It's a widely held opinion that The Dark Knight is the greatest Batman movie of all time. Many would take the sentiment further and say the film may be the very best superhero film ever made. However, time provides perspective, and there's an argument to be made that The Dark Knight is overrated. Sure, Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker will go down in history as one of the all-time great film performances, and rightfully so, but his exceptional performance masks the film's many problems.
All of Christopher Nolan's Batman films have merit in some form or another. The Dark Knight Rises is largely considered the weakest of the three, but it's worth revisiting the first two installments to compare them. If one takes a moment to truly consider the evidence, there's much to suggest that Batman Begins is better than The Dark Knight. Repeat viewings reveal that The Dark Knight features a number of often overlooked problems, whereas Batman Begins holds up among ALL Batman movies, not to mention grows better with age.
Upon re-examination, it can be argued that while The Dark Knight is no doubt the more popular film, Batman Begins is a stronger all-around film and may be the most underrated Batman movie simply due to the success of its sequel. There are plenty of reasons to consider Batman Begins as the seminal film about the Caped Crusader, from its superior action to its more atmospheric depiction of Gotham City. Here is a list of reasons why Batman Begins is actually superior to its sequel, The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight is a solid film with a great villain. Batman Begins is a great film with a pair of solid villains. It would stand to reason this should balance the two films as at least equals. However, the competing factor that accounts for Batman Begins' victory as the better film has to do with the title character himself. Batman Begins is all about the eponymous Caped Crusader, whereas The Dark Knight highlights the villains.
Ask anyone about the sequel film and why it's the "best one" and Heath Ledger's Joker will be brought up. While, yes, his performance is masterful, his character overshadows the title character. In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne is a three-dimensional person played with subtle perfection by Christian Bale. Each scene and major plot point add to Bruce Wayne's overall character development. In so many portrayals of Batman, he is often infallible and unbeatable, but in Batman Begins he is human and all the more interesting because of it.
Gotham City is as much a character in Batman's mythology as any of the heroes or villains. Batman only exists because of the sickness of the city. Batman Begins comes the closest to illustrating the seedy and surreal nature of the city, up there next to Tim Burton's films. In Batman Begins, Gotham has atmosphere that is painfully lacking in The Dark Knight. The latter's version of the city is just Chicago.
In Batman Begins, the architecture feels otherworldly, like a nightmare come to life. Which makes sense, since director Christopher Nolan cited Blade Runner as an inspiration. Gotham is a dystopian noir filled with crime and monsters and that's why it needs Batman to save it. In a world that insane, he makes sense. In Chicago, he's just a weirdo in a suit.
Some origin stories are common knowledge at this point, so no spoiler alert needed. We all know that Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider and that his Uncle Ben is shot and killed, leading him to become Spider-Man. Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents' murder in an alley and is left an orphaned, broken child. Batman Begins includes this same key part of Batman's origin story, but the rest of the film better reflects a Batman who does not forget his own motivations and humanity.
In The Dark Knight, Batman doesn't change as a person. He questions his effectiveness as a vigilante, but isn't as fueled by his inner demons so much as reacts to outside villains. In Batman Begins, Bruce is forced to earn the cowl. He almost murders a man out of hatred, he's imprisoned, he's pushed to breaking limits by the League of Shadows in training, and he questions his abilities. Every part of the story of the film includes Batman's personal ethos and it makes for a deeper connection between hero and audience.
Batman Begins owns up to its source material. It elevates Batman by making him human, explores what made him the way he is, and grounds him. All while still retaining the pulp and other-worldly nature of the comics that helped Batman stand apart from other superheroes for so long.
The Dark Knight, on the other hand, seems embarrassed to be a comic book adaptation at all. The second film was described as the "serious" one and not just a comic book movie. It feels like a different franchise. The film wants to be realistic, making the Joker extra scary and realistically psychotic, but also tries to incorporate more comic book-style elements like Two-Face and Bat-gadgets that fall entirely flat in the film's new context.