The Dark Knight: A Retrospective / by Sherwin Claridge


It is difficult to think back to what the cinematic landscape of superhero movies looked like before The Dark Knight was released in July, 2008. At the time we, as the movie going public, had seen exceptional movies such as X-Men 2, Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins, many great movies but yet to reach the heights of what The Dark Knight was about to accomplish.

Spoilers ahead…

The Dark Knight stars Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman. Christopher Nolan directs with a screenplay penned by himself and brother Jonathan Nolan.

Set a year after Batman Begins the story evolves from a plot conceived by Batman, Lieutenant Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent to take down the mob by going after their most valued possession - their money. This in turn attracts the attention of criminal mastermind and an anarchic menace only known as The Joker and thus chaos ensues in the streets of Gotham.

“…Because you were the best of us!”
- Batman

The pace in which this film plays out is enthralling. It unfolds like an investigative thriller with carefully interwoven plot points that always move at a relentless speed. A lot happens in this movie with huge character arcs such as Bruce Wayne and Dent’s demise and the conclusion of Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes’ relationship, hence its 152 minute runtime.

Notable set pieces include the car chase sequence where The Joker pursues Harvey Dent’s police caravan leaving a trail of motorised devastation. Nolan completes that sequence by not only flipping an 18-wheeler truck but more importantly The Joker is captured by a not-so-dead Jim Gordon. However, my personal favourite is the Batman in Hong Kong sequence. From the breathtaking opening shot of Batman gliding off the edge of that building and smashing through the window to the awe-inspiring sky hook moment I held my breath.

Also, The Joker’s lack of morals, compassion and understanding perfectly counterweight Batman’s ideals and beliefs and makes for a tense and thrilling watch as these two DC juggernauts go head to head. One of the wisest things the writers ever did happened in Batman Begins – saving arch nemesis The Joker for the sequel. Begins managed to successfully introduce Bruce Wayne/Batman and his origins into a dark and realistic world in which we could be wholly invested in. The Dark Knight fittingly improves tenfold on its predecessor’s foundations.

“This is what happens when an unstoppable force…meets an immovable object.”
- The Joker

Above all else, after several viewings I was still discovering subtle story points and peeling back the layers of plot The Dark Knight had to offer. As a viewer I had been given the respect by the writers of finding out these plot points on my own rather than having the story given to me on a plate.

To go into specifics, I remember realising that Harvey Dent’s coin at the start of the film is a double headed coin. He comments during the court room scene that: “I make my own luck” because he knows by choosing heads he will win. Later, Dent narrowly misses death from the bomb The Joker detonates scorching one side of his coin. Not only does this notify the viewer this is the moment the coin is converted into heads and tails but also a change in Dent’s physical form, beliefs and motivations.

In the interrogation room scene, The Joker tells Batman the locations of hostages Harvey and Rachel but sinisterly switches them forcing Batman to the wrong address. Even though Batman wanted to save Rachel he inevitably ends up freeing Harvey and leaving the cops cruelly unable to rescue his one true love. The emotion this triggers is unrelenting.

“I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
- The Joker

The Dark Knight grossed over a billion dollars at the box office, uniquely won Heath Ledger Best Supporting Actor at that year’s Oscars and currently sits comfortably at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. To put quite simply, The Dark Knight set the precedent for comic book movies to follow even until now.

Scroll forward to 2014 and we are in a time where even The Dark Knight’s sequel The Dark Knight Rises could not quite reach the same cinematic accomplishment as its predecessor – a film, however, which is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy laced with amazing action but disappointingly riddled with a misstep too many.

The Dark Knight is littered with little gems such as the ones I have mentioned above and is a great example of when screen writing, direction, action, acting and story cohesively harmonise.