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The evolution of Batman

Director Nolan’s ‘dark’ adaptation of Batman movies launches new mainstream success

Published: Thursday, July 19, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 19:07

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The evolution of Batman

Director Nolan’s ‘dark’ adaptation of Batman movies launches new mainstream success

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In a modern entertainment industry dominated by the idea of “intellectual properties” that can be successfully translated into multiple forms of media, there is perhaps no greater success story than that of Bruce Wayne, the caped crusader known as the Batman.

Gotham City’s guardian superhero is the star of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the summer’s most-hyped blockbuster, and the final chapter in one of the most popular visions of the character to date.

Batman himself has been interpreted and reinterpreted in so many different ways across the various comics, films, TV shows and video games he is in that it would be impossible to list them all here, but there are always certain facts about the character that remain the same. He’s almost always an orphan, and often left a multi-billionaire as a result of inheriting his parents’ fortune. He has no super-powers of his own, instead relying on his physical ability, a laundry list of ingenious and/or wacky gadgets and his unbeatable intellect to save Gotham City from a wide-range of colorful maniacs.

While Batman was already a huge critical and financial success in comic books, films and television before Christopher Nolan brought his unique vision of Gotham City to the big screen, the director’s Dark Knight trilogy has launched Batman (in this case a very serious Christian Bale) to greater mainstream appreciation than the character had ever achieved before, partly on the strength of the series’ thoughtful takes on the twisted characters that populate his world.

“I consider myself a pretty big Batman fan. I read all of the current comics each month and I love the 90’s cartoon show,” said sophomore mechanical engineering major John Schneider. “Nolan’s movies have done an exceptional job adapting the characters up to this point.”

Previous film incarnations of Batman have each taken wildly different approaches to adapting the character to cinema. The first Batman film was a big-screen version of the campy 1960’s television series starring Adam West in a goofy comedy. The next attempt, from director Tim Burton, returned the Dark Knight to his brooding roots and starred Michael Keaton in Bruce Wayne’s pressed suits, though the series got progressively sillier (and more neon) through Joel Schumacher’s subsequent sequels with Val Kilmer and George Clooney in the title role.

For some older viewers, like nautical archeology graduate student Sam Cuellar, the darker tone is a welcome change from the Day-Glo goofiness of the earlier movies.

“I really enjoy the newer films. Everything Batman that I grew up with as a kid was a little more light-hearted and cartoon-like,” Cuellar said. “I think the new ones do a good job of showing a darker side to Batman.”

Much of the hype of the Nolan films has surrounded their gritty and unsettling takes on Batman’s famous rogues gallery. While the first film, “Batman Begins,” featured grounded takes on two of the relatively more unknown villains R’as al Ghul and the Scarecrow, most of the praise for the series’ baddies is reserved for Heath Ledger’s unhinged performance as The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” The role, Ledger’s last before his death, earned him a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and praise from critics and audiences and won over fans who viewed the actor’s initial casting with suspicion.

“The Joker is one of the most iconic and notable villains in any media, and Nolan managed to capture his comic book essence to a T,” Schneider said.

The villains of “The Dark Knight Rises” have both been featured in Batman films before, but Nolan has reimagined them. Catwoman, the more familiar of the film’s two new additions to the story and originally more of an anti-hero in the source material, became a more or less straight villain in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Her secret identity, Selina Kyle, has kept her romantic ties to Bruce Wayne in all of her film incarnations. Bane, originally one of Batman’s few intellectual equals in the comic books, was reduced to a mumbling steroidal mutant in Joel Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin,” but Nolan has promised that his take on the character in “The Dark Knight Rises” is a Bane with brain.

Trailers for “The Dark Knight Rises” show that the new villain has big, bad plans for Batman and Gotham City. But despite a never-ending flood of set pictures, trailers and posters, not every Batman fan is so eager to hear what challenges Bruce Wayne will face this time around before the movie is released.

“I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers as much as I can,” said sophomore electrical engineering major Randy Bernhoft. “I’m just gonna go in fresh and see what happens, going in with theories and possibilities always prevents me from being able to actually focus on the movie and be absorbed in what’s happening.”

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