I realized I’ve been neglecting my Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon project (my last post from the blog-a-thon was “The Prestige” back in February — oops!). My husband and I have been watching and reviewing Nolan’s movies together but I got a bit distracted by all the new movies in March. Since I’d like to wrap up the blog-a-thon before the summer movie season starts, I thought I’d better get on that. 😉 Next up on Nolan’s filmography is the middle film in his Batman trilogy, “The Dark Knight.” This is one of my husband’s favorite superhero movies, so I’ll let him go first!
“The Dark Knight.” It was legend from the moment it came out. This is when Christopher Nolan really came into form. Finally we were finished with Batman origin stories and were ready for a full story, and boy did he deliver.
In terms of raw story telling prowess, this is the untouched masterpiece of superhero films. Nothing even comes close. “The Dark Knight Rises” was good, but wasn’t on its level. “Watchmen” was good, but fell short at key areas. “The Dark Knight” is focused in theme and very person driven rather than action driven.
The Joker truly is the heart of the whole movie. If he had been just a little less powerful the whole thing would’ve fallen apart. But Heath Ledger had the performance of a lifetime. Aided by top-notch writing, he became the foundation for the whole thing.
The Joker is such an interesting villain because his plan is so different from other villain plans. Ronan the Accuser from “Guardians of the Galaxy” hates the Nova Corps because he’s blue and has a hammer. The Joker has a plan but it’s more than “blow up a hospital” or “kill the hero.” As much as he rails against schemers, his mission is narrow in vision, even if it spills over into a wide variety of plots.
The Joker wants to corrupt. He wants Batman to break his one rule. He wants Harvey to fall from grace. He wants people to panic and kill each other. Everything he says is calculated to inflict the most possible damage and confusion in the person he’s talking to. Why? Because then he can show the world that he’s not so different from a normal person. As he says, “I’m just ahead of the curve.”
The character drama created by people succumbing to the corrupting influence of the Joker makes a consistent theme where the viewer is forced to confront the choices of the heroes. In some circumstances, would it be okay for Batman to kill someone? Certainly no one would have blamed him if he had just let the Joker fall to his death at the end. And what about that blatant abuse of the cell phone sonar that he used to find the Joker? That would be an absolute terror in the hands of a police state but is it okay in this instance? It saved hundreds of lives and caught the most dangerous criminal Gotham had ever seen. Should Bruce capitulate to the Joker’s demand to unmask to stop him from killing a person a day?
There’s that constantly lingering question throughout the movie of “but at what cost”? There is no perfect victory against the Joker. To move on, you have to sacrifice a piece. In this sense the Joker has the upper hand. He sees not only his thugs, but himself, as totally expendable. And he knows his opponents don’t think the same way. He knows they’ll drop their plans to catch him at the tiniest threat, and he fully capitalizes on it by never stopping the war of attrition. There’s always another piece being threatened, keeping the focus off of him. His goal isn’t to win the game by the rules. His goal is to destroy so much of what people value that they’ll lose hope and give up.
So far I’ve only really addressed the character of the Joker. But he really is what makes “The Dark Knight” so great. In order to begin to wonder what rules can be broken, you have to be confronted with an evil so immense that the rule breaking seems justified by comparison. But does that put Batman on the Joker’s level?
But I digress, the dialogue in the movie is fantastic. There are so many classic, and frankly prescient, lines that everyone already knows, so I won’t repeat them all but just remind you that they’re there. The filming and the way that light and dark are contrasted is great. The way that the tension is ratcheted up with each terrorist act is great. Heck, they even worked in the joke about the accountant’s plan to retire easy by blackmailing a guy who beats criminals to a pulp as a hobby. But the centrality truly lies in the clash of the immovable object and the unstoppable force. This clash is what makes “The Dark Knight” the best superhero movie ever made.
Taken as a whole, Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is a masterpiece. It was a game-changer for the superhero genre and cast a very long shadow, one the current DC Cinematic Universe is still struggling to escape from. However, I know this goes against popular opinion, but “The Dark Knight” is actually my least favorite film in the Dark Knight trilogy. Although I won’t argue with the fact that it’s probably one of the best superhero films ever made (if not THE best), it’s actually too dark for me.
I don’t mind dark superhero movies or TV shows; I love the darker take on the Marvel universe that we’ve seen from the Netflix shows like “Daredevil,” and The CW’s “Arrow” has been knocking it out of the park this season by returning to its darker, grittier roots. Yet for me personally, “The Dark Knight” is just a little too dark and bleak. The Joker is a deeply disturbing villain; Heath Ledger did such a good job with his performance that it’s actually hard for me to watch it. I also felt the movie focused too much on the Joker, at the expense of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s own story arc. We didn’t get to see enough of Batman’s side of the story, and that undercuts the powerful poignancy of Bruce Wayne’s final decision to let Batman be framed as the villain in order to protect the legacy of Gotham’s district attorney Harvey Dent.
And speaking of Harvey Dent…Aaron Eckhart’s performance as Dent is actually my favorite part of this movie. It’s heartbreaking to watch how his fearless idealism is twisted into something evil after the death of his girlfriend Rachel Dawes, the woman both he and Batman love. He eventually becomes the type of criminal he worked so hard to stop. He’s also an interesting contrast to Batman, the white knight to Bruce Wayne’s dark knight. He fights crime in the light in a different way than Batman fights crime in the shadows, yet in the end Dent is the one who’s corrupted by the Joker.
I don’t really have a lot of objective complaints about this movie; it’s just not one that I enjoy watching as much (I’m crazy, I know). 😉 Like I said, it’s definitely more of a personal opinion. I prefer “The Dark Knight Rises” because I felt it portrayed Batman’s journey in a stronger way. I haven’t found too many people who agree with me on that, but you gotta be honest in these reviews, right? 😉
A moment I did really like from “The Dark Knight” is the final act, where the Joker traps two groups of people on boats — one group of civilians and another group of criminals — and gives each of them a detonator to see who will cave first and blow up the other ship to ensure their own survival. In the end, neither boat makes the decision to harm the other. I thought it was a really powerful moment, showing how there are still good people left in the world and people can rise above their circumstances to do the right thing. It shows that Gotham isn’t beyond saving, despite what the Joker believes.
Next up on the Nolan blog-a-thon: Nolan takes a break from Batman to bring us “Inception,” a thriller about dreams.