Many people consider Christopher Nolan’s second instalment of his Batman trilogy to be the best superhero movie of all time, but what if I told you as a whole trilogy, that the mcu Captain America’s 3 movies are better flicks from both a story telling perspective, and a comic book movie experience . The “superhero”/ “comic book” community have a majority opinion that the Dark Knight is, without a doubt, the greatest comic movie ever; but in this blog I will explain why I prefer Cap’s trilogy over Batman’s.
Let’s start with the similarities of the two movies. Both of which is about a man with a moral code, whether moulded into it from childhood experience, or being born as a clean and righteous man. Both these characters are good, both seen as a “freak” or an outlier from everyone else, both characters are challenged virtuously through there journey, and both are, in a way, judged by the court of public opinion for their actions as heroes.
I won’t be looking at these movies and putting them up against its respective counterparts, and counting the scores of which was a better movie. I.e “Batman begins vs the First Avenger”. I will be looking broadly as a whole trilogy why Captain America’s trilogy works better than Nolan’s Batman.
Captain America trilogy.
The story they tell with captain America has a clear cut and meaningful journey. Although his full arch as a character doesn’t end with his own trilogy, he still goes through a drastic change that has dire and impactful consequences within its respective universe. When we first meet Steve Rodgers, in his own words, he was just a kid from Brooklyn. We first see him physically weak and couldn’t stand his own in a fist fight, even tho he got beat he was willing to stand up to a bully and do what he thought was righteous.
The scene where Steve takes a beating from a bully, and not giving up the fight to stand up to him, tells us everything we need to know about this character. This scene incapsulates one of Steve’s core values. That no matter his physical stature, he will live his life fighting for what he believes in. This message carries on through out the movie, from when he faces the Red Skull, and goes against orders to rescue the captured soldiers, all the way through to when he goes under the ice. In part, this is kind of what makes this movie a little stale. It doesn’t work much on Steves character from a development perspective. I understand that it’s an introduction to Captain America, but it’s one of the main complaints about the mcu where they neglect character work to set up future project.
Picking up with the Winter Soldier, Steve is pretty much the same person. Fighting for the good guys and being the righteous soldier that he is; and being so, Steve has always been told by his superiors what and who’s he’s fighting for and against. Not so much using his agency and thinking for himself, there was always a war to fight, a battle to win, a mission to complete, and always a bad guy to catch. It’s in this movie where he unfolds for himself that even the people in charge, and the people you fight for, are not always in the right. This is where cap changes from being patriotically blind in serving , to questioning what he stands for and his government, and ultimately sets him his argument for Civil War.
Cap finds out shield has been infiltrated by hydra, the same faction that he died fighting, are the ones he’s unknowingly been fighting for. In Natasha’s words, he died for nothing. His moral compass gets challenged, his character is in question, but through this revelation, Steve sticks to his morals, and does what he thinks is right.
Civil war is a perfect ending for Cap. In the first movie he was a soldier ready to take orders, the second movie Steve is challenged into questioning the people he fights for. Civil War ends it with Steve full on against the government to stand up for what he morally thought was correct, despite being labelled as a criminal.
While Steve knew where he stood on the accords, he had doubts about going against his friends. Until he gets a reminder from Sharon, that he should do what’s right, even at the cost of being a criminal. Which is a far cry from what Steve’s character was in the beginning. He risks his legacy being smeared by the government, for what’s morally right, for what Steve Rodger believed in, not the idea of captain America being forced onto him as a patriot blindly following orders. At the end of the movie, Steve and the group who followed him are essentially criminals. He is put in the same category as any other bad guy, it is here where he learns that being good is not black and white, it is not a clear cut area where one thing is the right thing and the other is not. He needs to compromise even at a cost. As it is not the mantle of Captain America that defines Steve, it is the person Steve is that defines what Captain America stands for.
The Dark Knight trilogy.
Let’s contrast what we learnt from the story of Steve Rodgers, to the revered Batman trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan. In Batman Begins, we get a good in depth look at Batman’s origin and the reason behind his inner working. Scarred from horrific events in his childhood, when he was swarmed by bats and the untimely murder of his parents. Bruce is somewhat broken, goes on a soul searching quest to seek masterful training. After a disagreement on philosophy with his masters, he becomes the only hope for his city to survive the judgement of his former superior.
A big stable of Batman’s character is the idea of fear, and ways it can be used for and against the Dark Knight. Bruce’s fear of bats is adamant within his alter ego as Batman, wielding his own fear against his foes. His story arch here is moulding his fear as a child in to a symbol of what he believes is justice. It is through his interaction with Ra’s al Ghul that he gets to decide what sort of justice he wants for Gotham, what type of hero he wants to be. One that is willing to commit mass murder to judge the city, or a knight ready to do what is right, but is bounded by his own morals and philosophies.
There’s not much to say about the Dark Knight that hasn’t already been said, analysed or theorised. Perhaps one of the most beloved movie within the superhero genre, it does a excellent job in showcasing the interactions of Batman and the Joker. As if heaths award winning performance wasn’t enough, the writers wrote these characters so well in making them fitting opposites of each other, yet similar in ways that requires a deeper look to comprehend. Much like Cap in the Winter Soldier, Batman’s morals are challenged and questioned through what the Joker puts him through. The choice between murdering to save lives, and ultimately showcasing that Batman is no better than the scums he fights; or the ever lingering idea that there is just as much good will in Gotham as there is corruption and evilness, and that will be lost the moment Batman decides to kill the Joker. Knowing batsy will prevail in the end, the Joker manipulates who Gotham thought was there saviour, in his words “the white knight”, Harvey Dent, into becoming a vengeful and violent man. Breaking him down and showcasing that Gotham’s white knight is no better than the criminal he incriminates.
What this near masterpiece gets incorrect about Batman, is that he would let people think he’s a murderer and going against what he’s fighting for the whole movie. All that work dies with Harvey Dent and his ideology that killing is not the justice he wants to serve. It builds up the climax just for Batman to become the villain in the eyes of Gotham. Some may argue that he did it to restore the image of Dent being Gotham’s white knight, and Harvey Dent was the figure its people needed to look up to, but I argue that the Batman is Gotham’s white knight. He’s the one risking his life, doing what the law can’t do, he could’ve been what Harvey Dent’s image was and more.
The last film of this trilogy was a little step down from its previous movies. It was not a bad film so to speak, but it didn’t live up to the peak of the Dark Knight. It had the same elements as the previous film, a villain with ideology that differs from Batman’s, a villain also with a cult following, a “fight for Gotham’s soul” vibe, and Batman having to sacrifice something in order to save Gotham.
The Dark Knight Rises is pretty much a story where the dark knight rises to redeem himself and save the city he loves. One of my critic about this movie is that we’ve seen it before in Batman begins. A trained ninja, like Batman and Ras Al Ghul, comes to play god and judge Gotham for its sins and corruption. Although the stakes are high, there wasn’t a morality challenge that the Joker nor Ra’s al Ghul already opposed. Bruce just had to overcome Bane physically and save the day.
Compare this to Batman Begins where Ras Al Ghul’s showed Gotham to be in a crime filled state, and there was a spec of thought that he was right in the sense that Gotham needed judgement, just not the genocide he proposed. It felt like this movie didn’t need to happen, or if it did they could’ve chosen a better direction to go in. In the end Bruce just retires, there’s no arc besides the physical one he went through after Bane broke his back. No emotional stake, Bane just dies in lacklustre fashion, Batman “dies” and Bruce gets to live a normal life, and somehow Gotham is saved. It was an acceptable ending but had the potential to be much more. It leaves many unanswered questions, like is Bruce Wayne dead to the people of Gotham? Is Gotham “saved” or is it the same crime filled Gotham from the previous movies? How does Gotham recover from a devastating siege? There’s a sense of emptiness to this ending, it feels like many doors are opened for the viewers to ponder on. That can be used well in examples like Shutter Island or Inception, but there’s no satisfaction from the ending of The Dark Knight Rises.
I like both trilogies and both characters and I grew up on both of them. I am not comparing which one had better cinematography or any film making aspects. I am looking from the lens of storytelling. Just one, but important, aspect that goes in to making a film. Dark Knight is arguably one of the greatest CBM of all time, but I prefer Captain America’s trilogy over Nolan’s Batman.It tells a more clear story that’s connected throughout all three movies and its respective cinematic universe. The character development is natural and understandable. Not only does Steve change throughout the trilogy in response to his environment, he becomes (in a sense) the opposite of what he set out to be.