Classic Movie Vault Number 1: The Dark Knight

The film that made superhero blockbusters more than just that.

SPOILER ALERT (For those of you still living in 2008)

The Dark Knight. The title alone is enough to send comic and film fans alike into a frenzy. If you haven’t seen The Dark Knight yet, do yourself a favor and go watch it (also, where have you been?).

From start to finish, the film is excellent. The opening bank robbery scene is one of the best introductions to a movie ever. No one who’s seen the movie will ever forget the first time Heath Ledger’s Joker takes off his mask and reveals a twisted, cynical take on the character. One of the things that makes the film equally appealing to the always hard-to-please comic fans is the new take on characters and a world that has been around since the late 30’s.

Everyone in the movie gives a great performance. Outside of Ledger, Christian Bale and Michael Caine prove throughout the two-and-a-half-hour runtime why they’re the best Bruce Wayne/Alfred combo put on screen. Bale also moonlights as an amazing Batman, taking up the mantle as the world’s greatest detective, playing a smart Batman who is strong in will despite being pushed to the breaking point on multiple fronts. The British actor isn’t the only character that has to portray two roles on screen – Aaron Eckhart plays both sides of the coin of Harvey Dent and Two-Face perfectly – doing a complete 360 in his performance halfway through the movie. Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon; what else is there to say? Perfect isn’t a word that I like to use with anything, but there are about four or five performances in The Dark Knight that warrant the word.

Director Christopher Nolan utilized his actors to perfection, and created some of the most memorable dialogue-filled scenes of all time. Simple scenes like the interaction between Dent, Batman, and Gordon on the GCPD rooftop are reminiscent of The Long Halloween, many Batman fans’ favorite comic, and while that is great for fans, the interrogation scene (you know the one) and the final confrontation between Two-Face, Gordon, and Batman are examples of how well Nolan infuses dialogue into intense situations, letting the drama build for an eventual set-off.

After the film, Nolan was propelled into stardom as a director, and for good reason. The director balanced a three-story plotline, cutting back and forth between three different arcs throughout the movie to make it flow when it would otherwise be boring. The screen never settles in on one character for too long, but also never jumps too quick. Despite the rapid pacing from the start, nothing in the movie feels rushed or unnatural. There is always a build from scene-to-scene that makes it easy to watch and understand.

The Dark Knight was also given the budget to fulfill many of Nolan’s demands for action scenes. Utilizing practical effects, the car chase sequence downs a helicopter and flips an 18-wheeler on its head, going from a great chase scene to a complete spectacle of how to direct action with practical effects. In the process, Nolan managed to break one of the four IMAX cameras in the world at the time, adding an extra half-million onto their budget. To kick off the third act of the film, the Joker blows up an entire hospital (yes, it’s a real explosion). The film never backs down from a sequence that is seemingly impossible, adding a cherry on top of its wonderful plot.

So what makes the 2008 blockbuster a classic? The already mentioned lead performances are jaw-dropping, but side characters like Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, Chinese actor Chin Han’s Lau, and mobster Sal Maroni (Eric Roberts) make sure to push the plot forward. Even when there’s a side character on the screen, the movie is just as interesting as it is with a main – speaking volumes of all performances and a well-written script. The script is more than just good dialogue and character moments – it moves. Scenes transition well and each sequence builds off the last, eventually coming to a head in a final showdown for the ages. The camerawork is solid throughout, Nolan is excellent at crafting tension, and the performances by Ledger, Oldman, Bale, and Eckhart (and others) are all Oscar-worthy.