Batman is a character that has appeared in a variety of different adaptations, both live-action and animated. Among these, not many have managed to stand out so much that they have actually become a part of history in one way or the other. The Dark Knight has always been a very specific character and Gotham City has been inspirational for most of the filmmakers that have approached it over the years.
Now, with Matt Reeves’ new Batman receiving unanimous praise by the critics and fans, we thought it would be interesting to see how the movie stands when compared to the – by all standards – best Batman movie so far: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. In this article, we are going to compare The Batman and The Dark Knight through several distinct categories as we aim to determine how they compare to each other. We have to warn you that there will be spoilers ahead.
On Halloween, Don Mitchell Jr., Mayor of Gotham City, is murdered by a serial killer calling himself “The Riddler”. Billionaire Bruce Wayne, who for two years acted as a vigilante as Batman, is investigating alongside the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD). Lt. James Gordon discovers the Riddler left a message for Batman, but Commissioner Pete Savage berates him for allowing a vigilante into the crime scene and forces Batman to leave.
The Riddler kills Savage and leaves a new message for Batman. Batman and Gordon discover that the Riddler left a thumb drive in Mitchell’s car. This contains images of Mitchell with a woman, Annika, at the Iceberg Lounge, a nightclub run by Oswald Cobblepot, known as “the Penguin”, a lieutenant of the gangster Carmine Falcone.
Batman questions the Penguin, who pleads ignorance. Batman notices that Selina Kyle, roommate and girlfriend of Annika, works at the Iceberg Lounge as a waitress. He follows Selina to interrogate Annika, but she disappears. Batman sends Selina back to the Iceberg Lounge for answers. Thanks to Selina, Batman discovers that Savage was corrupted by Falcone, as was District Attorney Gil Colson.
Selina cuts off when Batman insists on her relationship with Falcone. The Riddler abducts Colson, straps a time bomb around his neck, and sends him to interrupt Mitchell’s funeral. When Batman arrives on the scene, the Riddler calls him from Colson’s phone and threatens to detonate the bomb if Colson does not answer three riddles.
Batman helps Colson answer the first two, but on the third – naming the informant who allowed the GCPD to pull off a historic drug bust thus ending the activities of mobster Salvatore Maroni – Colson refuses to answer and dies. Batman and Gordon deduce that the informant is likely the Penguin and track him down to a trafficker deal.
They discover that Maroni’s activities have never ceased and that many GCPD officers are involved. Selina inadvertently exposes them when she arrives to steal money. While the Penguin flees, Selina discovers Annika’s body in a car trunk. Batman chases the Penguin with the Batmobile, captures him but learns he is not the informant.
Batman and Gordon follow the Riddler’s trail to the ruins of an orphanage once run by Thomas and Martha, Bruce’s parents. They learn that the Riddler was a resident of the orphanage and that he resents the Wayne family. Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce’s butler and caretaker, is hospitalized after opening a letter bomb addressed to Bruce.
The Riddler then leaks evidence alleging that Thomas, a mayoral candidate at the time of his assassination, hired Falcone to kill a reporter who threatened to reveal embarrassing details about Martha’s psychiatric history. Bruce, who grew up viewing his father as morally upright, confronts Alfred.
Alfred confirms that Thomas asked Falcone to intimidate the journalist, but wanted to report him to the police after learning of the murder; he assumes that Falcone had Thomas and Martha killed for this reason. Selina tells Batman that Falcone is her biological father. She learns that Annika was killed because Mitchell told her that Falcone was the informant and decides to kill him.
Batman and Gordon arrive at the Iceberg Lounge in time to arrest him and Falcone, but the Riddler shoots him from a nearby building. Unmasked, revealing himself to be a forensic accountant named Edward Nashton, the Riddler is committed to Arkham Asylum. Nashton says he was jealous of the sympathy Bruce received after his parents were murdered while he himself was ignored, and wanted to partner with Batman to become a masked vigilante as well.
Batman angrily rejects Nashton. While searching Nashton’s apartment, Batman discovers that Nashton has stationed vehicle bombs around Gotham and formed a network of sympathizers who plan to assassinate Mayor-elect Bella Reál. The bombs destroy the levees around Gotham and cause the city to flood.
A shelter is set up in an indoor arena, where Nashton sympathizers shoot Reál but are stopped by Batman and Selina. Selina judges that Gotham can no longer be saved and leaves. Nashton befriends another inmate. Batman contributes to the reconstruction efforts and is committed to inspiring hope in Gotham.
A gang of criminals robs a mafia bank in Gotham City. The Joker manipulates them into killing each other for a higher cut until only he is left and escapes with the money. Batman, District Attorney Harvey Dent and Lieutenant Jim Gordon join forces to rid Gotham of organized crime. Bruce Wayne is impressed by Dent’s idealism and offers to help his career.
He believes that with Dent as Gotham’s protector, he can give up his role as Batman and live a normal life with Rachel Dawes – even if she and Dent are together. Mafia bosses Sal Maroni, Gambol and the Chechen hold a video conference with their corrupt accountant Lau, who has hidden their funds for safety and fled to Hong Kong.
The Joker warns them that Batman will not be hindered by the law and offers to kill him in exchange for half of their money. After the Joker kills Gambol and takes over his gang, the mafia takes him up on his offer. Batman finds Lau and brings him back to Gotham to testify and Dent can arrest the entire mob.
The Joker threatens a series of murders if Batman does not reveal his identity. He starts with the assassination of Police Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb and Judge Surrillo. He targets the mayor, but Gordon sacrifices himself to prevent the assassination. Rachel is the next target. Bruce wants to reveal his identity to prevent the murders, but Dent refuses and instead announces that he is Batman.
Dent is taken into custody and the Joker attacks the convoy. Batman and Gordon, who faked his death, rescue Dent and arrest the Joker. Rachel and Dent are kidnapped and the Joker reveals that they are in various locations rigged with explosives. Batman runs to rescue Rachel while Gordon tries to save Dent.
Batman realizes too late that the Joker has sent him to Dent’s location instead. Both buildings explode, killing Rachel and disfiguring half of Dent’s face. The Joker escapes with Lau, whom he kills along with the Chechen. Coleman Reese, an accountant at Wayne Enterprises, concludes that Bruce is Batman and tries to make the information public.
Not wanting Reese’s revelation to interfere with his plans, the Joker threatens to destroy a hospital if Reese is not killed within an hour. The Joker convinces a disillusioned Dent to take revenge for Rachel’s death, then destroys the hospital. Dent goes on a killing spree as vigilante Two-Face, targeting those he blames for Rachel’s death.
After announcing Gotham would be subjugated to his rule at nightfall, the Joker rigs two ferries with explosives; one of them contains civilians and the other prisoners. He then threatens to blow them both up but will let one ferry live if its passengers decide for themselves blow up the other. Batman finds the Joker by using the sonar capabilities of all the phones in the city.
The civilians and the prisoners ultimately refuse to kill each other, proving that Gotham still has at least some hope in good. As the SWAT team takes the Joker into custody, he gloats that Gotham’s citizens will lose hope once the beloved Dent’s rampage becomes public knowledge. Gordon and Batman meet Two-Face, who has taken Gordon’s family as hostages.
Two-Face shoots Batman and threatens to kill Gordon’s son, claiming that Gordon’s negligence is the cause of Rachel’s death. Batman throws Two-Face off the building to his death. He urges Gordon to hold him responsible for Dent’s killing spree to preserve Dent’s heroic image, believing Dent is the hero Gotham needs right now. Dent is hailed as a hero and the police launch a manhunt for Batman, with Gordon unwillingly destroying the Bat-signal.
In terms of plot, The Batman and The Dark Knight are two very different movies. The former is a gritty film noir murder-mystery that only becomes a superhero/comic book movie in the last half an hour, or so; in terms of influence, there is a lot more Hitchcock and Fincher (especially Se7en) in this movie than there is Tim Burton for example. On the other hand, Nolan’s movie, regardless of how down to earth it was, was still a comic book superhero movie. It wasn’t as flashy as it could’ve been, but it was about a superhero, whereas Reeves’ film was about a detective.
Reeves truly delivered on what he promised during the production phase – we’ve gotten a movie that focused on Batman’s detective skills, and a dark, gritty movie about a psychopathic serial killer. Still, the story isn’t complete. Reeves’ world is only just beginning and however great the story was, it just cannot measure up to The Dark Knight, because that movie had already had a world to work with. In that aspect, this comparison isn’t completely fair – it would have, perhaps, been better if we were to compare The Batman and Batman Begins, where the former would certainly come on top – because The Dark Knight was the culmination of a creative effort, while The Batman is only its beginning.
Still, the facts are facts, and we have to award this point to Nolan’s movie.
Points: Reeves 0, Nolan 1
Matt Reeves’ Batman is played by Robert Pattinson. The casting caused a lot of controversies when it was announced, but hey – was there a Batman casting that did not? Pattison was just the next in line to receive backlash only for the fans to laud him after actually seeing him in the role. Now, Pattinson’s Batman is different from the Batmen we’ve seen before. Sure, they were all dark, moody, exhausted, cynical, full of doubts, and whatnot, but Pattinson and Reeves really took the whole idea to another level.
This Batman is a superhero in every aspect of the world, including the idealism that is definitely a highlight of this version, but he is also extremely tortured and tormented by everything that has happened to him, both before he became Batman and after that. In that aspect, he is most similar to the cynical Batman played by Ben Affleck, but with more sophistication and hope. Plus, Affleck played a much older version of the character. Be that as it may, Pattinson has managed to bring something new to the role and present a Batman that still has a lot of space to grow, while already being established as a character.
As far as Bale’s Batman is considered, he was already a well-established crime-fighter in The Dark Knight. And while many would agree that Bale’s Batman is the best, he was not really a comic book superhero. Sure, he was the Batman and he was absolutely amazing, but Bale’s Batman was a product of Nolan’s unique approach to the superhero genre – he was, in the most faithful sense possible, a human with a mask. Not that any Batman was anything else, but Bale took it to the extreme in the best way possible.
Nolan’s Batman was all about heroism. It was about hope, about moving on and doing something better. Pattinson’s Batman is the same, but we see him in a much more tormented state of mind than Bale’s Batman ever was. Even in The Dark Knight Rises, where hope had almost completely evaporated, Bale was never as tormented and dark as Pattinson’s Batman.
Having said all of this, we’d still like to give this point to Bale. Not because he’s better than Pattinson, not necessarily, but because he was in a more advanced stage of his character development. This division is a consequence of the fact that The Dark Knight was not the first movie, so Bale had more time to work on his role. When Pattinson films the sequel, we might revise our scores.
Points: Reeves 0, Nolan 2
Both movies showed us villains that had already been seen in the Batman films. Reeves opted for the Riddled, previously played by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever, while Nolan chose the Joker, Batman’s archenemy, previously played by the legendary Jack Nicholson in Burton’s Batman. As for the Riddler, Reeves practically reinvented the whole character, while keeping his trademark gimmick – riddles and puzzles. The Riddler is still a pretentious, riddle-obsessed prick, but on top of that, he is a complete psychopath with sadistic tendencies whose traumas, combined with his obsession and his overblown ego, turned him into a monster.
Clearly inspired by the real-life Zodiac Killer, the Riddler is a truly refreshing take on a Batman villain. Paul Dano did an amazing job portraying every aspect of the character, and Reeves’ unique vision not only fit his vision of Gotham perfectly, but also created a character that can be translated into every non-superhero murder mystery without a problem. This is why this grounded approach worked so well and why Paul Dano was such a brilliant and refreshing Riddler in Reeves’ vision.
On the other hand, Heath Ledger’s Joker is a character that has been discussed and analyzed over and over. A chaotic masterpiece of artistic dedication, Ledger made the Joker his own, just as the Joker made Ledger his own. Rarely has an actor given so much into the role that it completely destroyed him, which actually makes sense, knowing how twisted and dark the Joker is. Really, we wouldn’t want to go there. Ever. But Ledger did and in an Oscar-winning performance showed once more that Joker is not just one of the most complex characters in the history of fiction, but also one of the most dangerous ones.
Nolan’s vision made the Joker a true monster, but unlike the Riddler from Reeves’ film, he couldn’t really function in a real environment. Sure, he was grounded as well, realistic and completely authentic, but he was a comic book character. That is the main difference between the two. Whereas the Riddler is a real-life serial killer pushed into a comic book environment, Ledger’s Joker was a comic book character pushed into a real-life environment. Both were brilliant and both were absolute pieces of genius, but they were essentially different.
Having said all of this, we have decided to divide the points in this category. The characters are simply too different to scale them objectively, and since both are so brilliant, we had to award a point to each of them.
Points: Reeves 1, Nolan 3
The meticulousness with which both directors approached their projects is absolutely amazing. And while Reeves drew a lot more from the comics, in the most direct sense of the word, Nolan took them as an inspiration for creating his own approach to the story and the characters. In that aspect, save for the Riddler, Reeves’ characters function as authentic comic book personalities. James Gordon has that “why me” expression that we’ve seen so often in the comic books, Catwoman is absolutely amazing and a truly perfect version of the character for the modern era, Carmine Falcone was as scary as he was campy, Alfred was simply Alfred, and the Penguin was a true piece of acting and writing genius.
Reeves did everything he could to make his world absolutely perfect and it was exactly that – perfect. Everything fit in its place, the characters worked so well together and the whole cast was absolutely amazing. Each character had a role to play and that role was part of a larger picture. No role was redundant, no role was unnecessary, no role was meaningless. That is the genius of Matt Reeves.
On the other hand, Christopher Nolan had a more grand-scale approach to his work, as he usually does. This does not mean that some of his characters were useless, but they were obvious cardboard mannequins who had no larger purpose. Sure, Nolan did an amazing job with Harvey Dent, James Gordon, Alfred, and the likes, but as he did in the first and third movies, some characters were just out of place. For example, the mayor, despite the political context, wasn’t really a character that had a higher purpose, which could also be said about the crime bosses that the Joker trashes around. This also happened with Falcone and Maroni in Batman Begins, they simply served a narrative purpose, as Catwoman and Talia al-Ghul did in The Dark Knight Rises.
Still, it all comes down to the approach. Reeves had a more interconnected approach to a world that he considered a closed unit. On the other hand, Nolan showed us exactly what he was doing – a world where Batman is just a piece of a larger global puzzle. Gotham as well. It was all part of a large, open-world setting, compared to Reeves’ secluded version of his own world.
It was quite difficult to compare these elements. And while it might seem that Reeves did a better job (and we honestly think he did), Nolan’s vision was simply different, and while it was that, it was still absolutely faultless in The Dark Knight, which is why we had to divide the points once more.
Points: Reeves 2, Nolan 4
We have to emphasize that this category doesn’t amount to us telling you whether Reeves is better than Nolan, or vice versa. You have to realize that both of them are creative geniuses in their own right. Reeves has a raw and much darker approach to his movies; they’re fiction, but they’re artistic and with a lot of sense for aesthetics. On the other hand, Nolan is an Orson Welles-type of director who works on a project from top to bottom; he builds it brick by brick and has a much more grand-scale approach to his films than Reeves. Both are extremely meticulous, but where Reeves is an artist, Nolan has a more documentary approach.
And while these two opposing elements don’t generally, work well with the superhero genre, Reeves and Nolan have shown us how great they are by blending their unique visions with a genre that is usually focused solely on entertaining people. Reeves’ directorial approach made Batman a blend of a gritty, dark mystery movie we’ve seen David Fincher direct and a borderline indie movie that relies a lot on the technical elements, especially the camerawork and the colors. This is how Reeves does all of his films and The Batman was, luckily for us, no exception there.
On the other hand, The Dark Knight is absolutely a great example of what Christopher Nolan does best. It is a movie that shows how Nolan works and how his grand-scale projects evolve. The Dark Knight doesn’t have any revolutionary work nor does it rely on indie elements, but it is still a great movie whose every frame is equally as captivating. The difference is a matter of approach really – both are perfect in what they are doing and the only way to distinguish that is by accepting the different approaches to the works.
Faced with all of this perfection, we couldn’t do anything else, really, other than to divide the points among these two genius visionaries.
Points: Reeves 3, Nolan 5
Okay, we haven’t actually read the works themselves, but based on what we have seen on the screens, we can give you a brief analysis at least. The fact is that the screenplays for both of these movies also reflect the inherently different approaches to the films. Reeves had a more comic book-like approach to the story, whereas Nolan had a more realistic one. Reeves took some famous scenes and plot elements from the likes of The Long Halloween, Year One, and even Zero Year, which was evident in the many homages that were present in the movie. On the other hand, he emphasized Batman’s detective skills and wrote a thrilling murder mystery that captivated us from the very beginning, as we followed the chase for the Riddler.
The movie does go gung-ho and become a really authentic comic book adaptation in the last half an hour or so, after the Riddler’s capture, but that also worked quite well, especially since the whole situation was once again calmed down by the brilliant ending. Matt Reeves is a great narrator, and luckily for us that he is also a visionary director as well, which is why his movies are so great. The Batman is no exception and the screenplay reflects that in every possible way.
Nolan’s The Dark Knight is absolutely his best story from the trilogy. Complete and faultless from start to finish, it largely surpassed Batman Begins and was even more superior to The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan might not always have the perfect stories, even though his screenplays are always absolutely perfect. Sometimes, he is overly complex and gets lost in his own visions, which is why some viewers have problems with his movies. The Dark Knight is a perfect example of how he can both be a visionary director and a great storyteller, while staying true to his own directorial approach.
Again, there is no way we could actually pick a winner here. The approaches are simply to different to properly compare, and since both of them have done an amazing job, we have to divide the points once more.
Points: Reeves 4, Nolan 6
The technical aspects are The Batman‘s true forte and this is where Reeves absolutely surpasses Nolan. Namely, the camerawork that Reeves has done with The Batman, from the colors, via the angles, to the frames and the focuses are absolutely amazing. They create an atmosphere that is inherent to Reeves’ vision of the Batman vision and is, more or less, what we would expect from the Batman comics as well. And while this may be atypical for superhero movies (no other director has had an indie approach to the genre, at least not when mainstream titles are concerned), it worked brilliantly, and with Greig Fraser (who has recently worked on Dune with Villeneuve, another indie-leaning visionary) doing his magic, The Batman turned out to be a masterpiece.
Nolan, on the other hand, was much more experimental in his other works. The grounded approach he had to the genre was also reflected in the technical approach. The cinematography was good, but it wasn’t brilliant. It was – perfect, yet sterile. Sure, each frame was meticulously crafted and yes, the work was done faultlessly, but it did not offer us anything more than pure perfection, whereas Reeves’ film did.
Matt Reeves’ movie absolutely tops this category and the only thing we could do here was – award the points to him.
Points: Reeves 5, Nolan 6
The production design is actually closely tied to the cinematography, as it reflects Reeves’ approach to the movie and the story. And while Gotham City had been portrayed in various shades of darkness before (the art deco of The Animated Series, the magic darkness of Burton’s films, the campy darkness of the Schumacher films, the gritty comic book realism of Snyder’s movies, etc.), but not one has done such an amazing job as Reeves’ version. The city, constantly covered in rain, looked like a cesspool of crime, corruption, and disgust, and that was what the city was. Gotham had always been that, but Reeves was actually the first one to make it actually look like that. And that was pure genius.
This is actually a great comparison to Nolan’s work. Namely, Nolan’s Gotham was also a city filled with crime and corruption. In The Dark Knight, that is something the Joker keeps talking about. But the landscape doesn’t reflect that. Not at all. Gotham is a flashy, modern metropolis that has beautiful architecture and is, in fact, Gotham, but it is a different landscape from what the city is described like. Unlike Reeves, Nolan didn’t really manage to reflect the corruption of the city to the landscape of his setting.
Because of the unique thing that Reeves managed to do, because he was the first one to actually portray Gotham like it is described, Reeves absolutely deserves the points in this category.
Points: Reeves 6, Nolan 6
Michael Giacchino worked on the score for The Batman and the theme was released a long time ago, so we actually knew what to expect. And while Giacchino’s work definitely had an epic sentiment to it, and it was completely adjusted to the atmosphere of the movie and the scenes during which it was played, it was a bit too repetitive. The theme served as a recurring motif throughout the movie, but it lacked a climactic crescendo where we would really see that it was Batman’s new theme. It was used and reused throughout the movie in form of different variations, but it never really exploded. As for the more romantic and gentle tunes, they reflected the scenes well, but nothing more than that, really.
The score for The Dark Knight, written by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, was, on the other hand, a true masterpiece that reflected Zimmer’s genius. The theme is still one of the most memorable Batman scores ever and it had everything – the epicness, the diversity, and the climax you’d expect from it. Also, the overall score was much more diverse than that of The Batman.
This is why the last point, ultimately, goes to The Dark Knight, and with this, we wrap up our comparison.
Points: Reeves 6, Nolan 7
And with this, we can end our analysis. The points have been divided and The Dark Knight won with a very small difference. This is, and we have to be honest, the result of The Dark Knight being the second part of its trilogy and The Batman being just the first, which means that the latter has to develop a bit more to be properly comparable to Nolan’s film. Still, The Batman is leagues ahead of Batman Begins and if Reeves manages to continue on this path, and knowing his work, he will, the sequel will undoubtedly surpass The Dark Knight and become the best Batman movie in history. With The Batman coming so close, it’s a sure thing.