The Dark Knight (2008): A Crime Drama Dressed as a Superhero Film
Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk, is about to be released in theaters. Early reviews suggest that the film could possibly rank among the best movies in Nolan’s filmography. With such a highly anticipated film coming out, let’s take a look back at one of Nolan’s most popular films to date, The Dark Knight.
Heralded by many as the best superhero movie of all-time, The Dark Knight is a lot of people’s favorite movie ever made. But how has this beloved film aged over time? The following review will be spoiler free.
After combatting the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne seemingly has a stronger hold on his alter ego, allowing him to clean up the streets of Gotham. With help from new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Gotham seems to be on the verge of complete safety. However, a new villain, the Joker (Ledger), looks to up the ante. With the Joker’s flare for the insane and unorthodox, Bruce questions whether or not he’s capable of handling such a villain. As the film progresses, Batman learns that for once, the villain may not just be in it for the money but rather to watch the world suffer.
As one can expect, a lot of planning went into the follow-up to Batman Begins.
Nolan discussed that rather than making the sequel bigger like most sequels, he wanted the driving force of the movie to be “escalation” instead. He exclaimed that things must get worse before they improve. For those that have seen the film, you’d know that that theme is very prevalent throughout in film through the eyes of Harvey Dent.
In fact, the original intent was to have Harvey Dent come into the fold in the third film during Joker’s trial. Obviously, this wasn’t exactly how things ended up since the two characters both ended up in The Dark Knight with Bane headlining The Dark Knight Rises. As Nolan later stated, the creative team didn’t want an origin of the Joker in the film, but rather an absolute (in his prime) so that he’d be in full form when he faced off with Batman. However, with this absolute comes a limited story arc which forced Nolan to add Harvet Dent into the film to add a strong, emotional arc.
There have been countless think pieces about Heath Ledger’s performance and other obvious standouts in the film that delve into those ideas way more than this review has time to discuss. Yes, Ledger is unbelievable and would have won that Oscar for Best Supporting Actor even if he hadn’t died so tragically after production ended. However, discussion points such as this have been discussed non-stop. So, the rest of this review will attempt to delve deeper into the nitty gritty of the film and see why it works from a thematic standpoint.
What I Liked
Although The Dark Knight is unquestionably a superhero movie, the movie works as crime drama.
There’s a clear attempt to improve characterization here, so much so that we don’t need to see a lot of action. In fact, one could argue that a lot of the hand-to-hand combat sequences lack fluidity of motion and grace. Frankly, it’s a lot of close-up, handheld shots that show Christian Bale‘s Batman using a lot of elbows and shins in a very clunky manner.
Normally these problems would be a detriment, but this movie isn’t about the action.
With additions of the mob and money laundering into the story, The Dark Knight is just a great crime caper that just so happens to have one of the most iconic superheroes ever. Nolan partnered Batman with the DA and police units to solve crimes with The Dark Knight‘s thriller-like structure. Rather than possessing over-the-top theatrics, tension is wound by character motivations. When you step back to think about it, this film is at its best when people are just talking and staring into each other’s eyes.
The film captures organized crime and terrorism better than most true crime thrillers. Nolan only helps this idea by keeping everything very grounded with limited CGI effects.
What I Liked…Continued
In essence, The Dark Knight depicts the capability of anyone to fall from grace. The Joker is simply an embodiment of chaos. Through Nolan’s expertly crafted script, we see how the introduction of chaos and anarchy can make the mightiest people fall. The Dark Knight is essential one big metaphor that just so happens to have superheroes in it, which only makes the film that much more engrossing.
When you then add ideas of facing one’s own moral code and mortality, the film only improves from there.
These themes are brought out by a deep understanding of each character. Never before have we seen a director better understanding the root of each comic book character. We understand what makes them tick and why they do what they do in the most eloquent way possible. It’s never forced, but rather explained with anecdotes and creeds that flow seamlessly. The best of which may be Michael Caine’s “Burma” speech to Christian Bale.
What I Liked…Continued…Continued
Since the films release, there has been a concerted effort to make blockbusters dark and brooding. Movies like Man of Steel or Power Rangers showcase clear attempts to make a dark reimagining of a noteworthy property. However, most of these films end up becoming a soul-crushing, downer of a movie.
Many fail to realize (or remember) that The Dark Knight is quietly funny. It won’t make you laugh out loud, but there’s moments of quick wit that lighten the mood while keeping you invested in the dark story. Whether it be the Joker’s dark sense of humor or an offhanded comment by a policeman, Nolan perfectly weaves lighter moments into this haunting drama. For those looking for a good comparison, this year’s Logan balanced this idea quite nicely as well.
As it stands currently, The Dark Knight is my favorite superhero film. This reasoning comes to be simply because there’s nothing really “super” about it. This movie is a dirty, introspective crime drama that just so happens to have Batman in the picture. It’s complexities rival some of the best dramas ever conceived with Nolan focusing on character rather than effects. Although somewhat cliched at this point, The Dark Knight gets an A+.
There are some minor flaws in this film, but they pale in comparison to the power that The Dark Knight possesses. There has been a noticeable shift in film since The Dark Knight was released in 2008, for better or for worse. For its impact alone, you should watch this film if you haven’t already done so.
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