The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition – Blu-ray Review

Christopher Nolan’s gritty realistic approach to Batman has arrived in an incredible box set with the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Blu-ray release of The Dark Knight Trilogy – which collects Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and the Dark Knight Rises. The set also includes more than 90 minutes of new bonus materials to take fans deep into franchise and how it was brought to the screen.

Housed in a beautiful box, the discs are kept in a hardback book that holds each in a cardboard sleeve (similar to how the James Bond films were recently collected). While the book is beautiful to look at, I wish they could have been housed another way to provide the more protection for the disc – not to mention the risk of bending/tearing the book getting the disc in and out. Still, it is a minor complaint for an otherwise great looking way to collect the movies.

The set also includes a separate Special Features disc that contains new bonus material for fans of the franchise to devour:

The Complete IMAX Sequences from The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises – this is a great feature, but it also makes Batman Begins feel a tad lacking since it didn’t have those shots. I had never noticed how much they helped define the look of the franchise before this.

The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of the Dark Knight Trilogy contains exclusive interviews with cast and crew, never before seen footage (such as Christian Bale’s screen test for the Batman part and why Nolan knew the actor was perfect for the role), and discussions with other filmmakers about the franchise’s legacy on both Batman and the superhero genre. It is a feature that will please diehard fans of the franchise as well as Batman and comic book fans.

Christopher Nolan and Richard Donner: A Conversation will please fans of both Batman and Superman as the two directors discuss the trouble with bringing such icons to the big screens and the gamble involved. This is an interesting feature for fans of film and the two great franchises. Others may want to give it a pass.

Also in the box, fans will discover several goodies that help make the set’s purchase price worth every penny. Extras include a letter from director Christopher Nolan, exclusive “villain” prints from Mondo (which are incredible to look at), and miniature reproductions of The Tumbler from Batman Begins, the Bat-Pod from The Dark Knight and the Bat from The Dark Knight Rises. The vehicles are housed under plastic for to keep them in perfect conditions for the collectors who don’t want to break them out and play Batman.

The set also includes a 48-page detailed photo book that chronicles the franchise through rare images, film stills, and “behind the scenes” production pictures. Like past box sets of this type of collection, the book is the true star of the set and a great addition.

Batman Begins: Christopher Nolan and writer David Goyer kick off their Batman franchise by exploring the origins of Batman and examining what brought Bruce Wayne to his crime fighting alter-ego. The film does an excellent job of setting the tone, gritty feel and look of the franchise as well as showing that a Batman story could work beyond just a good guy in a cape fighting a crazed bad guy.

Everything in the film seems to be made to perfection - from its casting of incredible character actors like Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Liam Neeson to its balancing Bruce Wayne with Batman so that both characters truly matter to the story. Nolan and company ensure Batman Begins has plenty of action, but also mix in the psychological aspects of the Batman character. The film is a huge examination of fear and how it drives people.

As good as Batman Begins is, the film does have trouble (such as a weak female lead/romance interest for Bruce Wayne) and the action seems to shift into overdrive suddenly towards the end with the Tumbler destroying half of Gotham as Batman races to the Batcave. This doesn’t ruin the film, but seems a bit rushed compared to the pacing earlier in the movie.  By the riot at the end of the film, the audience is tired and ready for Batman to finish off the bad guys so the movie can end.

The Dark Knight: Easily the best film in the franchise, The Dark Knight works on a variety of levels and elevates the entire franchise beyond the superhero genre. It is truly a career-defining film for Nolan thanks mostly to the Oscar-winning performance from the late Heath Ledger as The Joker. The film feels like a blend of the traditional Batman comic book elements (Batman and Joker) with heavy drama and crime elements (parts feel like they belong in a Michael Mann crime film not a Batman movie).

Picking up after Batman Begins, Batman is starting to win his war on crime with the help of Lt. Jim Gordon (Oldman), and a new district attorney who is willing to take on all criminals, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Gotham’s mob is on the run from Batman and the law, and has put all their money in the hands of one man, Lau (Chin Han). He fails to live up to his promises and they are forced to turn to the freak known as The Joker - who promises to save their business but is really only interested in creating chaos and watching Gotham burn.

With its story elements in place, the rest of the film plays out as a classic duel between Batman and The Joker, and Nolan lets the audience known that no character will be safe. This battle costs many people their lives, involves massive action sequences, and has plenty of great twists.

Ledger’s performance as The Joker is the main reason to watch the film and is the character’s defining moment on screen. The actor is lost in the role, and brings a kind of violence and evil you wouldn’t expect out of a comic book character. Bale continues to develop both Bruce Wayne and Batman, and the film does a solid job showing the toil being Batman takes on Wayne - both physically and mentally. It is interesting that Nolan shifts the character away from Bruce Wayne in this film. Unlike Batman Begins (which was dominated by Bruce Wayne at the beginning), The Dark Knight sees more of Batman so that Bruce Wayne seems to be the mask. Even some scenes where Bale isn’t wearing the outfit, it is clear he is Batman and not Bruce Wayne.

Caine and Freeman both continue to add some charm and class to the franchise. Caine is perfect as Alfred, and you have to love the “give and take” dialogue between his character and Bale’s Batman. Eckhart also delivers an excellent performance in the film, and gives Gotham a contrast to Batman. He is a man who works for the law and within the law. He is the city’s white knight compared to Batman who saves Gotham from the shadows. Eckhart’s plays Dent as truly good and very noble which makes his later fall that much darker.

Nolan and company find a perfect balance between huge action sequences and quieter character moments to ensure that the film’s various twist and character deaths truly matter to the audience. The visuals and filming remain incredible to watch - even after repeated viewing.

The Dark Knight Rises: The weakest of the three films, The Dark Knight Rises has gotten better with multiple viewings, but still has the most issues of Nolan’s Batman films. Most of the issues are due to holes in the storyline and an ending that feels rushed and more than a tad confusing. Even with its problems, The Dark Knight Rises wraps up Nolan’s franchise in epic style and Bruce Wayne’s storyline does feel like it comes full circle by the time the end credits roll.

Picking up after The Dark Knight, the film opens in true Nolan style with a huge action sequence that not only gives the audience a taste for what’s to come but shows just how evil and formidable an opponent that Bane (Tom Hardy) will be for Batman. With Bane established as a clear threat, the film shifts back to a virtually crime free Gotham City. The Dent Act law was passed in honor of the city's hero Harvey Dent has created a Gotham that seems perfect to the upper class, but is anything but fair to others.

Batman is no longer needed and Bruce Wayne now lives a Howard Hughes-like lifestyle hiding in one of the wings of Wayne Manor. He is broken both physically and mentally from the events of The Dark Knight, but the detective in him comes back to life after a run-in with Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) - who was there to steal his fingerprints but also helped herself to his mother's pearl necklace.  Bruce also discovers the need for Batman to return following an attack on Gordon and a meeting with Gotham cop John Blake (Gordon-Levitt).

The film starts firing on all cylinders as Batman returns in grand style, but it is clear he has missed a step and an early fight with Bane shows he might have met his match. Luckily, Bane has bigger plans for Bruce Wayne and for Gotham as the film moves into its second act (which could have honestly been split into a second movie). Broken, Bruce Wayne finds himself trapped in the underground prison that helped create Bane and forced to watch Gotham’s destruction. Once again, Bruce has to find the inner strength to rise so that he can become Batman and save Gotham. The film wraps up nicely (if a little bit sloppy plot wise) with an epic showdown between Bane and his army and Batman and his – which is made up of the Gotham police force.

With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan and company see their story come to a solid conclusion and story elements created Batman Begins (such as Batman being a symbol more than a man) still have meaning in the final film.

Love or hate the films, there is no question that Nolan has created the best screen version of the Batman character. He may not be close to the original Bob Kane creation or the Batman of the DC Comics, but he is an incredible and flawed hero on the screen.

Along with bonus materials available when the films were first released, extra goodies, and new incredible special features, this set is the best way to watch the films and well worth its purchase price.

Further Reading on M&C

Anne Hathaway Biography - - Anne Hathaway Movies -
Christian Bale Biography - - Christian Bale Movies -
Christopher Nolan Biography - - Christopher Nolan Movies -
David Goyer Biography - - David Goyer Movies - Heath Ledger Biography - - Heath Ledger Movies -
Katie Holmes Biography - - Katie Holmes Movies -
Maggie Gyllenhaal Biography - - Maggie Gyllenhaal Movies -
Michael Caine Biography - - Michael Caine Movies -
Tom Hardy Biography - - Tom Hardy Movies -