Dark Knight Rises after an enormous outcry was made for a sequel. This continuation of the story of the Dark Knight, though not quite as incredible as The Dark Knight itself, proved that the third movie in a trilogy does not always have to ruin the series, as so many have done in the past. For a fan of Nolan’s Batman since the very beginning, like myself, TDKR provided a satisfying finale to one of the greatest stories ever told on the silver screen.

Sadly, though, Christopher Nolan has officially bowed out of any further productions of the legend of the Caped Crusader, leaving fans of the Dark Knight to guess at what may become of the Batman in coming years.

One thing, however, is certain: Christopher Nolan was the hero that Batman fans deserved, and his groundbreaking series will be the standard to which all future superhero films are held for years to come.