I love comic books, especially those of the superhero variety. Comic books allow you to enter a world full of amazing characters and colourful worlds, sometimes playful and fun, sometimes bleak and serious. With the recent rise of popularity in superhero movies thanks to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, we have entered somewhat of a renaissance. While most of these movies are nothing special, it is always fun to head out to the movies where all these fantastic characters are brought to life. With the amount of them I review on this website, you could say it’s my bread and butter. Very few of these films can boast that they are truly great movies. However, only one of these movies transcends the genre, becoming not only the greatest superhero movie of all time, but a genuine, timeless work of art. This film is my fourth favourite movie of all time: The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of Jeph Leob and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween, is in a league of its own when it comes to capeshit. It is a brilliantly made, philosophically rich, and exciting movie. It is the strongest and most realistic adaptation of Batman there is. After giving a brief overview of the plot, I will delve into the writing, technical aspects, and themes of this movie more in depth.
Set a few years after the events of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight follows Batman as he investigates a bank robbery perpetrated by someone only known as “The Joker”. As the movie goes along, The Joker’s schemes start to intersect with Bruce Wayne’s dealings with a Chinese Corporation run by a man named Lao, as well as Gotham’s underworld, which is slowly being put in prison by Gotham’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent. With The Joker now assassinating high ranking officials, as well as instigating terrorist attacks across the city, Batman, Dent, and Commissioner Gordon try to stop the Joker at every turn, but the Joker is always one step ahead. Eventually, The Joker takes Dent and his girlfriend, Rachel Dawes, hostage. While Dawes dies, Dent survives, albeit horribly disfigured due to being set on fire. Harvey Dent, with convincing from the Joker, starts to go on a rampage to find who is responsible for Rachel’s death, becoming the villain known as Harvey Two Face. Batman, losing his will to fight, must try to stop the Joker, and Two Face, at all costs.
This film is absolutely masterful. Brilliant script, fantastic characters and performances (Christian Bale is poised and brilliant as Bruce Wayne/Batman; Heath Ledger is absolutely iconic as The Joker; Aaron Eckhart is excellent as Harvey Two Face; everyone in this movie is so god damn good), brilliant cinematography and editing, incredibly interesting discussion of ideas, great special effects, etc.
First and foremost, the writing of this movie is just so on point. Everything in this movie is set up so intelligently and is paid off in a masterful manner. All these little bits of foreshadowing done throughout the movie tell you where its gonna go, but it doesn’t take away from the experience of it. You still feel the emotional rush knowing how it all ends. The dialogue in this film is both poetic and practical, giving you information as it goes but enhancing the film with musings on the characters and themes. Further to that, the characters in this film are all so dynamic and interesting. Everyone has their own unique personality and they all have strong beliefs and motivations which further play into the themes of this movie. The script for this movie also has so many classic lines, many of which come from the mouth Heath Ledger, who brings The Joker to life in such a horrifying and brilliant way (every story about how the Joker got the scars, “it’s not about the money…”, “I’m gonna show you magic trick…”, “Do I really look like a guy with a plan?”). I didn’t even need to finish writing most of those lines, you finished them in your head yourself, that’s how memorable they are. The film also knows when to have a bit of levity, with quippy dialogue and funny moments (When Batman disappears as Dent and Gordon are talking and Gordon says “He does that.”; When the fake Batman asks the real one what the difference is between them, and Batman says “I’m not wearing hockey pads.”). This film’s script is a diamond compared to what superhero movies are now.
The technical elements of this film are also not to be ignored. Christopher Nolan’s penchant for blowing things up and practical effects is on full display in this film. The incredible scene of The Joker chasing down the cop cars in the semi truck, and Batman eventually flipping said semi over, is some of the most mind boggling stunt work known to man. The CG that they used in the film blended perfectly in with the sets and practical stuff. It was incredibly tasteful and interesting. Moreover, the fight choreography in this film is a massive improvement over Batman Begins. The fights are more interesting, better shot, better edited, and they aren’t a complete headache to get through. Further, in general, the shot composition and editing is absolutely on point. The brilliant lighting, framing, and long takes are all cut together beautifully. The scene where The Joker is harassing Rachel, telling a wildly different story about his scars from last time, and the way the camera is spinning around them creates such dread and makes you so uncomfortable. On another note (no pun intended), the brilliant orchestral score by Hans Zimmer knows when to pull back, becoming minimal to nonexistent in the film, but pumping up and becoming anthemic when it calls for it. Everything this movie does on a technical level is as intelligent as the writing. It builds suspense, creates emotional weight, and wows you.
But now I have to talk about what this movie is all about. This film is incredibly political and incredibly weighty with its themes, but it doesn’t become obnoxious or sanctimonious about it (*COUGH* BLACK PANTHER *COUGH* CAPTAIN MARVEL*COUGH*). What this film is essentially saying is that, in our world, we need an idealized version of justice and strong morals to guide us through turbulent times. This allows us to ignore the real things that have to be done in order to keep us safe. This is expertly shown through our three main characters: Batman, Two Face, and The Joker. Batman represents the harsh truth, that sometimes we must do hard things in order to keep our society from crumbling (Batman spies on EVERYONE at the end of the movie to find The Joker, violating privacy laws and civil liberties in order to stop him). Harvey Dent represents the idealized and romantic version of justice that the world needs to remain in order (Gotham’s White Knight). The Joker is a symbol of chaos. The Joker is a terrorist looking to stoke fear and bring the system down, and show everyone that we are all just one bad day away from total anarchy. To ultimately show this, Joker turns Gotham’s ideal hero, Dent, into a murderous psychopath and gets him to do monstrous things. At the end, Gordon and Batman realize that if Gotham knows what Harvey did, all his work will be undone and the city will plunge into chaos. Batman then chooses to take the fall for Harvey’s crimes, doing the hard thing while Dent becomes idolized in death, with Gordon continuing Dent’s quest for that idealized justice. Batman becomes a wanted man and seen as a villain, still doing good but seen as the bad guy for what he does (He’s the hero we deserve, but not the one we need right now). This is all essentially summed up, poetically and beautifully, by Gordon’s speech at the end of the movie. Batman becomes the silent protector, Gotham’s true hero, Gotham’s dark knight, doing what needs to be done in the background while Dent’s legacy is carried on and people are given a sense of security. No other superhero movie can boast such meaningful, intelligent, and incredibly complex social commentary. It is a thing of beauty. Whether or not you agree with the point of this film though is a discussion for another time.
Overall, it is criminal how good this film is. It is a triumph of the genre, and one of Christopher Nolan’s finest works. Equal parts exciting action film and brilliant study of morals and politics. All other superhero movies, even the best of the bunch like Spider Man 2, Superman, The Avengers, pale in comparison to Nolan’s vision of The Caped Crusader and the harsh realities of Gotham City. If you haven’t seen this movie in awhile, throw it on and be blown away. If you haven’t seen it at all, fix that problem immediately. The greatest capeshit there is, and ever will be, and a film that will never be surpassed by its capeshit brethren. Watch it.
10 out of 10