Christopher Nolan may not have a directorial resume as long as other acclaimed directors, but the movies he has been involved with have been some of the most acclaimed in recent memory: Inception, Memento, and The Prestige, just to name a few.  But after the release of The Dark Knight Rises this weekend, his biggest claim to fame (along with most of the cast) will likely be the thrilling Batman trilogy that has revived a franchise and changed the way people perceive superheroes.

Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1939, right on the heels of Superman’s success in Action Comics (who Nolan will also be interpreting in the upcoming Man of Steel).  However, he’s always been the antithesis of Superman in most regards: no super powers, very few love interests, and a sometimes cold and steely demeanor that reflects his passion for justice.  Yet this man that has dedicated all this time and a vast family fortune to make his city a safer place has captivated audiences all over the world. However, Christopher Nolan, star Christian Bale, and writer David S. Goyer have made Batman more popular than he’s ever been; due in part to the fact that they’re presenting a Dark Knight the general public had never seen before.  Get a taste here:

The Batman comics have been written by a slew of talented writers, each with their own vision of who Bruce Wayne/Batman is.  We’ve all seen the picturesque heroic side of Batman in television and movies, but rarely the dark side presented by visionaries like Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Denis Adams: calculating, unrelenting, doing whatever necessary to protect the citizens of his hometown from people like those that killed his parents.  This is the Batman that fights villains who are not motivated by greed or power, but by insanity and destruction.  The one who is faced with the same moral choices that many people face on a daily basis, and steps over the line as we all do.  Christian Bale expertly portrays this new, scarier Batman with his raspy voice, more violent tactics, and willingness to take steps that the law can’t.

After all, Bale’s Batman battles villains more terrifying than The Penguin and The Joker from the 60s TV show.  Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker set a precedent for a deeply disturbed and psychotic individual that didn’t play by conventional “good guy vs. bad guy” rules.  And from what audiences have already glimpsed of the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises, Bane (portrayed by Tom Hardy) promises to unleash more wanton death and destruction on the citizens of Gotham in the name of oblivion.  While audiences haven’t been able to gleam much on what role Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman will play in the new movie, she seems to be a more grounded, manipulative and pathological thief that realistically complements Bane’s destructive personality better than Michelle Pfeiffer’s unhinged Catwoman would.

Even the city that Batman fights these villains in is more gritty and realistic. Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher – the two previous Batman film directors – created exaggerated and over the top sets and scenery that presented a fantastical world that captured audiences’ imaginations.  But the mean streets of Gotham that have given Bruce Wayne his edge have never seemed grittier than when envisioned by Christopher Nolan.  He then filled it with real, honest characters that got caught up in this constant battle between good and evil.  We can imagine ourselves as citizens of Gotham and Christopher Nolan, the cast, and the crew of the Batman trilogy have seen to it that we know that Batman is, as Commissioner Gordon put it, “the hero Gotham deserves.”

The Dark Knight Rises opens this Friday, or midnight on Thursday if you’re so excited you just can’t wait that long.  A lot of theatres will be having a marathon of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight on Thursday that culminates in a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, or you can check out regular showtimes here.