The Nolan Effect: How The Dark Knight Rises Has Changed the Superhero Game

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If you have not see The Dark Knight Rises, turn back now, here there be spoilers!

No one has done this before. Nolan has ended the story of a superhero in a more than satisfying manner. I repeat, no one has done this before. Not in movies. Not on TV. Not even in comics. That is the reason this film is so incredible and fascinating. What could possible make Bruce Wayne stop being Batman? Death? Love? Simple retirement? Nolan laced elements of all three into a perfect ending for the caped crusader. First we need to address the other series’ that have attempted this in some way.

In film, two other series have attempted cap off a trilogy, Spider-man and X-men. Spider-man 3 feels like an ending, but it was a bad movie. The same can be said for X-men: The Last Stand. Other than that, movies that have finished a superhero series without really giving it an ending include Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Batman & Robin, and Blade Trinity.

The few superheroes that have entered the medium of television are mostly stand alone episodes without a big continuity, whether they are animated or not. Examples of this include the 1960’s Batman show, Batman: The Animated Series, and The Incredible Hulk. But for some other long-running animated programs, an ending was necessary. Justice League and X-men gave a nice wrap-up, but they were not the ending for their heroes.No one stopped being a superhero, just a major event happened to lead them into the future.

As for the medium that bore superheroes, comics are still going. While story arcs end, the characters have been going for decades. Only in a few graphic novels have writers tried to end. Perhaps the best example is Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, of which elements can be seen in Nolan’s new film. But even that got a crappy sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

So here we are now with a definitive ending for a superhero. Some will argue that John Blake will continue on as Batman. I do not argue, but the reason this is such an amazing feat is that there is no chance Bruce Wayne will slip back into the suit. In fact, John Blake’s stepping into the Batcave enhances the meaning of a superhero. The strongest theme within The Dark Knight Rises is how anyone can be a hero, they just have to rise to the occasion. With Robin John Blake set to take over, Bruce has achieved what he set out to do from the beginning: make Batman a symbol. Blake, as well as the rest of Gotham believes in that symbol, and when/if someone tries to challenge that symbol again, Blake will be ready for them (nice touch on Gordon seeing a repaired Bat-signal). It makes the essence of Batman, and all superheroes actually, mean that much more.

Consequently, Chris Nolan has also made one of the best trilogies ever. All of the threads from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are addressed here in spectacular fashion. On a second viewing, Talia al Ghul becomes a symbol herself of what it means for a villain to rise. Her arc, while much farther in the background than Batman’s, is incredibly strong. While it still makes no sense to me why she would sleep with Bruce (one of the film’s only flaws), the flashbacks to the prison are some of the best scenes in the film. Watching her try to carry out her father’s work is incredibly satisfying because the seeds of her motivation have been planted before us throughout the entirety of Rises. She is a huge part of what brings the trilogy full circle.

But another nice touch was Bruce and Selina. Still suffering the loss of Rachel, Selina makes for a perfect match for Bruce. They both have a taste for the theatrical. Bruce is able to see the good in her, something she proves at the perfect time without ever really going by the same moral code as Batman. Their kiss before Batman flies off the the bomb was a perfect way to show where her loyalties lie. Seeing them together in the end was also perfect. Bruce needed another love interest to show how he has completely moved on from his life as Batman. Alfred getting to witness it first hand was perfect as well, giving the true father of Bruce Wayne the delight of seeing the man he holds so dearly to his heart happy.

So there you have it. The Dark Knight Rises has changed how superhero stories can be told. Could we see this again in the future? Perhaps with Peter Parker? Most superheroes aren’t quite as tortured as Batman is, so this is a story that may only work here and now. But under the right director and writer, anything is possible. Maybe the next Batman trilogy will be better than this one. For now though that seems doubtful as these three films have joined the original Star Wars trilogy and The Lord of the Rings trilogy in my book, if not superseding them. The Dark Knight has risen, and it will take something truly special to knock him down.



4 Responses to The Nolan Effect: How The Dark Knight Rises Has Changed the Superhero Game

  1. James West says:

    “Not even in comics”? Watch your tongue! Wiki Jim Starlin’s run on Captain Marvel. Overall I don’t think this’ll happen again since most movies are influenced by the Marvel method (bright and shiny, comic booky, adhering relatively close to source material). However, Nolan has set a precedent thematically and in terms of quality. Just dunno about method, but it could be done. It certainly won’t happen with the Marvel Studios films because they’re focused on universe building right now. With a character like Spider-Man, maybe, but he’s not a legacy like Batman is. Nolan really seized a lot of opportunities he had with Batman, I applaud him for that. This is also the third greatest film trilogy of all time (Behind original Star Wars and LotR).

  2. Mike P says:

    Hi, not sure if you ever watched the animated series X-Men: Evolution (featuring many of the X-men characters as teenagers in high school), but the series has quite a satisfying ending that pretty much ties everything up. Not saying it can be compared to Nolan’s films, but you might wanna check around before you say no one has ever done this before

    • Matt Dougherty says:

      I did watch that show and while it was decent it was never great and the ending doesn’t end everything for all the characters, hence the flash forward type deal. It didn’t end the main struggle of the main characters, just basically had a final boss fight.

  3. Andre monk says:

    I think the ultimate spider man comics had a good end to it.I mean spider man did die in that book and his very first villain was his very last too so it has been befor

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