Has it really been that long since the release of Christopher Nolan’s mega-hit sequel to Batman Begins? Who can forget the impact that The Dark Knight had, triumphantly leading the charge of cinematic comic book heroes in both scale and stature?
Of course as with any film, time moves on and the dust settles so let’s take a look back at The Dark Knight and see how it holds up five years after its explosive theatrical release…
‘THE DARK KNIGHT’ – LOOKING BACK
Having saved Gotham from Ra’s Al Ghul and The League of Shadows, Bruce Wayne continues his war on crime as the Batman and will soon face a dark threat that will push him to the limit. An unstoppable force will meet an immovable object…
With the critical and commercial success of Batman Begins a sequel was a given, leaving nightmares of Batman and Robin truly behind. Director Christopher Nolan developed the story with Batman Begins co-writer David S. Goyer (screenwriting duties being shared by Nolan with his brother, Jonathan).
July 2008 saw the release of The Dark Knight, pitting Bruce Wayne/Batman against (as teased – nay, promised – in the closing moments of Batman Begins) his most iconic nemesis: the Joker. Nolan’s mandate of a ‘heightened reality’ provided a fresh and credible interpretation of the character whilst staying true to what was envisaged in the comics. The Joker of The Dark Knight was everything fans expected: psychotic, maniacal and homicidal (drawing on the darkest takes on the character in the comics – Alan Moore and Brian Bollands’ The Killing Joke clearly being an influence) right down to the purple suit and sadistic sense of humour. However, instead of the traditional chemically-induced green hair and white skin (as in the comics and Tim Burton’s Batman), this Joker had long unkempt hair, dyed green, and used make-up – smeared on like war paint, with scars either side of his mouth providing that perpetual menacing grin.
Christian Bale continued to own the role of Bruce Wayne and delivered an even gruffer, still gravelly voiced Dark Knight (how Clint Eastwood might sound before his morning coffee?). The excellent Aaron Eckhart joined Bale and the returning cast (Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman) as Gotham District Attorney Harvey “Two-Face” Dent.
Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes, picking up the threads of the Rachel Dawes character bringing her own nuances to the role and providing more emotional turmoil for Bruce Wayne as he contemplates a life beyond Batman.
With the destruction of Wayne Manor in Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne relocates his Batman HQ to the underground ‘Bat-bunker’ beneath the docks of Gotham’s harbour. Sadly it was goodbye to the Tumbler but hello to the ‘Bat-pod’ and a new modular plated Bat-suit was donned, making Batman’s thrashing of Gotham’s low-life that much more efficient.
The Dark Knight also featured another great score from Zimmer/Newton-Howard (the highlight being the Joker’s theme – evoking the menacing, clowning and mischievous nature of the character) building upon the themes of Batman Begins.
It’s also worth mentioning that as with the key relationships established in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight presented the relationship between Batman and the Joker perfectly with Bruce Wayne being pushed to the limit, all treated as just good fun by his nemesis – knowing that he will never break his one rule of never taking a life.
The Dark Knight continued Christopher Nolan’s mission to present a cinematic Batman in a way never thought possible and is an example of how the source material could be interpreted in a serious, relevant, but still entertaining manner, presented in epic proportions.
HOW DOES ‘THE DARK KNIGHT’ HOLD UP FIVE YEARS ON?
It’s fair to say that much of the focus at the time of The Dark Knight’s release was around the tragic death of Heath Ledger, stoking the curiosity of cinemagoers. Ledger’s unnerving performance as the Joker still captivates just as much as it did on first viewing (fully deserving of that posthumous Academy Award). This really is the main attraction of The Dark Knight and a large part of what makes it a strong and worthy, albeit not superior, sequel. Many will disagree with me and declare The Dark Knight as the best of the series but it was easily improved upon by The Dark Knight Rises in my books.
The Dark Knight has often been cited as transcending the comic book genre and been compared to classic crime thrillers such as The French Connection and Heat which are fair observations. At times The Dark Knight does feel more like those films and with Nolan’s push for realism it does tend to stray a little from its comic book roots. It’s a shame that the CGI/physical set compliment to the Chicago location employed in Batman Begins was not continued in The Dark Knight but despite some loss of the ‘feel’ of Gotham City the visual scale was certainly grander and Wally Pfister’s cinematography remains breath-taking. The film’s striking visuals were aided by the use of high resolution IMAX cameras (the first feature film to do so) which are now being employed by more and more filmmakers (J.J. Abrams shot portions of Star Trek Into Darkness using IMAX and Michael Bay will utilise the new 3D version for Transformers 4). The focus of the story is also centred more on the anarchy of the film’s main villain and the spiralling tragedy of Harvey Dent as he undergoes his transformation from hero to villain.
Despite those minor grumbles this is still an excellent film some repeat viewings later, visually undated thanks to technical foresight (the afore-mentioned IMAX technology is a key example) and enriched by the well-crafted screenplay, epic scale production values and strong cast performances. It is a solid middle chapter with arguably the strongest villain of the trilogy in Ledger’s Joker.
Top three moments of The Dark Knight:
- A group of Joker-masked criminals set about a heist of the Gotham National Bank, each determined to keep the proceeds of the endeavour for themselves by eliminating each other one by one until only one remains – the architect of the whole affair who believes that whatever doesn’t kill you will only make you “stranger”!
- Harvey Dent declares himself as the Batman and is taken into custody before being transported across Gotham in a GCPD van escort. The Joker has already planned to capture Dent but didn’t bet on Batman being one step ahead…
- The interrogation of the Joker ensues, but Jim Gordon may have made a mistake when he decides to let Batman handle it…
Check out the GBUK classic film review of Batman Begins here
Coming to the blog next week: a look back at The Dark Knight Rises