10. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The third film in Christopher Nolan’s DC comic book movie franchise, The Dark Knight Rises tells of Bruce Wayne having to come out of retirement as Batman to rescue Gotham City eight years removed from the actions of The Dark Knight (2008).
An all-star cast bring the action to life and ensure the stakes of the narrative are prominent in your mind throughout, but for the first time in his at-the-time short career, Nolan was beginning to be found out. Critics pointed to his overreliance upon ambiguous endings and his preference for concepts and complex narratives over believable characterisations and actions as the root cause, and with it Christopher Nolan would conclude his time adapting prominent media, setting forth on a trajectory away from the so-called “studio tentpole”.
With some of the era’s most spectacular action sequences – many of which required little-to-zero CGI to create, which was in stark contrast to the genre movies of the day – and an exploration of oppression at the hands of a villain better than almost any comic book movie in history, The Dark Knight Rises is a superhero film for the ages. This is less a misstep and more a warning shot as to what could have happened if the filmmaker had lost his motivation to adapt and evolve.
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9. Insomnia (2002)
Al Pacino stars a police detective playing cat-and-mouse with a murder suspect played by Robin Williams in this tense thriller that blurs the lines between righteousness and evil. This post 9/11 allegory of a cop going beyond the point of no return to catch his culprit took a lot of filmmaking inspiration from Michael Mann, ensuring that a period-appropriate ambiguity was key to the story.
A vital viewing experience for anyone appreciative of Nolan’s work, Insomnia is an early preview of many of the director’s best filmmaking traits. Centred upon two seemingly opposite men, Nolan cleverly focuses upon their similarities and the lines they are each willing to cross in order to get what they want. The director seeks to present shades of grey as opposed to the black and white tales often told in North American cinema, offering a preview to his genre-shaping work on The Dark Knight Trilogy.
Insomnia isn’t Christopher Nolan at full stride, but the bulb of the filmmaker’s would-be genius is certainly beginning to flower in this film, his explorations of obsession and grief as gripping now as they were in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when the United States was intent on finding their enemies at any cost.
8. Batman Begins (2005)
The first of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of DC superhero movies, Batman Begins tells of a young Bruce Wayne returning to his home of Gotham City after leaving a poisoned and bitter young man. Nolan uses the sanctity of comic book fantasy to explore rich themes of corruption, responsibility, and legacy, in what is widely considered to be one of the best superhero movies of the 2000s.
Nolan was just 32 when he was appointed director of Warner Bros’ Batman reboot, the filmmaker tasked with reigniting a monolith of DC Comics for cinema audiences based on little more than his work on a few excellent but vastly less popular releases. He offered a darker version of the Batman, one that would come to rewrite DC’s live-action philosophy and change the comic book movie landscape forever.
Batman Begins is hardly as sharp or monumental as his work on its sequel The Dark Knight, but it remains a timeless comic book movie nonetheless, one that many a fan of the franchise still point to as their most enjoyable.
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