15 Years Later: 'The Dark Knight' took Superhero Movies to a New Height | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

15 Years Later: ‘The Dark Knight’ took Superhero Movies to a New Height

Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight, the middle film in the director’s trilogy of Batman movies, remains the best film of those three, the best Batman movie of all time, and the best film that Nolan has ever directed. Released 15 years ago this week — in the mid-July slot usually reserved for Nolan’s movies, including the upcoming Oppenheimer — The Dark Knight best brought together the elements of that filmmaker’s approach to superheroes. 

It’s not the best superhero movie of all time — I reserve that honor for Sam Raimi’s 2004 Spider-man 2 — but it’s near the top tier, and is the superior of every superhero film that’s arrived since, including almost the entirety of the MCU, which began in earnest two months earlier with the arrival of the first Iron Man. And much as I appreciate Tim Burton’s Batman movies, Nolan did it much better than Burton (or Joel Schumacher), or Zack Snyder or Todd Phillips, or Matt Reeves would. Everything DC has done in the last 15 years, to one degree or another, has been chasing The Dark Knight

Heat in Gotham

The Dark Knight is based on a hell of an idea: A crime drama, in the tradition of Michael Mann’s Heat, set in the Batman universe. It was shot in downtown Chicago and makes no attempt to hide that fact, and it makes some of cinema’s best use of those city’s streets. And it’s all accompanied by Hans Zimmer‘s pulsating score. 

It also made the fantastic decision to cast Heath Ledger, as the best movie Joker of them all. Ledger, who died one early 2018, won an Oscar for his performance. 

Ledger isn’t just the best Joker — he’s one of the best movie villains ever. He’s more a terrorist than a comic book villain, dedicated to bringing out the worst in Gotham, first by taking over the criminal underworld and then injecting all sorts of chaos, from killing Bruce Wayne’s flame Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), to executing a Trolley Problem with two ferry boats on the Chicago (Gotham) River:

The film also features the compelling arc of district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhardt, never better), introduced as a white knight prosecutor who’s so good at what he does that Bruce Wayne/Batman contemplates retirement, even as that would allow Rachel to leave Dent for him. But of course, the Joker gets in the way of those plans, leading to Dent’s sad descent into vigilante villainy. 

Heavyweight Cast

There’s just great acting all the way down. Christian Bale was always understated as Batman but played the role so much better than some of the bigger names who were cast in the part over the years. Heavyweights like Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman play up to their reputations, as do the likes of Nestor Carbonell. I’ve always loved the brief performance, in the ferry sequence, by Tommy “Tiny” Lister – known to wrestling fans as Zeus: 

And The Dark Knight takes a huge risk with its ending, allowing Batman to take the blame for the chaos, and allow the deceased Dent to (falsely) remain a hero in the public eye. Also, The Joker’s fate is left ambiguous, although Ledger’s death prevented that version of the Joker from ever resurfacing. 

Both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises have their high points, but neither compares to the best of The Dark Knight. 

The Dark Knight is streaming on Max.

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

My Cart Close (×)

Your cart is empty
Browse Shop


Don't miss out on weekly new content and exclusive deals