In my previous article ‘Chris Nolan’s Batman: Two down, One to Go’ I remarked, “…all that is left is for Dark Knight Rises to be the missing piece of the puzzle, the installment that gives us possibly the greatest film trilogy….” I’m certain I was not the only one to place such expectation on The Dark Knight Rises, but now almost a week after its release, was it the final piece of the puzzle to what we can now say is the greatest movie trilogy?
It was the success of 2008’s The Dark Knight that first begged the question of whether Christopher Nolan could jump that one final hurdle and deliver a great movie trilogy. It took four years for an answer to the question, and on July 20, Dark Knight Rises emerged as a fitting conclusion to the Dark Knight Legend.
It is difficult to be content with Nolan’s cinematic triumph. In contrast to the efforts of his contemporaries in the superhero genre, Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi, Nolan has finished what he started with Batman Begins, and he has jumped the final hurdle; though we were never after just another great film. We had already had two of those. What we had been waiting for was a great trilogy, and although the recent Bourne trilogy was all-out consistently good, backed up by the Swedish Millennium trilogy; neither satisfied our cravings.
Approaching the trilogy is oddly pessimistic. General consensus among film fans is of the challenge it represents, and one would almost think that the presence of an all-out consistent trilogy is a rarity. Cinema is populated with trilogies that dismiss this perpetual lie, such as Bourne, Back to the Future, the Millennium Trilogy. In fact, producing a successful trilogy is not that dissimilar to producing a good film. Just as directors have their failures, so too does cinema inevitably have disappointing trilogies
Two landmark movie trilogies that stumbled at the third hurdle were Godfather Part III (1990) and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983); the first monumentally so, the latter more of a trip than a fall. These two trilogies are bound to come up in any discussion of movie trilogies, and I wonder if it is their shortcomings that cast a shadow on the reputation of the movie trilogy; perpetuating the popular myth regarding the curse of the third installment. That may be one reason for it; the other is that we cineastes are an opinionated and fickle bunch, leaving no great trilogy undisputed; finding ways to undermine even successful trilogies.
Nolan’s success is not a rarity; rather it is an addition to the movie trilogy repertoire. The Dark Knight Legend has been a consistently mature, thoughtful, emotional and entertaining narrative across the three films. It has some memorable performances, and a soundtrack that captured the essence of an origin story to rise in conjunction with the theme of escalation. They may have their imperfections, but Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is made up of great flawed films. Besides, the expectation of perfection is both foolish and naïve.
Consistency is the requisite requirement to even begin the discussion, then before The Dark Knight Legend can be confirmed the greatest movie trilogy; we need to identify and compare it to its competition. To assert that it is the greatest movie trilogy based on consistency and its identification as the trilogy of the moment does other films and their directors a disservice.
One thing the Dark Knight Trilogy does not suffer from is a weak link. Despite the fact Dark Knight Rises surpasses the first two films, and Batman Begins has the edge over Dark Knight, the weakest of the three is still held up as a great film. It does not represent a dip in quality; rather it is that the other two just have the edge over Dark Knight. This inconsistency is what compromised The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the underwhelming middle installment: The Two Towers.
The competition for greatest movie trilogy has been somewhat reduced over recent years. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull removed Indiana Jones from the equation. George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead means Nolan no longer needs to contend with the iconic zombie trilogy, and with the Bourne Legacy and the announcement of Toy Story 4, both of these trilogies are omitted from contention, or at least they soon will be.
Recent trilogies which could have posed a challenge to The Dark Knight Legend included the aforementioned Bourne films, and the Swedish Millennium trilogy, though the latter’s first instalment set the benchmark which the other two struggled to attain; despite their existence as solid crime thrillers. Meanwhile Toy Story evolves from a road movie, to a postmodern narrative to conclude as a take on the escape movie. Whilst there have been modern trilogies to challenge Nolan, the recent past has failed, for the various aforementioned reasons, to stand in his way. Looking to the past however is where we find the two obstacles: Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, and Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future.
The Dollars trilogy was an event in itself, the catalyst for the demise of the classic Western, and the beginnings of the Spaghetti Western; ushering in a new Western star in Clint Eastwood, along with a set of ideals that were subversive to the principles of the heroic that had been at the heart of the genre for so many years. From the small town of warring families in A Fistful of Dollars, Leone would set the concluding instalment of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly against the backdrop of the civil war. These films were significant to a genre, the reputation of its stars and director, and the sheer scope across the three films was immense.
Back to the Future is one of the benchmarks for film trilogies, not just all-out consistent, but features as an essential part of science-fiction comedy. It is one of the landmark entries in time travel fiction, and when time travel is mentioned the exploits of Marty McFly and Doctor Emmet Brown in the iconic DeLorean are never far away. From Marty’s crazy exploits of playing cupid for his parents, to the mind-bending time travel paradoxes of part two, the trilogy is concluded as a time travelling western, reminding one of the charm and inventiveness that made it the memorable trilogy it is. Besides that I have a Back to the Future mug.
The Dark Knight Rises was the missing piece of the puzzle in so far as it placed Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy as one of the three greatest movie trilogies.
Or at least as far as continuation trilogies are concerned, built around a continuation of narrative with the same protagonists. There are of course thematic trilogies with alternative protagonists and cast, such as Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Faith Trilogy’ and John Carpenter’s ‘Apocalypse Trilogy.’ These will inevitably be excluded from any discussion pertaining to The Dark Knight Legend as the greatest trilogy. However, Nolan and his writers were never just telling a continuing narrative; rather one of their main focuses was on thematic devices.
As part continuation and part thematic trilogy, perhaps the Dark Knight Trilogy bridges the perceived gap between the two, and therefore throws up new challenges to The Dark Knight Legend, such as Chan-wook Park’s popular Vengeance Trilogy.
Dark Knight is one of a handful of trilogies that deserves our admiration. It is the film series of the here and now. Let’s not dismiss these other two great trilogies, or any number of other solid and entertaining ones, but see it for what it is; adding to the variety of trilogies that exist.
Each offers us a different experience, from science-fiction time travelling comedy, to the humour of Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi Trilogy, to Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, and the world of Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium films. There is a world of entertaining choice, and rather than becoming obsessed on naming the greatest trilogy, lets instead just enjoy that choice and the experiences they grant us.
We have a habit of getting lost in the hype of present events, so in the words of Bane I would say, “Calm yourselves… Calm yourselves.” Don’t forget we are an opinionated bunch, and one man’s perception of consistency is another man’s inconsistency. There are those who have already turned against The Dark Knight Rises, and hence the very prospect of it being legitimately the greatest movie trilogy, although everything in film is subjective and the greatest is a pointless but nonetheless entertaining talking point.