Into the Knight: A Batman Film Retrospective- Week 6 (The Dark Knight)

My excitement for The Dark Knight was immense. It was reaching super nova potential, except in human form. Instead of exploding into a mass of star-dust, I would wet myself uncontrollably. Then came the night of the midnight showing. Facing flu-like symptoms, my dedication to seeing Nolan’s masterpiece was waning. I already had the tickets, so there was no turning back. Apprehension replaced desire when my collection of “bros” and I were sitting in our seats. Since there was nothing but a shit show at the theater, we arrived about two hours early. Patiently sitting in my seat lead to a bad case of swass, on account of the place swarming with anxious film watchers and enthusiasts wearing smeared makeup with suits probably found at Ragstock. Once the theater darkened and everyone’s loud chatter lowered to an anticipatory whisper, my illness and annoyance was erased. My senses were left for dead. Visually stunning, sonically pulsating, and emotionally resonate, The Dark Knight reverberated hours after my first screening. My feelings toward the film exacerbated after three more viewings. My love for The Dark Knight even propelled it to the top of my Best of 2008 list. Honestly, I wouldn’t peg my lust for The Dark Knight on myself being a hypebeast. Rather, the birth of my genuine admiration stemmed from unbridled enthusiasm for the character and the world Nolan has created. Now, let’s take a look back at this groundbreaking film:

The Dark Knight (2008):

The efforts made in Batman Begins afforded us the opportunity to experience the greatest comic book film ever: The Dark Knight. Capitalizing on the gritty noir style established in Begins, The Dark Knight is a far more sinister take on Batman mythos. At the center of the storm is a monumental performance by Heath Ledger. Wearing the makeup of a clown on crack, Ledger crafted the definitive film version of a legendary tyrant. From aggressive licks of his mouth to an unhinged, nasally voice, Ledger embodied the maniacal chaos that the Joker happily exuded. The screenplay accentuates Ledger’s garish appearance by making the Joker an absolute. He’s pure evil. When given heaps of dialog that contradicts a checkered past, the Joker becomes an unpredictable maelstrom of death and violence. Said violence is distinctly preluded by a striking theme that rivals the violent strings of There Will Be Blood. When the score kicks in with a budding buzz, we know the Joker is ready to make the streets run red. Finally, Batman has met his match in the form of a man who has no rules.

Caught in the middle between these juggernauts is Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), a well-intentioned man with a penchant for losing his cool. Dent wants to eradicate Gotham’s criminals through clean methods, but as the film goes along and the Joker begins to prod his psyche, Dent evolves into a loose cannon that is willing to make moral concessions. Undoubtedly, human corruption is one of the major themes that Christopher Nolan conveys in this marvelous world. Another is sacrifice, a notion that Bruce Wayne comes to know all too well as his personal life and crime fighting interests fail to reconcile. With Batman Begins seeing the creation of Batman, The Dark Knight is about the inevitable destruction of the caped crusader. With crime and personal endangerment reaching new heights, Wayne’s resolve is tested. Fearing no recourse from fans, and working in the best interest of the story, Christopher Nolan kills characters at will, forcing Bruce Wayne to ruminate on the potential harm and inadvertent havoc he’s unleashing on the city he swore to protect.

Much like Begins, The Dark Knight makes a concerted effort to populate Bruce Wayne’s world with significant characters. Detective Jim Gordon rises and falls along with our hero, as does Michael Caine’s Alfred. Both give a persistent voice for the fledging Bruce Wayne. With so many characters having an impact on the film, The Dark Knight feels bigger than any other comic book film that came before it. Part of this feeling stems from the amazing cinematography by Wally Pfister, who shoots Chicago’s towers in a foreboding, overbearing way that provide Gotham with a suffocating vibe along the lines of a cage. The gritty, contemporary atmosphere of The Dark Knight is a far cry from Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s vision for Gotham.  For my money, Nolan’s vision is superior. In The Dark Knight, Nolan didn’t create a comic book film. Instead, he created a crime epic that has the scale of a summer blockbuster, but the depth of Michael Mann’s Heat. Sure, on the surface it’s about a man who dresses up as a bat, but as we peel away the misguiding exterior of a comic book film, The Dark Knight is a tragedy with Shakespearean undertones.


4 thoughts on “Into the Knight: A Batman Film Retrospective- Week 6 (The Dark Knight)

  1. My hype was probably as high as yours prior to release. The midnight release still remains one of my favorite theater experiences. I felt like I just witnessed Nolan’s masterpiece and one of the greatest performances of all-time. I still stand by the assertion that Ledger’s performance is amongst the greatest of all performances. My opinion on the film has lessened over the years. Subsequent viewings (viewings that didn’t have the anticipation behind it) made me notice that it isn’t as smart as it thinks. I find all of Joker’s executions, particularly the opening heist and the two boats, to be insanely contrived, and only work because the cops are written in the most inept way possible. I also find that the themes it tries to tackle come off as contradictory within the film’s narrative.

    I still find it to be really entertaining with some incredible set-pieces. I just don’t believe that it succeeds in its ambition. I’m one of those people that believes Batman Begins is the greatest Batman film.

  2. That’s pretty fair. Despite my love for The Dark Knight, I actually wish people would give more love for Batman Begins. Sure, it doesn’t have a performance that matches Ledger’s titanic offering, but Wayne’s ascension is impeccable. If there is one thing I hold against TDK, it’s some of the inane dialog that seeps out of the citizens’ mouth (e.g. “No more dead cops!”)

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