Christopher Nolan Is So Hot Right Now
I didn’t think a movie could be more hyped — both in my own mind and in the collective conscious of young adult males — than The Dark Knight, but Inception proved me wrong. Now Batman “3″ is going to take marketing and internet nerd frothing to yet another level. Casting rumors will continue to flood the internet until official announcements are made. Pictures will leak off the set. Viral marketing will consume fanboys. There will be teasers for the teaser trailers. I, obviously, will fully take part in the insanity, as evidenced by my blog content leading up to TDK and Inception.
How did Christopher Nolan get to be both a critical and popular hero by the age of 40? I believe it’s time for me to make a Wikipedia appreciation post for Christopher Nolan.
Some critics accuse Nolan’s films as being cold and methodical, and I can understand where they’re coming from; it’s not like I can imagine Nolan making a comedy any time soon. It may not come as a surprise then that it seems like his career has progressed in much the same way. The man has just been a machine driving towards Inception, which — by all accounts — was his epic passion project.
His first full-length film was Following, a cheap and short black and white feature he filmed on weekends with his friends. It’s here that we become acquianted with Nolan’s affinity for secrecy, non-linear storytelling, and intricate plotting. It’s not about the characters here, but about the ideas, and the enveloping mystery.
The talent behind the film was plainly evident, and it was enough to get Nolan greenlit to make Memento. If Following put him on the film industry’s map, Memento introduced him to the general public, if only still a small portion of it. But he parlayed a $9 million budget into almost $40 million at the box office. He had taken yet another dark idea (actually, his younger brother’s); constructed it yet again in a unconventional fashion; threw in a heapload of themes like loss, revenge, and paranoia; and succeeded in creating one of the most compelling films of the past decade. He had taken full advantage of his first big opportunity.
This meant that a major picture studio came calling in the form of Warner Bros., asking him to direct an Al Pacino-led remake of a Norwegian murder mystery. Insomnia was a totally unnecessary remake — one considered inferior to the original by many — but it was embraced by critics and audiences nonetheless. I personally think it Nolan’s weakest effort, and that may be due to him having no part in writing the screenplay — the only film in his career where he didn’t. Nonetheless, it’s a solid film, and like I said, it was a hit. The Nolan machine climbing to the top of Hollywood would not be stopped.
Inception might have shown that Warner Bros. loved Nolan enough to write him a blank check, but Batman Begins showed that they had trusted him even five years prior. You don’t give the responsibility to reboot a beloved, but all-but-dead franchise to just some flavor-of-the-week director.*
*You know what — disregard this sentence: Warner Bros. gave Watchmen to Zack Snyder.
Considering the previous four Batman movies had sunk progressively further into camp territory, Nolan — with his aforementioned proclivity for secrets and darkness — was the perfect man to bring Batman back to some sort of grounded reality. He (and co-writer David Goyer) got rid of most of the Batman gadgetry, turned the Batmobile into a tank, and even crafted an interesting and plausible backstory of how a coddled billionaire child could morph into man who takes down criminals while dressed as a bat. Yeah sure, there’s obviously still some suspension of disbelief required, but I think he did about as good a job one could do considering the source material.
Of course, the movie was successful on pretty much every level Warner Bros. could have wanted. Its critical reception was very positive; it grossed more than double its $150 million budget; and most importantly, much of the gross was due to massive word-of-mouth, indicating people loved it, and that a sequel would most likely fare even better.
But before Nolan tackled the goal of topping one of the best superhero movies ever, he went off to do The Prestige, a film he had originally hoped to do even before Batman Begins. It’s the one Nolan film I don’t feel too comfortable commenting on, as the only time I watched it I was slightly drunk and not paying full attention. I still know what happened, but I have not watched a second time to allow myself to delve further into the film. It seems like a fairly devisive film, but most people I know seem to fall on the side of love, some even holding it up as Nolan’s best. It doesn’t take a second viewing to realize it dwells in many of the same themes as Nolan’s other work — really, doesn’t a magician seem like the perfect subject for him? It’s like I’m convincing myself to go watch it right now. If only it were on Netflix Instant Watch…
The Prestige feels like the one aside in Nolan’s oeuvre so far, though. Up until then, it seemed like every film built on the one before it in terms of building his…prestige (I’m sorry). So while it may be a wonderful film, and a successful one as well, being squeezed in between the brilliant resurrection of a franchise and its billion-dollar sequel — well, it’s hard to compete.
Because it’s all about The Dark Knight isn’t it? It’s about that perfect storm of sequel hype, cast member death, and actual quality that created the monster that made Nolan quite possibly the biggest director out there. Naturally, James Cameron had to come out a year and a half later and release a film that made TDK’s box office haul look minuscule, but he did it with a film that was totally uninspiring. Nolan had filmed the performance for which everyone will remember Heath Ledger; Cameron had made a really good-looking, action-packed furry cartoon.
The Dark Knight was one of those rare superior sequels. Batman Begins was the somewhat intimate origin story, establishing Batman as the protector of Gotham; The Dark Knight was a crime epic that established Batman’s limits. Both films have their issues — mostly with their final acts — but they are pretty much as good as superhero movies get.
So how does Nolan top that? By coming up with a “original sci-fi film set in the architecture of the mind” — at least that’s all we knew for months. But I remember that alone sending me into a frenzy. Oh, and Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. These bits of knowledge were plenty enough to make Inception my most anticipated film for a full year, if not longer.
I spent a year building up the movie in the mind, and the trailers only succeeded in driving my anticipation through the roof. Somehow, Nolan managed to exceed my expectations. It’s not often that someone (or something) continually impresses me, but Nolan is now in my top-tier realm basically only inhabited by gaming companies Blizzard and Valve. But this isn’t about my slightly-above-philistine tastes in entertainment, it’s about how Christopher Nolan has managed to combine intelligent films and crowd-pleasing blockbusters much like Steven Spielberg before him. He gets the Kubrick comparison a lot due to his calculating nature, but he’s just not at that masterful level. Nolan now makes his films for as wide an audience as possible, and I think that stops him from reaching his full potential.
Nolan has to go back and finish his Batman trilogy, and that seems like just another massive hurdle to climb. Can he manage to finish out a full trilogy without misstepping? How can he top The Dark Knight? Which villains are going to show up? Is Nolan going to scale back after the massiveness of TDK? At this point, I can’t bring myself to doubt him. Whichever direction he goes, I’m sure it will be immensely entertaining, and it will be just another notch in his belt. There aren’t many completely satisfying trilogies out there, and even less all directed by one man.
But after, I would like Nolan to explore another original idea, but this time to go all the way. I don’t want him to hold the audiences hand. I don’t want to even see him try to insert too much action, because it’s his weak point. I want an R rating if that’s what it takes to fully explore the material. If this means not getting another $160 million budget, so be it. I just want him to push the boundaries again, but I’m not sure he can do this within the limitations of blockbuster expectations.
But he’s surprised me before.