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Why Christopher Nolan hates modern superhero films

Christopher Nolan is often credited with the enormous achievement of revitalising the superhero genre with the critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy, even though Tim Burton made the first modern superhero film more than 15 years earlier. Nolan managed to capture the psychological and philosophical conflicts of the titular icon, choosing to delve deep into the psyche of the world’s most famous anti-hero — Batman.

In an interview, Nolan explained: “The struggle and the conflict between the desire for personal gratification or vengeance and the greater good for a constructive, positive sort—something more universal. Because Batman is limited by being an ordinary man, there’s a constant tension between pragmatism and idealism.”

While talking about the moral explorations of his Batman films, Nolan explained that the lines are intentionally blurred to make the material more complex: “The immediate response to Batman standing up for what’s good is a proportional escalation of evil, and that’s not philosophical—it’s not that it will always be that way—it’s about how bad things have to get before things become good.”

Unlike other modern superhero flicks where the use of CGI and green screens are prioritised, Nolan insisted that it is impossible to capture the true magic of cinema using those methods during a conversation with a reporter. This is a criticism that many recent sci-fi films, as well as Marvel projects, have faced but Nolan reinforced his beliefs by pointing to the success of his own work.

He cited the spectacular effects of his 2014 sci-fi epic Interstellar, claiming that he never resorted to green screens: “On my films, I try to shoot as much in-camera as possible. On Interstellar, for example, we didn’t use any green screens. So when we were shooting inside a spaceship, we had views outside the windows. We produced all that material, and we shot it and achieved the effect in-camera.”

Adding, “We’ve built a set for that and we enhanced it with visual effects and visual effects technology has been wonderful for enhancing those things and increasing the vocabulary. But sometimes when you’re asked to justify these things, like not using green screens, you have to just bring it down to, well, it’s so much more fun to do it. It’s fun for the actor. It’s fun for me.”

For Nolan, filmmaking is still a very physical process that requires the expert composition of external mise-en-scène rather than digital choreography. He remained adamant in his preferences, stating that “there’s nothing more dispiriting than when you turn off the work and there’s just a green screen with a couple of actors in front of it. The magic is not there.”