You know for a very long time fans have wanted the superhero genre treated with some measure of respectability. It came eventually in fits and starts over the years. The '78 Superman
was pretty much the first step and to date is possibly the best overall treatment of Supes for the big screen. Unfortunately aspects of that film now come across as quite dated yet even so it's still better than what followed to this day for Superman as live-action.
The '89 Batman
was the next step for respectability, but sadly things faltered badly after that.
It wouldn't be until the early 2000s for the next major try for respectability with The X-Men
and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man.
With those it felt like the genre had finally hit the mark. If done well and with a good measure of respect for the subject matter than the superhero genre could pay off, and big.
Since then it's been a near steady parade of superhero films, each trying to top the previous effort in some way or other. Yeah, it's been hit-and-miss, but generally we really haven't had too much to complain about. The Avengers
is (presently) the culmination of the superhero genre. But...if you really think it about even that film shares an element with everything that preceded it: a tongue-in-cheek mentality that never really forgets it's all in fun. And there's nothing wrong with that.
But mixed within this parade of superhero flicks Chris Nolan decided to take it up a notch or two and treat the genre really seriously. His Batman trilogy has its lighter moments, but in general Nolan is out to make a different impression. He took arguably the most credible and among the most iconic of superheroes and treated it as (mostly) real as he could do it. Nolan wanted to play with ideas generally beyond the genre and ask questions and invite the audience to think after the action was done with. His aim seemed to be to leave a distinct impression beyond, "That was fun! What's next?
Essentially Nolan seems to have wanted to fashion a film experience that could work for the mainstream as well as the superhero genre. And with his first two Batman films I think he did that. Now it's looking like TDKR seals the deal. Nolan's trilogy has put the superhero genre on a whole other level than everything that's preceded it. It just might have crossed over into mainstream drama.
Other superhero films can be quite good and a helluva lotta fun, resonating with what we love in superhero comics. But Nolan has finally brought that measure of respectability to the genre many fans have hoped for for so long.
His certainly isn't the only way to do superheroes satisfactorily, but then he's chosen to play in a different sandbox.
I am really looking forward to seeing The Dark Knight Rises.