Frequently mentioned in the same breath as Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan is a versatile master filmmaker with a penchant for mind-bending narratives and casting Michael Caine. His films continue to reward on repeat viewings and with his latest thriller, Tenet, spearheading a return to cinemas, it’s time to catch up with Nolan’s outstanding body of work – from rebooting Batman and exploring dreamscapes, to dramatising one of the crucial events of World War II.
2005 saw Christopher Nolan’s first outing for DC, and it remains a stunning example of superhero movie-making. The definitive origin tale of Batman for many a bat-fan, the director’s gritty and grounded take on Bruce Wayne’s life begins with an explanation for the whole bat thing, and proceeds with style and flair through an Asian sojourn and on to finding his purpose as protector of Gotham City. It isn’t a job that will prove easy, however, with Scarecrow and the League of Shadows hatching plans of their own to drive every Gotham citizen bat-spit crazy.
The world of conjuring drew Nolan into its thrall in 2006, as he tackled a movie version of Christopher Priest’s novel The Prestige. An impressive cast – including Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie (as Nikola Tesla) – weaves their magic in this story of two early-1900s professional stage magicians who, following one tragedy, enter into a most unprofessional rivalry that will involve further tragic consequences. It’s all about creating the ultimate illusion, obsession and sleight of hand – both onscreen and off – making Nolan the perfect filmmaker to conjure this terrific tale.
THE DARK KNIGHT
The second in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy arrived in 2008 and floored even the most conscientious superhero objectors, not least thanks to an incredible Oscar-winning performance by the late Heath Ledger as The Joker. It was difficult to imagine Nolan bettering Batman Begins, but he did! One of the greatest superhero flicks ever made, The Dark Knight brought Batman’s greatest enemy, The Joker, to the fore and staged an incredible psychological battle of wits between the two. As a bonus we also got the story of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and the wonderful Maggie Gyllenhaal kicking Katie Holmes to the kerb to boot.
2010 saw Nolan take a break from Gotham City to pursue the world of dreams in Inception. The mind-bending flick – now regarded as a sci-fi milestone – stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb, a man who makes his dubious living by filching corporate secrets from people’s heads via complex dream-sharing tech. When he’s called upon to up the ante by actually planting an idea in a business bloke’s head rather than nabbing something from within it, he assembles a talented team and gets to work. But he has a secret that jeopardises the whole plan way beyond the already inherent risks. Keep an eye on that spinning top!
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
The 2012 finale to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy didn’t see the series falter, as we got Batman, Bane and Catwoman all at play in the one Gothamtastic flick. In the wake of The Joker’s antics in The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne decided he’d had enough of the bat life and retreated into exile for eight years. However, when Gotham City really needs a hero, he’ll always be there, like when the merciless Bane drops by to deal a dash of big scale nuclear annihilation. The Dark Knight may be lauded by legions as the best of the trilogy, but this propulsive three-hour superhero epic is arguably Nolan’s finest venture into the DC universe.
Having done his time on Earth, Nolan looked to space for his 2014 sci-fi drama. With obvious (and admitted) inspiration from the granddaddy of them all, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as arguable influence from the likes of Moon and Sunshine, it was a stunning trip. Interstellar begins on a future Earth, where dust storms dominate and staple food crops are succumbing to blight, and NASA boffins work to help the human race find another planet to call home. A wormhole near Saturn looks promising, so a small team – including Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway – is dispatched to investigate, encountering all sorts of anomalistic timey-wimey things. The result is a consistently gripping and visually spectacular sci-fi drama.
Following The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and Interstellar, the director returned to reality in 2017 to explore one of the most crucial events of World War II – the dramatic evacuation of British and French forces from the shores of France, with the Germans in hot pursuit. Nolan tells the story in three parts – air, land and sea – avoiding CGI for a more grounded approach and allowing strong performances and a brilliant score from Hans Zimmer to drive the story. The result is an intimate and relentless experience; a modern, innovative take on the war movie genre that rewrites all the rules.