(Originally posted on my Letterboxd account, But thought I’d share here as well.)
If you know me, you’ve probably heard me talk about Batman, and quite often, you’ve heard me talk about The Dark Knight. I have a lot of things to say about this movie, I love this interpretation of Batman. I love the way Christopher Nolan bring Gotham City to life in a realistic setting while keeping Batman grounded, but with moments of grandiose. Some people have heard me (albeit while I was very drunk) talk about how important the movie is for superhero films and filmmaking in general, and how all movies should give thanks to The Dark Knight. I don’t remember everything I said, but I’m sure it was all very compelling.
Finally, you have heard me talk about Heath Ledgers spine tingling and larger than life performance as The Joker. The last full performance of the late 28 year old actor. Ledger actually passes away 9 years ago today. So I thought today was the day to revisit this film that has always been very important to me.
The Dark Knight is the film I would credit with really pushing me into the person I became today. As a kid, I watched some Batman and was always interested in him, but my brother had been the big Batman fan growing up. I had recently seen Spider-Man 3, and I was starting to read Spider-Man comics. At the time I probably would have called him my favorite superhero.
One day in Social Studies, our teacher put on “A Knight’s Tale”, we started it and all the girls talked about how dreamy the lead was. I was 13 and thought “That’s so gross.” Then the next day, when we were about to finish the movie. My teacher mentioned that Heath Ledger, the lead actor, had just died the day before. That was a strange coincidence. I read about Heath Ledger in an issue of Entertainment Weekly and learned he was playing The Joker in the next Batman movie. I remembered Batman and always thought the Joker was cool and funny. So, I very quickly started reading up and absorbing everything having to do with the movie. it sounded pretty cool, a new version of the Joker who was more murdery than funny, sign middle school me up.
And then on July 18th, 2008, I was blown away and witnessed a movie I had never imagined possible. It was simply the coolest thing. Before I had felt like I was more mature watching crappy PG-13 comedies made by Adam Sandler (We all have to start somewhere), this was new, this was exciting, this was a work of art.
After that film, I was obsessed. I wore Joker T-shirts to school as often as possible, many people believed it was the only shirts I owned. I was The Joker for Halloween, my planned future involved me buying the Batpod and driving it everywhere I went, and I started reading all the Batman comics I could find. Back then, if you didn’t think The Dark Knight was cool. I thought you were absolutely insane. I didn’t think it was possible for you to be a good person, and not like this gift from god.
The year it wasn’t nominated for an academy award I was so furious. The Academy later opened the Best Picture Nominees to 10 films due to the backlash they got from not giving The Dark Knight the acclaim many believed it deserved. That’s about the time I really started paying attention to things that were well received by critics. I was reading reviews in every issue of Entertainment Weekly and that was how I decided what was worth my time. 15 year old me thought this was the most logical way to be. I even started listening to a podcasting website called Spill.com, there they helped form my taste. They were also big fans of The Dark Knight, and my obsession was further justified in my mind.
So, let’s talk about the movie, because the thing is, it lives up to the hype. It’s so well paced and strong in it’s theme and directing. It’s stunts are big and practical, and it’s acting is top notch across the board. Christian Bale is still the best Batman brought to screen. His Bruce Wayne is sharp and brooding, and his Batman is intense and foreboding. Yeah, his voice is silly. But it’s so ingrained with this version of the character, I will love it as I watch it, and still laugh and make fun of it too.
Of course we need to talk about Heath Ledger, because what he does with the Joker is something not found in any other superhero film in the past 9 years. His character has the spirit and imbodiment of the character from the comics. He is menacing and darkly humorous, most of his jokes are things meant for HIM to find funny, not as much us. He’s also incredibly different from the Joker proper and that still makes his one of the strongest interpretations. He’s an unempathetic, unhinged genius in clown makeup who knows what he wants and will do whatever he needs to do to accomplish his goals, those goals being total mayhem. There still hasn’t been a modern superhero villain to rival this Joker yet, not from Marvel, not from DC, especially not the newest version of The Joker. Just the way Ledger’s Joker talks to Batman and the people around him is so different from other versions. He talks to everyone like they’re shells of people and he knows what is best. The fact that we will never see more of this character is truly unfortunate.
The action in this film is so iconic. It put Christopher Nolan, a quiet reserved director of thrillers and dramas into a premier high art action director title that hasn’t always worked to his benefit since the Dark Knight trilogy. His minimal use of CGI set a standard for comic book films. I will always get chills watching the 18 wheeler flip scene. Rising in my seat as it becomes fully vertical and dropping as it falls onto its back. Then topped with Batman flipping the Batpod around on a wall brings a big stupid grin on my face.
The film has so many little moments that give me chills, as a fan of movies and a fan of these characters. Listening to Gordon field questions about Batman in Dent’s office is exactly what I want from the Batman/Gordon relationship, a man taking a chance on this vigilante enigma and keeping it so close to the chest. The off screen sound of a serving tray dropped by a caterer who sees the Joker, that serial killer clown from the news, appear in Bruce Wayne’s penthouse. Something they probably never imagined and now they’re scared for their own life. The way Alfred cares for Bruce and tries to lead him down a path he know’s he can’t stop. The film is full of these moments. And if I had more time, I’d never stop talking about them.
Now the film isn’t perfect, because no film truly is. I understand these imperfections, but I don’t let them ruin my enjoyment. There are several moments of confusing screen direction and bad ADR, some mildly lazy, others obviously difficult because of Ledger’s passing. Sometimes Batman’s come back lines are usually kind of forced (None as bad as Rises “No I came here to stop you,” but still), and from a modern perspective, this film would have been chastised for it’s one real female character, and she dies. I accept these flaws, and while I don’t forgive them, I still love the film almost as much as I did when I was 15 and could afford to have my only real concern in life be “Who’s going to be the villain in Batman 3?”
Watching the film tonight really brought it home as to why I love this film and Batman. Batman in film right now is kind of piss poor, with Zack Snyder not really understanding the character, and Ben Affleck being a fun Bruce Wayne, but a far too murderous Batman. I have hope of course, I probably never won’t, but the character is nowhere near where he once was on screen. Along with The Joker who I will only describe as, what would happen to me if I didn’t get a hobby outside of The Dark Knight and did a shitty Heath Ledger impression forever. I hadn’t actually seen the movie in almost 2 years. So I had gone through the dark age of 2016 DC without a good Dark Knight pallet cleanser. I was grateful to have it back in my mind fresh.
In closing, since that time of Dark Knight fever, I have found many other films, some are probably better than The Dark Knight, and many very unlike the film. Saying I have a favorite movie now has become kind of passe for me. I see so many great movies that only singling out one from 9 years ago is silly. But this film will always have a nice comfy spot in my heart. I hope the film can be a touchstone for others as well. When I grow old and possibly have a son or daughter, I want them to watch this film and have similar experiences. I can’t wait to make my own feature film and through everything I learn, see what The Dark Knight offers me. I’ll always have great movies, but I don’t know if there will ever be a film that will ever match what The Dark Knight is to me.