It’s difficult to deny that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is iconic. It’s still one of the top five highest grossing comic book movies of all time and its cultural impact is undeniable. It’s the movie that killed Heath Ledger. It’s the movie that revolutionized the Oscars. It’s the movie that changed superhero movies forever. We all know how the phrase, “you either die a hero,” ends.
Now, a decade after The Dark Knight promised to change everything, we at The Pop Break decided to reexamine whether the movie lived long enough to become the villain. Our day-long coverage begins with a staff retrospective on what it was like to see the movie for the first time and whether the years since have changed the way we feel about it.
Months before The Dark Knight was released, I bought a copy of one of the movie’s first teaser posters. The poster features a bluish-white brick wall with two crudely drawn black circles above an equally rudimentary blood-red Bat symbol. Clearly meant to resemble the Joker’s face makeup, the image is sandwiched between the title of the movie and the villain’s famous catchphrase, “Why so serious?” As a lifelong Batman fan who greatly enjoyed Batman Begins, I found myself immediately captivated by this minimalistic yet striking poster. My anticipation for Batman’s return to the big screen shot through the roof and it was decided: without any knowledge of how popular or significant the film would be, I needed that poster.
Then, nearly half a year later, the movie was released. And I left the theater opening night unsure how to feel. Throughout my initial viewing, I didn’t know how to feel. I couldn’t tell you how or when my thoughts on the movie finally crystalized. Probably sometime during or between the three times I saw The Dark Knight in theaters. However, my views on the film managed to bubble up through the depths of my unconscious to my conscious mind, I knew one thing: I loved this movie. It challenged what I expected from a superhero movie and what I expected from a fictional hero I had idolized since early childhood. It made me reflect upon the very concepts of justice and heroism. It forced me to examine films and stories in ways I had never considered before. And I loved it.
I am not one to confer perfection upon something and that rule applies here as well. I do not think The Dark Knight is the perfect superhero movie, just as I don’t believe any movie can be considered without flaw. But I still recognize the middle chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as a masterpiece and a benchmark for the genre. In terms of action, drama, themes, performances, relevance to the sociopolitical context of its time, and humor (yes, there are jokes in this film despite what people say), The Dark Knight is a breathtaking accomplishment in cinema. Ten years after the picture’s release and a staggering amount of other comic book movies, I am still awed by this film. This movie took me on a personal journey in a manner that few movies ever have (The Last Jedi being the most recent), and I will forever recognize The Dark Knight as the first film that rigorously challenged me on its way to becoming one of my absolute favorite works of fiction.
Rob Crowther IV:
Not to be that guy, but I absolutely detested The Dark Knight. In fact, I’ve only seen it once and that was when it was released in theaters. Batman is a personal fave and I’ve loved most onscreen incarnations of the icon from Adam West to Kevin Conroy. Now, I’m not knocking Bale, but I did not ever believe for one second that he was Batman.
It wasn’t just the voice (which is a whole other rant). I never once felt connected to the character in any way and thus didn’t buy into anything that was happening on screen. In fact, this is one of the few times I can ever remember having this happen while watching a film. I remember wanting to leave the theater. I didn’t understand why everyone else liked it so much, as if I was watching an entirely different movie.
Again, I’m not knocking Bale. He is a fantastic actor. I’ve been a fan since Little Women, and was stoked for the casting for Batman Begins. It just didn’t work for me. It sounded great on paper, but something about the execution wasn’t there for me, even with his portrayal of Bruce Wayne. Batman is the one character that I feel they’ve never completely gotten right in the movies. Reeves IS Superman. Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman. Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine. RDJ is Iron Man. Keaton was the closest thing we had to a solid on screen Batman, but I’m still waiting for the right guy to don the mask and say, “I’m Batman.”
Comic Book Movies fall into two categories: Before The Dark Knight and After The Dark Knight.
There were a handful of great comic book movies before Christian Bale faced off with Heath Ledger in the summer of 2008, but The Dark Knight raised the bar for all future superhero movies. The film is a near perfect combination of story, action, character development, fan service and living up to the hype surrounding its release that it’s one of the first comic book movies that appealed to people with absolutely no interest in the genre.
Personally, I saw The Dark Knight on opening weekend with one of my best friends at an IMAX theater. We were both so in awe of the film that we were speechless all the way home and it took a few hours to have a decent conversation about the movie. The following weekend, I basically forced my parents to see it with me (again in IMAX) because I was so sure they would love it too.
In the past decade, I’ve seen the movie quite a few times and it still holds up incredibly well. Sure there are some plot holes and a few “that would never happen” moments, but most of the movie is still entertaining and thought-provoking in a way few comic movies have been.
In short, The Dark Knight was the superhero movie we needed even if wasn’t the one we wanted.
The Dark Knight is a well-shot and well-acted movie, but it has a script that really feels like it was written by the actual Two Face. Sometimes the dialogue is incredibly intelligent and sometimes it sounds like an argument between two freshmen philosophy majors.
There are a lot of symbols, some more heavy-handed than others, and every one is explained, at length, in a scene where various characters say something to the effect of:
“INSERT SYMBOL HERE is a symbol. You think it stands for INCORRECT MEANING OF SYMBOL, but it actually represents CORRECT MEANING OF SYMBOL which reinforces THEME, the theme I embody.”
On top of that, it’s so full of holes, the plot might as well be the bank that the Joker DROVE A BUS OUT OF! Batman falls 100 feet and lands on a car, which he crushes, but he and Rachel are fine. Commissioner Gordon fakes his death because he fears his family will be in danger, but still dramatically arrests the Joker himself—as if that means no one working with the Joker will go after Gordon’s family. The plans Joker sets up are endlessly complicated and unbelievable. The Dark Knight is full of moments that are meant to look cool but fall apart after the weakest scrutiny.
And listen, I’m not saying that it’s a bad movie. I just think the Nolan Trilogy started so strong with Batman Begins and it devolved into slightly above average Batman movies held up by two unbelievable villain performances.
“There’s no going back. You’ve changed things, forever.” The Joker says this to Batman during the interrogation scene (one of the most iconic scenes ever filmed) and it couldn’t be truer about the movie itself. The film challenges all of the characters in uniquely, hauntingly fascinating ways–courtesy of one of the best antagonistic performances ever with Heath Ledger’s Joker–and accomplishes the one thing that most sequels fail to do: surpass the original film’s quality.
The Dark Knight takes each character in the film and gives each of them a nearly insurmountable objective to overcome while making many insightful statements on society. The scenes also seemingly speak to and connect with one another in a way that only adds to the many layers of depth written into the film by David S. Goyer, director Christopher Nolan, and his brother, Jonathan. There are so many amazing scenes in the film: a bank robbery, a hospital explosion, Batman fighting the S.W.A.T. team with glowing eyes, an interrogation gone wrong, and an incredible ending.
Of course, people will probably point out how the dark and gritty tone to this film has had a ripple effect on comic book movies ever since–including the DCEU–and how it likely led to the “over-saturation” of dark superhero films. People might also mention the aforementioned over-saturation of villains embodying the Joker’s villainous philosophy of leaving the hero with nothing to threaten them with and wanting to “watch the world burn.”
In actuality, both of those claims (particularly the first) couldn’t be further from the truth. Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer both also helped create and build the DCEU with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. What Nolan and Goyer have shown us is that not all comic book movies need to be made a certain way (lighthearted and campy), especially with Batman and his mythology (which is something I hope Warner Bros. has learned from Justice League).
Superhero films can be taken seriously and can provide a different take for a more mature audience to enjoy while not alienating kids. People can say the market is overstuffed with dark comic book films, but with the Marvel Cinematic Universe releasing 1-2 light-hearted movies per year in addition to a plethora of superhero animated films, I disagree. Besides, why can’t we have the option of both light and dark superhero films?
Maybe I am biased because I thoroughly enjoy The Dark Knight and the Zack Snyder-directed DCEU, but in that case, isn’t everyone that has an opinion on these films biased as well?
Sure, most other superhero films have been unable to match the quality of this film, but that is no knock against them. Heath Ledger will likely be praised forever as the best incarnation of the Joker and rightfully so. The Dark Knight is not just one of the best superhero films, it is one of the best films in general of all-time.
The Dark Knight, in my opinion, is a great, highly rewatchable film. But lest we forget this is also a game-changing film.
Fans and critics alike were incensed when The Dark Knight was not nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars that year. It, along with a few other films that year, were the catalysts for the field of five Best Picture nominees to be expanded to a possible 10 nominees. Hell, it even took a Best Supporting Actor statue for Heath Ledger.
The acting, outside of “Bat Voice,” is superb. Maggie Gylenhaal did a marvelous job replacing Katie Holmes. Aaron Eckhart was perfect as Harvey Dent. Christian Bale and Michael Caine were fantastic. And Heath Ledger…sheer perfection.
Christopher Nolan’s script, and direction were really good, and I yes I get the criticisms, but they didn’t bother me as much as others. The effects top notch. The score brilliant.
However, there is one massive negative about this film.
It totally screwed all future DC Comics films.
The bar for DC Films/the DCEU was set impossibly high by The Dark Knight. We hold every DC film up to this movie. Do we hold Marvel movies up to that standard? No we do not. And that is because from Iron Man on, it was made apparent that Marvel and the MCU was not going to produce films like The Dark Knight. They, for the most part, were going to produce big budget popcorn films. And that’s why when a film eschews from that paradigm (e.g. Winter Soldier, Black Panther) it pays off huge.
DC, for the most part, has tried to create serious(ish) films. And when you make a serious superhero film, you’re going to get compared to The Dark Knight. Sadly, DC has not even come close to measuring up to The Dark Knight. The only film that does come close is The Dark Knight Rises, which isn’t even a DCEU film.
It’s why DC gets their ass handed to them by critics most of the time (Wonder Woman not withstanding). DC was in part responsible for the creation of one of the greatest comic book/superhero movies of all-time. So, they should be able to replicate this…or at least come close to it.
Had The Dark Knight never existed, the DCEU would be in much better shape now. People wouldn’t be so damn hard on it.