(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: The Dark Knight (2008)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Batman battles the Joker, and while they may be destined to “do this forever” in the comics and other media, it was not meant to be in Nolan’s version of Gotham.
Why It’s on the List: How do you follow up an outstanding origin story? By telling a sequel where you introduce the hero’s most infamous foe and borrow elements of other crime films to make one of the greatest superhero films ever made, a movie that is still being referenced and ripped off 12 years later. This is a movie that was a cultural event and set the stage for superhero films to take over the box office for the next decade (although Marvel took advantage of this much moreso than DC). They even changed the rules for Best Picture by expanding the field since this film didn’t get nominated.
So much has been said about this movie. This is one of those films that is almost more important for the positive and negative influences it had on the industry, but it does deliver performance wise and when it comes to the action scenes. If Nolan could have figured out Rachel Dawes to be an actual character and not just Bruce Wayne’s potential love interest, and also the boat experiment, then this would be a perfect movie. There are some genuinely thrilling moments and the addition of Hans Zimmer adds so much to the proceedings.
A lot of the influence comes from Michael Mann’s Heat, and Nolan manages to top that movie thanks to the Batman IP and the more grounded nature of the performances. Aaron Eckhart works as Harvey Dent because he genuinely seems like the hero Gotham needs and deserves. His turn into Two-Face is inevitable but is written as tragic given that everyone including Bruce Wayne comes to believe in him. Heath Ledger’s turn as Joker is iconic and so well regarded for a reason. Maybe his passing has something to do with that, but you can’t deny how memorable he is. Think of how many Joker impressions have been done since this came out. Even Elmo!
I think a specific scene, one shot in IMAX, really illustrates how special this movie is. It’s when the police are driving Dent underground and we get an epic chase sequence that climaxes with Commissioner Gordon revealing himself to be alive and pointing a gun in the Joker’s face. Other than Captain America being worthy of Thor’s hammer, I’ve never heard a louder crowd pop than for this moment.
*The surveillance stuff sure is interesting in hindsight.
*Rachel Dawes’s fridging is the best example of Christopher Nolan’s embarrassing treatment of female characters.
MVP: Christopher Nolan is again the MVP because of what he did to the Batman franchise. This was an event. Other than a couple of the Avengers movies, nothing else has really topped this. This was an extraordinary piece of filmmaking. Take away the superhero descriptor. Nolan has arguably directed multiple masterpieces this century, and this might be his best work.
Best Performance: It’s only been 12 years, but what else can you say about Heath Ledger’s performance that hasn’t been said already? I was going to make the argument for Aaron Eckhart because I think he’s also very good, but Ledger is completely lost in the Joker character. Anyone who says the character and this movie caused his death is full of crap, but you got a real sense of his talent with how creepy and unsettling he was. I like Jack Nicholson and love Mark Hamill in this role, but they are very different versions. This is a Joker perfectly crafted for Christopher Nolan’s more grounded version of this universe. Ledger deserved his posthumous Oscar, and I can only imagine what his career could have been afterward.
Best Quote: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – Harvey Dent
Is there a sequel? Yes, there is a conclusion to the trilogy
How is it? It’s much better than I think it gets credit for, but it’s a step down and will not make the list. It will likely be on the list of honorable mentions at the very least.
Follow Jerome on Twitter, and check out Reel Bad, The Superhero Pantheon and his new podcast Pantheon Plus.
For podcast reviews of every Batman movie check out The Tape Crusaders.