‘The Dark Knight (2008)’- Throwback Review: Christopher Nolan’s Ultimate Masterpiece

Genres tend to shift things into perspective to see if they can satisfy the audience with what can come in store. Sure, some of the most popular ones have been 2000’s X-Men or either the first two Spider-Man films from Sam Raimi in the early years of the superhero movies. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2008 that made it happen. We already had Iron Man at the beginning, which was an unexpected blast,  but it was Christopher Nolan’s epic masterpiece The Dark Knight that was a massive game-changer for the entire comic book genre. And the conversations about a sequel that was better than its predecessor, this is the right answer when compared to everything that has come out.

What the Story: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is continuing to stop crime in the city of Gotham under his alter ego Batman. But once the city is at the rise of terror when a criminal mastermind known as The Joker (Heath Ledger) is causing chaos throughout the city, Batman forms an alliance with Police Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to get rid of all the crime in the city for good.

Christian Bale in The Dark Knight (2008)

2005’s Batman Begins gave us a new interpretation of the character that was much darker than the previous films combined, a reboot we all deserved. And it ended with Batman holding a Joker card, indicating who’s going to be in the follow-up. Now, I’m ashamed to say I missed it in theaters, so this was the very first Batman movie I saw in theaters. The excitement for the film was pretty high with its fantastic marketing and amazing trailers, especially when they released the new second trailer in front of I Am Legend. Knowing it was going to be attached to the film, I was blown away when it gave us our first real of Joker, I became happy and hated the fact that I had to wait until July to see it. I didn’t even see it on opening day; I was out of town on vacation, coming back from a family reunion in North Carolina. But I still saw it opening weekend with my mom, sister, and cousin, and I remembered the theater being packed. And once it ended and everybody applauded, The Dark Knight was a cinematic experience that can never be forgotten. And every time I watch it, it’s a glorious reminder of why movies are my passion. 

The story that’s unfolding in Gotham is people are seeing Batman as a vigilante rather than the hero to the city to where he wants to rid the city of criminals while Dent is trying to do the same thing in keeping the city safe and sound in the way he sees it. Especially when Dent puts every criminal in the mob behind bars and Bruce wants him to be the hero the city deserves more. But as we see Joker ensues chaos, the more people are getting killed because of him.

What I love about Christopher Nolan’s direction with this sequel is that it breaths even more light into the hero we haven’t seen before. This entire film was proof positive he was a genius filmmaker everybody was going to pay close attention to whenever it comes up next. He took inspiration from the Batman comic The Killing Joke and The Long Halloween for the story, and it shows that he knows he’s going to do the second installment right for the fans. For what he did with the direction and script he wrote with his brother Jonathan, it keeps you in suspense and takes turns that are unexpected at the edge of your seat to places we haven’t gone through before.

Why this raised a high bar for me is because this changed my perspective on cinema. This might’ve been the first film where I was unaware of how unpredictable everything came to be within the storytelling. There’s never a moment with each passing scene where I know what will happen, and it’s like adrenaline pumping through your veins, even with there isn’t any action happening on screen. Nolan and his team had an idea for world-building in this with its environment and characters to be attached to throughout. And it paints a clear, beautiful picture that was grounded in reality.

My favorite actor to play the title character in live-action has always been Christian Bale since I grew up with him, and he continues to provide another terrific performance as the Caped Crusader once again. Does the voice bother me? It never did, to begin with, so what’s there to complain. This was a much more mature presence here than Batman Begins. There’s still this struggle laid upon Bruce to where he needs to be Batman to save his city and the guy who wants to be with Rachel but couldn’t.

However, there has always been this saying about how your story is only as good as your villain. Do I believe that’s true? Absolutely. There’s no point in getting a fantastic film if your villain isn’t memorable. Still, probably the greatest performance I’ve ever seen to this day comes from Heath Ledger as The Joker. That is what you call acting. Before this, the Australian actor was recognizable, but when they announced he would play the iconic Batman villain, not everybody was excited about this casting choice since he was still known as the guy from Brokeback Mountain or A Knight’s Tale, almost in the similar vein to how Michael Keaton was when he was cast as Batman. But it was a performance that proved every single person wrong for doubting him. This portrayal of the Joker was one where he disappeared, and I honestly thought I was watching an actual crazy person dressed as a clown. Even a decade after his sad, unexpected death from a drug overdose in early 2008, you can’t picture anyone else for this one film, proving to give the best performances of the year. Because of that, he respectfully earned a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and a well-deserved win.

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)

Here is a character who wasn’t used right away with the previous entry, but saves it for later. He’s the one villain where he’s given two introductions that are too impossible to forget: The opening sequences of him and his crew robbing the bank, and later when he crashes the mob’s meeting to show what to really expect from him. But with the magic trick with the pencil shows or when he put the knife into Gambel’s mouth, telling him how he got his scars, it’s a clear sign he isn’t messing around. Much like Darth Vader from Star Wars, you couldn’t wait for him to come back on the screen to see what he can do to be more menacing.

This film’s version of The Joker is vastly different from Jack Nicholson’s portrayal or with Joaquin Phoenix with his amazing performance a decade later, as The Joker viewed here is an anarchist sociopath who wants to watch Gotham and the world burn to the ground, but you understand the points he’s making as to why he’s doing these things, putting lives in danger. 

For someone who doesn’t feel like Eckhart is given a lot of excellent roles to work with, this is the best in his career. His performance as Harvey Dent/ Two-Face was an unexpected turn to the story I never thought was going to work. Joker planned to turn Dent, the “White Knight” of Gotham, into this criminal after half his face was burned up (amazing visual effects and makeup work). You would think to add a second villain would bog down the story, but I thought it worked when it’s that swift from good to bad with the flip of a coin. We also needed a great redemption for the character on the big screen after Tommy Lee Jones’ embarrassing performance from Batman Forever. This was also the first time I ever really noticed Eckhart, and he’s another big standout in the film. 

Christian Bale and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)

After watching it multiple times, I completely forgot how great the rest of the supporting cast was. Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon gave it his best in here than the rest of the franchise combined. Michael Caine as Alfred never disappoints with anything he’s given. Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox is always a delight to see in these films, with his scenes with Bale is always a treat, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes was a MUCH better replace for Katie Holmes.

Every single frame of the action sequences is never, ever dull whenever it needs to include some excitement. Even though I didn’t catch this in IMAX, all the action that Nolan directs and shot by his frequent cinematographer Wally Pfister in every film from his is the literal definition of exciting. From the Heat-inspired bank robbery in the opening sequence to the heart-pounding chase through Gotham will always have my jaw-dropping whenever I watch it. The semi flip was shown in the trailer, and it was unreal to see, but on the big screen, it was incredible knowing it was done practically and not CGI. And though the interrogation scene isn’t an action scene, that is some captivating moment between Batman and Joker, because the latter explains how both of them are similar. One of the best scenes in the entire film is when he blew up the hospital and walked away with the building exploding behind it, and when it stopped, Ledger improvised that moment by hitting the detonator.

Even though this is labeled as a superhero movie, we can also categorize this as a crime drama mixed in together. As for problems, there aren’t any. I honestly consider this a flawless superhero movie that’s unique in every way. With this and Inception two years later, Nolan will put out a film, and I will be anticipating it like the next coming of Christ. To me, I saw him as the next Steven Spielberg in my eyes. This was a theater experience I’ve always remembered since it was the first time where I was part of an audience where the energy was felt within with every moment, and we clapped when it ended. It might be cheesy to do that now, but when you witness a fast-paced epic, every applause is warranted. 

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)

And after all these years, it’s a massive shame this didn’t get nominated for Best Picture and Best Director for that year, respectively. I didn’t watch the Oscars at that time, but years later, it’s still considered one of the biggest Oscar snubs since it was the year’s best-reviewed film and the best success at the box office should’ve been the case. If you ask me, it’s better than the five movies nominated in the category. But it’s because of that snub that made the Academy expand the top category to ten possible films, though it’s never agreed with everyone on what gets nominated. However, it still earned eight nominations and won two: Best Supporting Actor Ledger and Sound Editing. It’s a good thing other films like this paved the way to see them be more respected for the Academy.

Ever since I saw this, it has never left my top five list for movies I can go back to without having minor problems with. Yes, it’s considered cliche to consider this the best Batman movie, but it shouldn’t be predictable. Similar to the other movies that have made me who I am today with my love for anything cinema for the years, much of the appreciation goes to Nolan for bringing this sequel to life. I can’t comprehend how one simply doesn’t love this.

In the end, The Dark Knight is not only the greatest comic book movie of all time, but it’s also one of my favorite movies of all time. A true cinematic classic that still hasn’t been outdone by anything afterward, especially with every other movie released later on came very close. It’s going to be impossible for another movie that can even compare to what we had for over a decade that holds up years later. When you have a smart, unpredictable, wildly ambitious, and thrilling film come through life with its storytelling, characters, and action, it hits home in the most passionate way imaginable. 

Grade: A+

The Dark Knight Movie Poster

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