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The movies in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy might tell one cohesive story, but compared to most sequels, there are many more differences in tone, direction and structure. It's pretty clear to careful movie viewers that the director was shooting for very different things with each film, and now, he's gone on record as saying he doesn't even think they belong to the same genres.
Christopher Nolan made the comments this week while he was at the Cannes Film Festival. According to Total Film, he argued Batman Begins is a hero's journey movie, The Dark Knight is a crime movie that could be compared to Michael Mann's Heat and The Dark Knight Rises is a war film. He thinks genres are defined by the adversary the hero is battling. In Batman Begins, that's a mentor character in Ra's al Ghul. In The Dark Knight, it's a terrorist in The Joker, and in The Dark Knight Rises, it's a militaristic figure in Bane.
I suspect some people might quibble with whether some of those movies can be completely defined to those categories, but the larger idea of splitting the films into separate genres goes a long way to explain why so many smart people have very different takes on the quality of each. The Dark Knight may have gotten heaps of praise upon its release, much of it about Heath Ledger's mesmerizing performance, but there are many people, especially film critics, who will aggressively argue Batman Begins is the superior film. The response to The Dark Knight Rises is pretty polarizing, as well. The film almost hit 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, but as the years have gone by, more than a healthy percentage have gotten more open with calling it a disappointment, while others are still convinced it was a great way to end the series. They're very different movies, and comparing them to each other to achieve a generally agreed upon rank is so hard because of that.
Whether The Dark Knight Rises is better because Christopher Nolan tried to make a war movie or not, the larger takeaway here is, in my opinion, it's better for a sequel to try for something new than bend over backwards to try and recreate the exact same tone and basic story arc of the original. That might please the most fans if the movie is able to hit all the same notes as the original in an equally compelling way, but that's really, really hard to do. Instead, it's better to embrace a new challenge and let the film breath on its own.
The Dark Knight can be so chaotic at parts, precisely because Batman Begins really takes its time letting us learn about Bruce Wayne and where he's coming from. If you have a long-term vision in mind, you can use one movie to set up another. Obviously sequels have been doing that from a story perspective for years, but the better ones do it from a tone perspective, as well.
Regardless of where you stand on each movie, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy changed the movie industry. It paved the way for so many of the superhero successes we've seen recently, and the director should be praised for taking chances and doing things his own way.