There is little that can be said, in terms of praise, when it comes to The Dark Knight that hasn't been said already. Despite that, I recently revisited Christopher Nolan's masterpiece in honor of its 10th anniversary to see what I could come up with anyway. To start, this movie hasn't aged a day in an entire decade and it quite simply gets better every single time I watch it. This time, I was lucky enough to see it at an anniversary screening on a massive outdoor screen with pyrotechnics and other fancy business such as that built into the presentation. As cool as that may have been, there is little that can be done to improve upon perfection.
Before digging in, I have to admit up top that I've never been a big DC fan, always more of a Marvel guy. Further, Batman has always been one of my least favorite heroes. I didn't even watch Batman Begins when it came out despite the hype. I just couldn't bring myself to care. But then that trailer arrived. The first time I saw the trailer for The Dark Knight, just the trailer, I was floored. I cared not that this movie centered on the Caped Crusader. I needed to mainline this thing asap. Amongst all of the hardcore Batman fans, I was at the first midnight screening I could get into and this instantly became one of my favorite movies of all time.
Beyond my personal feelings, I think it's fair to argue that The Dark Knight is, without equal, the best comic book movie ever made. I hesitate to call it a superhero movie, really. At its core, this is a brilliantly directed crime drama, one of the best ever, that just so happens to have Batman in it sometimes. In that sense, there may be better movies when focusing strictly on the idea of a superhero, or superheroes, but as a movie, just in terms of quality and impact, what Christopher Nolan did here is unmatched in the last decade and I would be shocked if anything ever manages to top it.
From the first five minutes, with that brilliant and unforgettable cold open, something that feels like it was ripped right out of Michael Mann's mind and placed in the heart of Gotham City, this movie establishes itself as something like we've never seen before. In the decade since, gritty reboots have become common practice, but The Dark Knight is largely to thank for that. The first handful of minutes, right up until The Joker unmasks himself in what might be one of the best character introductions in cinema history, it's kind of shocking. One might have thought, "This is a Batman movie?" Indeed, it is.
I think one thing that sort of gets lost in the shuffle when talking about this movie is the stunning ensemble cast. Understandably so, Heath Ledger tends to draw the lion's share of praise and dominates most conversations about this movie. This time around though, I really took note of the just staggeringly stacked lineup of actors that populate the cast from top to bottom. It's one of the most obvious things to say, but we have Michael Caine as Alfred and Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon. How crazy is that? It's maybe easy to take for granted now, but those are two stupendous actors taking these roles very seriously. Elsewhere, perhaps in less appreciated roles, we've got Chin Han as Lau, Eric Roberts as Maroni and Michael Jai White as Gamble. Heck, Nolan even snuck Anthony Michael Hall into this thing. Stacked.
To single out someone quickly, I feel like Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, and for a brief time Two-Face, is unfairly looked over. Again, Heath Ledger delivers one for the ages here, so it's easy to understand why, but still. Eckhart is downright fantastic in this role and his transition is like ripping off a band-aid with a death wish. It's quick and brutal. He sells both sides of that coin beautifully. His performance, in my mind, is maybe the most underrated element of this movie.
Another thing that I'm not sure is given much is how this movie actually makes a case that Christopher Nolan should definitely direct a horror movie someday. Seeing this with a crowd again, I was reminded that it has one of the best jump scares ever. When the dead, fake Batman plows into the window of the Mayor's office, people nearly fell out of their chairs. It's so unexpected and an expertly crafted moment. There's also the funeral scene in the streets when Gordon fakes his death. We don't know that at the time though. The way Nolan turns that into a straight-up ground-level look at what would be domestic terrorism is horrifying. The shot when Harvey Dent is walking up to the ambulance and gunshots periodically are exploding in the background, resulting in everyone hopelessly ducking for cover. That's scary.
I won't drone on about Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker. Much smarter men than I have broken down that performance in every way possible. It's one of the best displays of pure acting I've ever seen. It will always be remembered for its brilliance and bravery. I will, however, give tremendous credit to Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan for writing the character in such a way. I'll add that Ledger earned that Oscar. The Academy didn't give him that statue because he tragically passed away too soon. He earned that thing two times over. Watching this now, the final shot of him dangling upside down waxing philosophically about the nature of his relationship to Batman, if it had to be the final thing we ever saw from that character, it's a fitting end.
If I absolutely must knock something, it's the Batman voice. Christian Bale is one of the best actors working today and he obviously does a fine job outside of the suit and a very serviceable one in the suit. But if there is one element of this movie that has aged very poorly it's that ridiculous, often mocked (rightfully), gravelly voice. It's so out of place and really comes close to taking you out of the movie. But that's a very, very minor gripe, all things considered. One last interesting thing to note. This movie doesn't remind us that Bruce Wayne's parents are dead, there's no Wayne Manor, not a ton of typical Batman gadgets. Gadgets, yes, but not typical. Strangely, the movie with the least of the typical Batman stuff is the best Batman movie ever. Something to think about.
I'll end with a quick thought on what this movie did for the future. It was both a great gift and a curse for the future of DC movies. For the decade since, Warner Bros. has been chasing the dragon that is The Dark Knight. The movie's success made DC a priority for the studio. However, they also wanted to do what Marvel Studios had started doing with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, they quickly cobbled together an interconnected universe that largely hasn't worked, despite the fact that many DC fans like what has been done. It's at the very least divisive. If there's one lesson that can be learned from The Dark Knight now, it's that Warner Bros. should focus much more on individual character stories within the DC universe moving forward. That aside, if I had to suffer another decade of bad DC movies just so I could have this one, I'd happily make that deal.