In Batman Begins, Bruce flees an opera that features dancers masquerading as bats, which frighten him. The concept of Batman as a symbol of fear is shot through the whole movie—Nolan (who scripted the film with David S. Goyer) works hard to have the audience understand why Wayne might be drawn to the bizarre idea of dressing as a giant bat to intimidate Gotham's criminals, drawing inspiration from the theatrics of the ninjas who train him and the creatures that haunt the caves below his family mansion. Most comic-book films assume the audience will roll with the hero donning a colorful uniform because it's such recognizable imagery, but Batman Begins wants the first appearance of the Batsuit to feel genuinely shocking to both Gotham’s criminals and the audience.
Not all of this thinking originated with Nolan. A Batman film centered around intimidation had been in the works years before he came on board: Before the 1997 release of Batman & Robin, its director Joel Schumacher was already at work on the next entry, tentatively titled Batman Triumphant, which featured the fearmongering Scarecrow as the villain. That element bounced through several undeveloped Batman concepts before making it into the Begins script. Cillian Murphy plays Nolan's take on Jonathan Crane, a psychiatrist who poisons his patients with a fear toxin and controls them through the monstrous avatar of "Scarecrow." While the primary villains in the film are the League of Shadows, evil vigilantes led by Ra's Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), Crane's fear toxin is their weapon of choice, and a simple and effective way for Nolan to demonstrate Batman's terrifying status among the gangsters he's trying to wipe out.
Bale's performance goes a long way towards making this super-serious, super-scary Batman relatable. He doesn't deploy the cartoonishly gravelly voice he adopted for 2008 sequel The Dark Knight, which inspired a thousand parody videos, but nor does he lean into the idea that Bruce Wayne might just be a lunatic, which is the angle Michael Keaton (very successfully) worked in his two Tim Burton-directed Batman films. Bale's Bruce is barely clinging to his humanity, and is still haunted and driven by the death of his parents. But he's not liberated when he puts on the suit—above all, he's giving a performance, typified by his brutal interrogation of the corrupt Detective Flass, where Batman roars questions in his face while dangling him upside down by his feet. For Nolan's Batman, this is a means to an end, rather than a pure state of being. That theme recurs through his two sequels—The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises—which end in Batman’s retirement, seen as a necessary step for Bruce Wayne to live a normal, human life.
After the completion of his Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan was asked to help set the tone for a new slate of Warner Bros. films inspired by the DC Comics universe. That decision makes sense, but it feels somewhat curious when you consider that Nolan's Batman ended his journey with The Dark Knight Rises and very definitively will never return to the big screen. After Marvel Studios' first film— Iron Man (released in 2008)—ended with a post-credits teaser mentioning Nick Fury and the Avengers, the interconnected universe became en vogue, and once Nolan's films ran their course, Warner Bros. needed a new slew of heroes to keep up. Nolan and his Batman Begins co-scripter Goyer wrote the story to Man of Steel, a Superman reboot planned as a franchise-starter, then hired Zack Snyder to direct. Snyder is now firmly at the helm of the series Man of Steel launched, but Nolan is an executive producer on its sequel Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and reportedly had a hand in the hiring of Ben Affleck as the big screen's newest Batman.