Maestro: Christopher Nolan
Known For: Dark and moody thrillers and occasionally Batman.
Influences: Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, not comic books as much as you might think.
Masterpieces: High marks all around, but none yet (With my genuine apologies to those who disagree. Let's not have that conversation again. Let's argue about Avatar instead.)
Disasters: definitely none
Better than you remember: I'm not sure I want to get caught up in the ongoing argument about how Nolan's films have compared to the hype. Let's just say that I suspect history will remember all of his films accurately.
Box Office:The Dark Knight made a few cents here and there. Over 533 million.
Favorite Actor: Both Christian Bale and Michael Caine have been in three films but once Inception opens, Caine will officially take the crown.
When Christopher Nolan was awarded the Batman franchise, reaction was hopeful and surprised. But in fact this wasn't a new studio tactic. Finding a promising new filmmaker and signing them to a franchise deal has always been part of the process. Rumor has it the Coens were originally offered Batman after Blood Simple. Burton fit the aesthetic so he eventually got the call. Bryan Singer was courted after The Usual Suspects and though hardly new, one has to assume Hollywood had been ignoring Sam Raimi for decades before it finally discovered him and gave him Spider-Man. But two things made the Batman/Nolan match more exciting. First was the utter state of disrepair the (possibly most beloved and iconic of all comic franchises) franchise was in. And second was just how closely the Batman myth aligned itself with the themes that Nolan loved most. Nolan makes movies about desperate men and the moments that drive them to extremes. In most cases it's the death of a loved one (wives or parents) but more than that I think it's a sudden and violent realization of the chaos present in the world. This often results in the "rebirth" of an individual. Bruce Wayne is reborn as Batman, Harvey Dent as Two-Face. Leonard from Memento is, in a way, continually reborn every few minutes. The Prestige also delves into the topic of continual rebirth but I won't spoil it.
Two sides of the same coin.
Tied into this is another favorite Nolan topic: the duality of man. Characters in Nolan films are often reflections of each other. Consider Batman and his Rogues. Both Ras Al Ghoul and Batman believe the world to be full of evil, but one thinks the solution is saving it, the other destroying. Two-Face is another parallel. He's reflection of what Bruce Wayne could have become if his tragedy propelled him toward evil. The Joker though isn't so much a reflection of anyone as much as he is a personification of that ever-present chaos in the world. This phenomenon isn't just limited to Batman. The two men in The Prestige are mirror images of each other surging toward the same goal, one with emotional abandon the other with precise calculation. There are further examples of man's duality in The Prestige, but I won't spoil it.
It's this perfect match of man and material that has resulted in such success. But there have been other factors too. Much has been made of Nolans insistence on realism and how it has served his films well. Of course any film where a man dresses up as a bat isn't realistic but his determination toward a realistic universe has allowed the strange and supernatural to be that much more clearly punctuated. Other comic book films like Spider-Man or Iron Man (both very good) exist in comic book reality and the difference is noticable. Some have noted that Nolan's action sequences and plots are often too opaque. But I maintain that audiences really aren't adverse to elements of mystery or confusion (people are still watching Lost aren't they?) as long as the excitement level stays high.