Tim Burton vs Christopher Nolan – The Batman Argument

This post is inspired by an article I’ve not long finished reading entitled ’15 Reasons Tim Burton’s Batman Is Better Than Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight’. It was quite an interesting article in the sense that it managed to anger me but also entertain me because of the statements this person was making. I’m not about to slate Tim Burton as a film maker because I respect him and admire his work a lot, but when it comes to Batman his films were quite poor compared to the recent work of Christopher Nolan. I’ve shown my admiration for Christopher Nolan a lot in previous posts, so you can label this as defending him, and at the end of the day you’d be right to do so.

I thought the best way to handle this was to address the points made in the article that annoyed me, and do my best to not so much correct them, but just show how they are not entirely correct and/or probable. The list may be long but believe me I had to cut it down massively to make this post shorter. Hold on to your hats, this is going to be quite a journey.

1. The action – the person who wrote the article felt as though Nolan’s films have less actions in them and then when they are action sequences they are dull. Personally I feel that there is a perfect balance between dialogue and action and the action sequences that are in the films are very well choreographed. The thing with the violence in the Burton films is that it felt too much like a comic book, with spraying Tommy Guns and slow punches so I didn’t feel as though it was close to real life because it was too dramatised. In the case of Nolan’s films it’s more brutal, the use of sound and the choreography means you can feel the weight of every punch so you can feel that the characters are being hurt, and for me Burton failed to capture this feeling. 

2. Script – the writer of the article felt as though the script was boring and there was too much talking. In particular they referenced what they call “ponderous conversations in Wayne Enterprises boardroom” which they considered to be tedious and too serious. In my opinion I don’t think this is a bad thing, it shows clever writing capability on Nolan’s part and also adds a certain intellectual level to the script. It’s all well and good making a Batman film that has loud explosions and chase sequences, but it shows something special if you can add depth to it through clever planning and development of characters intellect. With the screenplay for Burton’s films it was good, but nothing special, almost as if the characters were saying the basics of what needed to be said which differs greatly from Nolan’s scripts. I consider Christopher Nolan to be one of the best screenplay writers of our time, he’s both intelligent and witty and is very good at characterisation. I still cherish to this day his line he wrote for the Joker: “do I look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars; I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it!”.

3. Timing – apparently if Batman doesn’t appear in the first couple of minutes of the film, then the film isn’t very good. Which is complete and utter rubbish. Batman takes a full fourty minutes to make an appearance in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ which for me was very good. It showed true development of character, showing how Bruce Wayne was in a real make or break situation where he had to build himself back up to being Batman. It was slow, but not in a dragging kind of way, but more in a taking it’s time sort of way, it was delicate and allowed the audience to connect more to the human side of Batman by showing how at the end of the day we are all Bruce Wayne in the sense that we want to be more than just a person.

 4. (pt 1) Actors – The cast of the Nolan films is supposedly not matched to the ensemble put together by Burton. I liked the cast of the Burton films equally as much as I liked the cast of the Nolan trilogy, but I would disagree with the writer when they say that Michael Keaton is a better Batman than Christian Bale. For me Michael Keaton was the same person when he was Bruce Wayne and Batman, with no real difference between the two other than the costume. He seemed quite emotionless and his delivery of lines was a bit flat for my liking. On the flip side, Christian Bale had a real darker side to him when he was Batman and felt more like a vigilante, and then when he was Bruce Wayne he had this feel of conflicting emotions that made him appear to be more human so he was easy to connect with.

4. (pt 2) Actors, The Joker – I have no problem with Jack Nicholson, he is one of the finest actors to ever grace our screens, but to say he was a better Joker than Heath Ledger is a little bit too far. I liked Jack Nicholson’s Joker because he was quite true to the comic books and his presence was that of someone who wasn’t odd, but crazy. However I feel that Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was unbeatable, he really got in to the mindset of the character and presented us with a character who was so chaotic in their actions but a complete genius in their thinking style. The latest Joker was more of a terrorist and his plans advanced further than just planning to gas Gotham, so Ledger had the opportunity to really go for it and push forward a character who we both loved and feared. According to the writer also, Jack Nicholson was a more ‘fun’ joker, which I think is a comment that can only be taken seriously if you are a child. The whole idea of The Joker is that he is having fun causing problems, so in the case of Jack Nicholson he had fun dancing around and singing, whereas Heath Ledger’s Joker had more fun tearing buildings down and making people angry. Finally I have to address their laughs as The Joker; Ledger’s wins by a clear mile.

5. Theme Song – I’ll only address his briefly, in short Danny Elfman’s score was too loud and felt like it was suited more to a pantomime, whereas Hans Zimmer constructed a score that suited the actions sequences but also the depths of the characters involved. Danny Elfman’s felt more like he was producing the soundtrack for sixties cartoon, Zimmer’s felt like it was well suited for a big bold blockbuster for an intelligent audience.

6. Visual Style – I will admit that Burton’s attempts to make the film look like it was straight out of a comic book is admirable, but Nolan brought something very special to the way we look at Gotham City. Nolan made it look more like it was a real city with real people, and that Batman was less of a superhero but more of a vigilante, who wanted to be a sign that represents people who want to make a difference. With Burton’s films Batman felt like a superhero who goes out in tights every night taking on whatever robbers or crooks he can find, whereas with Nolan he felt like a vigilante who was helping the police to bring down a greater problem. I won’t slate Burton completely here, I do admire his artistic style when it came to the visuals but sometimes it did feel a little over the top and crossed the line from being quirky to out of place.

7. Directing – a quote from the article that really made me feel annoyed was “Burton didn’t overload the frame with crap” which was so much further from the truth. In Burton’s films it was clear that he was focused on visual style and wanted it to look like it had jumped out of the pages of a comic book. There were quirky characters, outlandish pieces of scenery and set pieces galore, with trashy action sequences that felt like they were being acted out by a child playing with action figures. Nolan’s films felt as though they were placed in our own world with characters that could easily exist. The directing style that Nolan uses is very impressive, he makes sure that was in on screen is perfect, focusing on little details such as the Joker’s hand positioning and facial expression. His action sequences are tight, and the characters are perfectly balanced. Yes there are set pieces in Nolan’s films, but they link to deeper moral messages and themes based around people’s conscience, and the human condition. I’m not going to totally mock Burton’s directing style because it is still good, but when compared to Nolan there isn’t any real competition for me.

I know at the end of the day it’s all subjective and people are welcome to think what they want, but equally I have the right to say my opinions too. In it’s defense the article was very well written and they constructed a good and solid argument, I just felt as though some comments made strayed quite far from the truth. I’m less angry about the article now that I’ve had time to sit down and think about it, it just shows how my passion for films gets the better of me when I come face to face with someone who is equally as opinionated as me.

I think Christopher Nolan is a genius of cinema and really raised the Batman franchise to new heights after the depths it had reached after ‘Batman & Robin’. Tim Burton is very good at what he does and I do admire his work for cinema, but for me his Batman films could have been better and weren’t quite up the scratch. I still enjoy them, but they don’t quite reach the technical and artistic mastery of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Both are important series of films and have influenced me as I’ve grown up so they both mean different things to me. Batman is franchise I feel very strongly about so at the end of the day I’m happy that both Burton and Nolan have managed to make films out of the source material without making a mess of the job like Joel Schumacher did.

Imagine if the Dark Knight trilogy was directed by Joel Schumacher. Imagining that gives me the same feeling as stroking a dog’s fur the wrong way.

8 thoughts on “Tim Burton vs Christopher Nolan – The Batman Argument

  1. You made a great argument here and I agree completely with all of your points. However the reason I prefer Nolan’s trilogy is because of a more personal reason. Nolan’s Batman is more similar to Batman in the comics. Burton’s Batman was not really Batman. What really bugged me about Batman in the movies was he killed people, the batmobile even had guns! I loved that Nolan was not afraid to embrace Batman’s no killing rule (putting aside in Batman Begins where he intentionally does not save the bad guys) and the movies was still dark. I think that a lot of people today are afraid to portray Superheroes with to much morality because they do not want them to seem “lame”. Nolan embraced Batman’s morality however and for that reason alone I would chose Nolan’s version over Burtons.

    • Thank you for the response, I’m glad you liked the post! And I agree with your point, his stand against not killing was very important and really added some depth to the character that wasn’t present in Burton’s films. There was a beautiful contrast because he faces people like the Joker who always kill, and their relationship is almost like poetry because neither one will kill the other. Their contrast is so much deeper in Nolan’s film than just ‘good and bad’.

  2. I completely agree. The only people who defend Burton’s Batman are those who grew up with the movie and want to stay loyal to the film. Nolan is twice the director, which isn’t a slight to Burton but a HUGE compliment to Nolan, and his Batman easily sits atop the hierarchy of Batmen.

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  4. Hallo! I am not questioning your points on the Batman movies. That’s a matter of opinion, and honestly I believe that comparing the series is tricky: MY opinion is that Batman Returns is far above all movies of the Nolan trilogies, but Batman is below them, for example.
    What is arguable is defining Nolan a genius and Burton just a good director: Tim Burton has already walked is way into the history of cinema, which I doubt Nolan will ever do, and this is not about the Batman movies.
    Burton has his own poetics, which is what makes the difference between a great director (Kurosawa, Fellini, Kubrik, if you want some names) and a good artisan: sometimes he manages to deliver it, sometimes (more often than not, sadly) he fails to.
    But when he manages to do it, he achieves peaks that Nolan, not even in his dreams, can achieve, for the simple fact that Nolan is ALWAYS a master artisan, Burton is sometimes a poet.

    • “He achieves peaks that Nolan, not even in his dreams, can achieve.”
      Well now that’s just not true. Nolan already has surpassed him with not just his Batman movies, but with his non-superhero movies too like Memento and Inception. He’s already been called the “modern day Kubrick.” Burton hasn’t been praised like that since the 90s and as much as I like Burton’s style with the Batman movies, I just can’t watch Batman Returns without turning off my brain, and not in a good way.

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