In 2008, a blockbuster film changed the modern landscape for all of film. A superhero film established that comic book movies were not just a passing fad. Instead, the comics could symbolize the American mythology. They could be taken seriously as art and as culture. One of the greatest performances of the decade took flight, as Heath Ledger defined a storied career with one of his final performances, winning an Oscar for playing The Joker. Christopher Nolan made it clear he was more than just a gimmick director. He established himself as a force to be reckoned with.
Then there was the social commentary it delivered, both prophetic and hopeful. It came around at the perfect moment and understood America at a time of hope and change. It was an America in transition, at once embracing the future, yet signaling the hate that boiled beneath the surface. “The Dark Knight” remains one of the most important films to release in the past decade, and might just be the best film of the century so far.
When I Fell in Love with “The Dark Knight”
The opening scene of the film is a thing of beauty. The bank heist is perfectly timed and delivers perfect exposition. Pulling from the influence of Michael Mann and “Heat,” the sequence unfolds seamlessly. We cut back and forth as the thieves explain the Joker in rat-a-tat dialogue. The image of a man waiting for a van with a clown mask is burned into your mind, a moment that would only gain significance as the scene concludes. It is a perfect plan with the perfect getaway. This scene is among the ten best scenes the crime genre has ever offered and this is how we started the ride.
Most Rewatchable Scene
There are two scenes I couldn’t pick between so let’s go. First up, the Joker’s introduction to the mob. Ledger waltzes into the room with excitement. The pencil gag is always great, but it’s establishment that he is serious remains essential. This scene is Quint’s nails on a chalkboard moment. The Joker tells the mob his price, tells them what’s going to happen if they don’t pay up, and that’ll he’ll do it alone. His warnings ring true and even as he’s threatened he comes back with pithy remarks. The scene is the Joker’s showcase and might be when Ledger won his Oscar.
The second is the interrogation. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object.
Best Scene in the Movie
When Harvey Dent is detained for “being Batman“ and the Joker attempts to kill him remains the best scene of the film. In these moments, Nolan establishes himself as one of the great action directors of his era and with good reason. The sight of firetrucks burning on the Chicago skyline is both poignant and shocking. The visuals are stunning as the semi chases down the police vehicle. The scene maintains the Joker’s humor, from the sizing up of weapons to the “S-laughter” painting on the door. The Semi flip is mesmerizing and remains one of the great special effects of the era.
Finally, Joker and Batman’s showdown on the street remains gripping to this day. Every time I watch, I believe this is the time Batman will take out Joker, saving Harvey and Rachel. Yet Batman’s code binds him to his choice, sealing the fates of all involved.
Why Should You Rewatch “The Dark Knight?”
There are many things about “The Dark Knight” that make it iconic and shiny all these years later. It was a watershed moment for blockbusters, one that we’re still feeling the ripples from in 2018. Nolan forever changed the style of how these films were shot for years. “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Skyfall” and “Blade Runner 2049” are the children of Nolan’s aesthetic. It is as influential today as “Heat” or “Jurassic Park” or “Jaws” was on filmmaking for years after their release. Grittiness and grounding our heroes became burdensome for some characters (DCEU) and liberating for others (“Logan”). We now look for something different in our movies, and “The Dark Knight” is a big reason for that.
What makes “The Dark Knight” continue to stick out was its devotion to a philosophy. In the summer of the year that would elect Obama to his first term, a story about the belief of what we can do for our cities, our towns, our communities made its way into theaters. It was a moment where many believed that we had transcended the ghosts of our past. We had not. We had been in a war for seven years. We had seen privacy and freedom stripped away as technology evolved at a worrisome pace. There are people out in the world that want to hurt others for no reason other than anarchy.
“The Dark Knight” acknowledged these things. Yet despite this, it believed in something bigger. That we can indeed make a difference, even if only for a moment. In 2008, a story about a 70-year-old superhero had spoken to audiences in a profound way. Now, it is one of the great American films ever made.