Christopher Nolan doesn’t make Batman movies for kids. His vision of the Caped Crusader is about as far north of the Adam West interpretation as is physically possible. It’s the reason fans who grew up on Batman comics and embraced the pitch-black vision of the hero that artists anchored in graphic novels like Batman: Year One, The Killing Joke or The Long Halloween worship at Nolan’s altar. He understands how a modern Batman figures into our murky social, financial and political landscape.
But as a parent, Nolan’s excellent films are impossible entrance points into Batman’s universe for our children.
Your kids likely are asking questions about The Dark Knight Rises
. And why not, right? Posters hang everywhere showing Batman (Christian Bale
) ready to box Bane (Tom Hardy). Commercials have shown flying Tumblers and sexy Anne Hathaway
kicking butt as Catwoman. But is this the right Batman for you? Let’s figure out when you can watch The Dark Knight Rises
-- or any kind of Batman movie -- with your kids.
Green Lights: "Oh boy, you are in for a show tonight, son."
My sons, once again, learned about Batman through the LEGO video games. I can’t emphasize enough the influence those games have had on the pop-culture shaping of my boys. Though they have access to movies, TV shows, novels and comics, they’ve launched their personal investigations into Indiana Jones, the Star Wars universe and even Harry Potter through the LEGO games.
That’s how they first met Bruce Wayne, as well.
So my boys know cartoon versions of Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc … even Bane. They’d be flat-out terrified of Heath Ledger staring through the screen and asking them if they knew where he’d gotten those scars. (Fear, of course, was Nolan and Ledger’s goal, so mission accomplished … in every way possible.)
Those with young kids will want to start with an earlier Batman movie. Much earlier. I’ve mentioned the 1960s Batman series already, and it’s readily available on DVD and even Netflix (at times). It has just enough camp to entertain kids and parents (and not enough that it humiliates its comic influence the way Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin did with those incessant ice puns).
Nolan’s vision of Gotham in peril, instead, is aimed at mature audience members who can understand the significance of sacrifice, and the pain of loss. Nolan paints in large brushstrokes on his Batman canvas, giving birth to a hero through the crippling hopelessness of death.
Without question, Nolan’s Batman is the best version of the character we’ve seen on-screen. The director’s trilogy encapsulates the origin of Batman, pits him against his mortal enemy in the Joker, and then establishes him as the powerful symbol that will manage to protect Gotham for all time. Nolan and crew treat Batman with respect, creating a realistic representation of the challenges – and rewarding accomplishments – of Bruce Wayne’s heroic journey.
And with the financial success of The Dark Knight, Nolan bought himself opportunity. Rises bursts with eye-popping special effects, and massive vehicles to aid Batman on his mission to rid Gotham of Bane and his cohorts. Everything about Rises is massive. Including the Red Flags.
Red Flags: "There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne."
Batman isn’t as idealistic as Superman. He isn’t as optimistic as Spider-Man. He’s a realist, and reality often is grim. These heroes all fight for the greater good, but Bruce Wayne always has to stoop to the level of some depraved characters to beat them at their own game – to peddle in intimidation and fear to achieve results. They don’t call him the Dark Knight for nothing.
Nolan’s Batman films, for lack of a better word, are convoluted. This may seem obvious, but starting with The Dark Knight Rises isn’t just ill-advised … it’s ridiculous. Nolan and his team tie so many loose ends back to The Dark Knight and (especially) Batman Begins. You could understand most of what’s happening in this relatively streamlined thriller, but you wouldn’t appreciate it and neither would your kids. That’s another reason to start with an earlier Batman film.
Nolan, also, earns huge bonus points for realism when it comes to the violence. Back in Batman Begins, we’re asked to watch young Bruce as he loses his parents. There are consequences for Batman’s actions, and our hero loses loved ones. Constantly. Rises follows the classic Bane story Knightfall, and it is as brutal as Batman fans will hope. But it’s way too bleak for young kids. Batman’s mythology, steeped in loss and marked by pain and suffering, largely is too grim for young kids. With that in mind …
The Dark Knight Rises, like most Batman films over the years, targets adults but is suitable for teenagers.
By now, parents who’ve sampled Batman Begins
and The Dark Knight
hopefully know that Nolan isn’t making comic book movies that are accessible to kids. He deserves a ton of credit for maintaining his dark vision over the course of his groundbreaking trilogy. But if your younger kids are looking for big-screen comic book action, The Avengers
and The Amazing Spider-Man
will have to do.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.