The Dark Knight: 10 Years Later

joker-and-batman-700x300It’s always a little nerve-wracking when you revisit a film that had a major impact on pop culture. To say that The Dark Knight completely changed what we think about movies, specifically superhero ones, when it came out ten years ago is the understatement of the century. But after a decade of films that tried to copy it’s success, and especially since the release of the underwhelming (but still pretty good) Dark Knight Rises and Warner Bros’ DCEU entries that started with the Nolan produced Man of Steel, does it still hold up as the masterwork that I remember it being?

The short answer is yes, it does.

Granted, there are still some weird narrative choices to be found in the film (what exactly does the Joker do after Batman jumps out of the window to save Rachel?), but overall it still has some surprisingly relevant things to say, even ten years later. I’d argue that it feels even more topical now. With every crazy thing we hear about in the news, it’s no wonder some people feel a little off kilter, just “one push” away from madness.

The standout performance in the film is still Heath Ledger as the Joker. Even now, rewatching it for what must be the fiftieth time, I’m still in awe of Ledger’s ability to completely insert himself into this role. The screen is electrified every time he’s on it, but that small bit of sadness is still there as well, ten years after his untimely death. His performance is locked in time and pop culture’s history, and will be studied for years to come. It’s the greatest live action performance of the character, and will be the standard that other actors who portray the character will be compared against until the end of time (or whenever they stop making Batman movies).

But it’s not just Ledger who gives an amazing performance. The Dark Knight stands as Christian Bale’s finest hour as Bruce Wayne as well. Yes, his Batman voice has become a punchline, but focusing on the ridiculous voice overshadows some truly fantastic nuances that he brings to Bruce Wayne. This entire movie is a crisis of conscious for the character, who goes from being overly cocky in the film’s opening (his “Well, I can’t afford to know them” response to Alfred telling him he has limits) to having his world shaken to the core by The Joker, a man that starts off being a minor threat to him, but quickly becomes his greatest adversary. That, coupled with his somewhat unrequited love for Rachel Dawes (which, by the way, Maggie Gylenhaal is way better than Katie Holmes), makes for a pretty interesting spin on Batman’s early years. He’s torn between the need to help his city and avenge his family and the desire to have a normal life once his mission is over.

But the performance that’s most overshadowed is Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent, who is easily the movie’s emotional center. He’s The Joker’s big experiment, and unfortunately for Dent, he’s a success. While it’s true that Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face could’ve been fleshed out a little more, there’s no denying that Eckhardt makes you really feel for the character by the end of the movie. He’s a good man that could have fixed a broken system had things gone a different way, and it’s a shame that we never got to see more of him (spoilers for a ten year old movie that made a billion dollars).

I’ve mentioned it before, but a sign that I love a movie is if you could take a small segment of it and expand it to its own feature length movie. The Dark Knight has one of those moments nearly every twenty minutes. The opening heist, the Joker messing with the mob, Batman’s montage at the beginning of the film showing how he’s effected Gotham, the chase sequence, and even the interrogation room sequence could all be their own 90 minute films, and I’d find it just as impressive as the final product. There’s simply nothing else like it.

In retrospect, The Dark Knight was one of those lightning in a bottle moments that happen every decade or so in cinema, and I think Christopher Nolan realized that after it was made. It would explain why it took him so long to rethink the finale of the trilogy (which was supposed to have Ledger return as The Joker), and honestly I think it’s why Rises, and every Batman-centric film that’s come after The Dark Knight, has suffered since it’s release. To varying degrees, every Batman film or TV production that has come after The Dark Knight has tried to mimic it, either from a cinematography standpoint or just by making it a realistic setting. But you can’t replicate something like The Dark Knight. You just need to stand back, and appreciate the end result that you got.

In the end, The Dark Knight is a dark, realistic film. But there’s also a theme of hope. Yes, it ends on a downer, with Batman taking the blame for the deaths caused by Harvey Dent, but minutes before that, The Joker’s belief that the citizens on the ferries will bomb each other is proven false. Christopher Nolan shows us that even with all of the darkness surrounding the people of Gotham, the citizens are still inherently good, and they will do the right thing even in their darkest hour. That’s a lesson that I think is needed now especially, and one that you should never forget if you find yourself revisiting it.

Posted on July 23, 2018, in Comic Books, Movie and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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