Best. Trilogy. Ever.
This post has nothing to do with chicken. [I'll give some of you time to navigate away]. This post has nothing to do with the complex interplay of racial relations in America. [*Counts to five with eyes closed* *Opens eyes and sees even more people now looking at Internet porn rather than blog post*] This post has everything to do about the latest Batman Film and there are no spoilers so you can read this if you have not yet seen the film, but as my co-blogger puts it so eloquently: “TDKR has been out for DAYS & is the most hyped movie of the summer. If u haven’t seen it yet, u’re the problem” – @BlackDeanMartin.
Is the trilogy of films comprising Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises the best film trilogy ever? This is the question that begins this post. A tough question indeed. With The Dark Knight Rises just finishing its opening weekend, incidentally early reports have it grossing a projected take in the $170 Million range, it’s a hard call because the majesty of all the films hasn’t had quite enough time to settle in yet. But I will attempt to answer this question nonetheless. Yes, this Batman trilogy of films is the best film trilogy ever, for the following reasons.
We have to begin by defining what we mean by “film trilogy.” Definitions are important. They act as a proper starting point that can let an argument proceed without fear of each side arguing different points. So, ‘trilogy’: noun, “a group of three related novels, plays, films, operas, or albums.” There you have it. A simple as you can put. There needs to be three, and they need to be related. This will become important later. This definition immediately disqualifies some great movie franchises immediately. The Harry Potter series, gone because of 8 films based on 7 novels. The James Bond series, again gone due to the 20+ films the franchise has produced. The Alien series, again, out of the running: simply too many damn movies.
This leaves us with what is still in the running. I will say in the Pantheon of movie trilogies that are proper trilogies, in the highest echelon lies The Godfather Trilogy, The original Star Wars trilogy, The Indian Jones trilogy, which I will leave in for the sake of argument despite that shitty fourth one because it is often-cited in this argument, and The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. Those four are the points of comparison, and it is my thesis that this most recent Batman trilogy surpasses them all, each perhaps for different reasons.
The Godfather trilogy. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, nominated for 28 Academy Awards across all three movies and winning 9 total including two each for best director, best picture, and best adapted screenplay. A hard film to beat in the race for best trilogy. Unfortunately, there is one reason why this trilogy fails: The Godfather Part III. That last chapter in the epic tale of a quintessential American family simply does not live up to the preceding chapters. By no means is it a bad film. In isolation, it is pretty good. The problem is it can only be compared to its magnificent predecessors. So for this trilogy, the final film stumbles on the last hurdle and ends up not winning the race.
The original Star Wars trilogy. Truly epic storytelling. Spanning Galaxies it is a classic trilogy. There is something to be said for George Lucas creating this entire narrative from whole cloth. Very few other directors can say this about their films. This film has an amazing opening film, a dramatic second film that carries a darker tone, had more action, and has perhaps the plot twist of all plot twists (if you don’t know what I mean you ain’t no fan of film). The last film even has the catharsis that is so necessary to trilogies. Luke restores balance to the Force, fulfills the prophecy, resurrects the Jedi order, and last but not least topples the Galactic Empire. The ending of these films was satisfying in a way that we just don’t see very much. Sadly, it suffers the same weakness The Godfather films did: a third film that when compared to the others seems weak. The aforementioned catharsis notwithstanding, Return of the Jedi has Luke never finishing his training on Dagoba, and one other flaw: EWOKS. The extended scenes on the moon of Endor is just painful. The tension created in the second film is simply not carried over to the final film because of these furry members of the Nation of Islam.
Sadly, while Return of the Jedi isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, most film critics will tell you that Empire Strikes Back is the standout movie in this series.
The Indian Jones films. Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Temple of Doom, technically a prequel (I bet ya’ll ain’t know that), and The Last Crusade. This trio of films comes very close to being toe-to-toe with the Nolan Batmans in being the best trilogy ever. But first, I will note that it is not disqualified on account of the fourth entry, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (“KOTCS”). I saw that film. It was ass. Period. But I will here excuse it because I didn’t count the new Star Wars films 1) because they were made 30+ years after the first and 2) because they really are their own narrative and dovetail into the original but aren’t interrelated in the way a true trilogy is. The same with KOTCS. It was made later than the other films and is not in the equation simply because I need the Indian Jones films to stay within my definition. I can do that. I’m the writer, remember. Here, this trilogy again does not get the crown, but because the films, though they are three, are more akin to the Bond franchise. Here’s why. Each of these films could stand alone. What I mean by this is that each film is much less a sequel of the preceding as independent films featuring the same character. One doesn’t really pick up where the other left off. You have to have this essential character to be the best, and truest, film trilogy. Godfather has this. Star Wars has this. Much like the Bond films, they feature a charismatic lead actor going off on a new adventure with little or no reference to the prior film. Sorry Indy, you don’t have the crown.
The Lord of the Rings. Epic. Winner of more Academy Awards Than I’d like to count, but I will nonetheless: A SHITTON. That’s a metric unit of measurement meaning 30 total Academy Award nominations and 17 wins. It has an epic conclusion that has the catharsis we need. It is in fact a trio of three films, interrelated, each one a direct sequel of the preceding, and not merely being standalone with the same characters. No failures on any of these grounds. Why is it not my best film trilogy of all time? Before answering this, I will say I FUCKING LOVE THESE FILMS. I am a Stan for LOTR. I have read all the books, prior to the movies by the way. I had seen each film twice in the theatre. I have each on DVD, including the theatrical versions and the extended editions. Don’t tell me I don’t know and appreciate these films. Sadly, it is not my pick over the Nolan Batman because of the source material. They are based on books. Wonderful, amazing fantasy novels that elevated the genre to heights never seen before. Unfortunately, because they were based on books, the ending was a forgone conclusion. Though Peter Jackson had to bring his skill and talent to bring them to the silver screen, the last note in the epic symphony was largely written already. I am using this criteria because this is one of the crucial pieces that makes the Batman films stand out as wheat amidst chaff.
Now let me synthesize and generate a list of the criteria I’ve outlined and generate a standard against which I lay Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. The best film trilogy of all time must have 1) no weak third film, in isolation or by comparison to weigh down the others, 2) nothing in the last film that doesn’t carry the escalation and tone of the second installment through to a successful finish, 3) a truly interrelated trilogy not merely featuring the same character in a largely independent adventure, and 4) be a truly unique and original series where the director must bring his skill and mastery full circle giving us the catharsis we need and deserve while living up to the hype.
The Nolan films satisfy every element of this standard. The Dark Knight Rises did not have the failing of Godfather Part III. It shines as an independent film, and when compared to the others, especially the amazing second film. For the chaotic insanity that was Heath Ledger’s Joker, we have the stoic intimidation and sheer force of nature that is Tom Hardy’s Bane. Was Heath’s performance better? Yes. But that’s not the point. The point is The Dark Knight in the middle film took the series to amazing heights, and the last film managed to keep us in that rarified air despite many saying it was a tall order.
This leads me to my next point: the Nolan Batmans manage to ratchet up the tension each step of the way in the way only a masterful film trilogy can. The Empire Strikes Back was about escalation. The escalation of the Rebels vis-à-vis the empire. The Dark Knight is the same. It took a darker tone and introduced a villain Batman couldn’t quite get a handle on. The Dark Knight Rises kept up this tone and carried it through to a successful conclusion. An amazing feat by any stretch of the imagination. Was this trilogy a series of interrelated tales, with true sequels picking up where the others left off? Yes. Each film stands alone but the latter two are true sequels to the first. I’ll not waste time here.
My last criteria, and the one that puts this trilogy above LOTR, is the fact that there was no forgone conclusion. The Lord of the Rings is based on novels that had a set ending and set resolution to the conflict. While the Nolan films are based on source material, decades of comics featuring the character, Nolan still had to craft and ending for us to hang our hat on. Some may know that Nolan writes his films. With the source material as a foundation, Nolan brings us three tales from the sprawling universe that is the caped crusader, but condenses the substance into what would be manageable in three films with the final entry being the sublimation. We all went into this film thinking: how could he possibly end it? Would he kill the Bat? The trailers alluded to this with the interchange we hear: Selena Kyle: “You don’t owe these people anymore. You’ve given them everything. Batman: “Not everything . . . not yet.” Nolan gave use the film we needed. He gave us the catharsis we deserved. He wrote an ending to his trilogy that wraps things up for us in a way that was not a forgone result culled from the source material. This is what makes this the trilogy to live up to more than any of the other criterion. Many actions films, especially those based on comics, simply don’t know how to end. They won’t let go. Blame it on the studios that don’t want their goose to stop laying golden eggs, but all great things must come to an end. A quote from The Dark Knight is apt: “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” These Batman films never “jump the shark.” They didn’t simmer into tepidity like the original Batman films (I’m looking at you, “Batman and Robin”). None of us left the theatre feeling like we had been built to the point of explosion and then doused with cold water. That trilogy is truly over.
I’ve made up my mind. You can discount my criteria, discount my analysis, hell, discount my tastes in film. But I’ve taken my stand.