As a preface to this, I wanted to mention that I have read a lot of bogus comparisons between the two that cite The Dark Knight as a remake of Batman. In a way, Batman Begins could be seen as a prequel of sorts to Tim Burton’s Batman, but besides that, the two aren’t that closely related, except for the heroes and villains of each respective film. Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton are two very different directors who had very different takes on Batman, each being just as good as the other.
If you look at it from a basic plot point-of-view, yes, the two seem eerily similar. However, as things get more complicated, things spread farther and farther apart. The most noticeable difference between the two is the tone. In Batman, Tim Burton goes for a very fantasy-based film, which is evident in the backdrops that seem to be murals and the over-the-top characters like Jack Nicholson’s brilliant portrayal of the Joker. In The Dark Knight, Nolan uses a very grounded and gritty tone, making it seem more feasible to actually happen within our world.
The other big difference is the version of Batman in each. In Batman, he is more of the traditional one, almost straight from the comics. In The Dark Knight on the other hand, Batman is much more realistic and believable, except for his god-awful voice. Now I could get into an endless debate about who was the better Batman: Michael Keaton or Christian Bale? Let me just put it this way: Michael Keaton is the better Batman, Christian Bale is the better Bruce Wayne.
There’s a multitude of reasons why that is. Michael Keaton hardly speaks as Batman, making him much more menacing to criminals and the mob. Christian Bale tends to speak an awful lot when he’s Batman, and for the most part, it takes you out of the movie. It’s understandable why he would have to change his voice if you’re going for a realistic approach, but I’m sure audiences would gladly suspend their disbelief to not suffer through Christian Bale talking like he has marbles in his mouth. On the other side, Christian Bale is much more convincing as BruceWayne. He can easily and convincingly play the billionaire playboy philanthropist, while Michael Keaton just never feels like Bruce Wayne. He makes for an awesome Batman, but a just alright Bruce Wayne.
The main comparison between the two movies seems to always begin with the Joker. Yes, they are the main villains in each movie. Yes, both take similar actions to take over Gotham. That’s about where the similarities stop. Heath Ledger’s version is a straight-up-terrorist, or as Alfred so kindly put it, someone who just wants to watch the world burn. We never know his motivations, we never know who he really is, we never are even really sure if he is telling the truth. A lot of the time the best villains are the ones that are mysterious, and Heath Ledger’s incarnation of the Joker proved that.
Jack Nicholson’s take on the Joker is a much more traditional one. He is very cartoony, over-the-top, and almost comedic at times. The thing is, we know what drives him. He is simply out for revenge. Revenge against Batman, revenge against Edward James Olmos(or whatever his character’s name was), revenge against all of Gotham city for turning their back on him. That however does not take anything away from him. In fact, that makes his transformation all the more menacing. I never thought Jack Nicholson, who is such a recognizable face, could truly disappear into a role, but he did here.
Whatever way you choose to look at it, both Batman and The Dark Knight are truly great films in their own right. They are very different, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be equally as good. With Ben Affleck’s version of Batman on the way, maybe one day I’ll write a post comparing him to the other versions of Batman.