The year 2008 was an establishing year for the superhero movie industry. We saw fan favourites such as ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and the induction of Robert Downey Jr.s’ ‘Iron Man’ into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But to come out of this year was, and still is to this day, one of the most highly acclaimed superhero films of all time, Christopher Nolan’s second addition to his ‘Batman’ trilogy, ‘The Dark Knight’. Following 2005’s ‘Batman Begins’, fans were left excited as the film hinted at the introduction of Batman’s arch-nemesis ‘The Joker’. It was to everyone’s delight then to hear that Nolan was introducing The Joker in the sequel, with the late Heath Ledger taking on the helm of the psychopathic villain.
Set around a year after the events of Batman Begins, the film opens with an amazing close-shot of a mysterious man standing near ‘Gotham National Bank’ with a ‘Bozo’ clown mask in his hand. The camera then pans across others dressed with suits and clown masks and through a few scenes the audience discovers that these clown figures are together robbing the bank. Through stunning wide shots of the city, the robbers infiltrate the bank and slowly kill each other one-by-one to receive a larger payment of the heist. After a bus rams into the bank, the man with the Bozo mask reveals himself to be The Joker (played by Ledger). From this introduction, the film follows ‘Bruce Wayne’ and his alter-ego Batman (Christian Bale) as he struggles with The Joker’s chaos on Gotham City, including his effect on the lives of his closest allies and friends; ‘Harvey Dent’ (Aaron Eckhart), ‘Lieutenant (turned Commissioner) James Gordon’ (Gary Oldman) and his love interest ‘Rachel Dawes’ (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
After becoming comfortable in his role as the Batman alongside the help of his butler ‘Alfred Pennyworth’ (Michael Caine), Bruce is first depicted attempting to disable the crime gangs across Gotham City, which at the start of the film sees him capture ‘Scarecrow’ (Cillian Murphy) and prevent a group of Batman copycat vigilantes from causing harm to themselves. After sustaining serious injuries, Bruce approaches ‘Lucius Fox’ (Morgan Freeman) about getting a new ‘Batsuit’, which sees director Nolan change the classic cowl design to allow better movement of the actor’s head. This little change freed up the movement of Bale and solved an issue that other films, such as Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ (1989), had with a restrictive bat suit.
It was clear from the start that Christopher Nolan’s aim for the Batman trilogy was to create a gritty, realistic Gotham City in which Batman and his adversaries could be interpreted as real-life characters. This sense of realism along with fantastic uses of other themes wonderfully contribute to the film in its intensity, uncertainty, darkness and overall immersion. The audience as such is captivated beyond the film’s excellent story-telling, providing more weight to the characters’ decisions. In particular, Director Nolan was extremely successful in creating an impactful relationship between the film’s protagonist, the order enforcing Batman and his complete opposite The Joker, a madman hellbent on inflicting chaos. Nolan uses the themes of anarchy and turmoil through The Joker to attempt to provoke Batman into breaking his ‘one rule’ – that he should not kill. It is interesting how Nolan has used the themes of chaos and violence to highlight the potential for society to collapse. However Nolan displays that through hardship, Gotham (society) can possess strong character and become selfless and amiable to one another. After the death of Bruce’s friend Rachel, Nolan explores the extremities that Batman goes to capture The Joker and put an end to his havoc. The Joker creates two alternatives for Bruce; does he kill The Joker, or does he capture him through his own means – ultimately marking him a vigilante and an enemy of the authorities. This leads to the crescendo of the film, ending in a wonderful cinematic moment where Commissioner Gordon refers to Batman as “their guardian, The Dark Knight”.
Nolan uses his directing skills to effectively create a film that draws inspiration from the original comic books, but sheds light on a realistic superhero world. The end product depicts a fresh story surrounding anarchy and pain. Through his directing devices, Nolan adds a sense of realism, where unlike other superhero films, his characters are forged through societal moulding, and not by becoming scientific accidents. Director Nolan also utilises the musical genius of Hans Zimmer to create a soundtrack that not only acts as incredible background music, but also aids the actions and emotions of the scene, drawing out an extended response by the audience. An example of this can be found in the final confrontation of The Joker and Batman, where the camera switches between a distressed Batman and a laughing Joker. Through instruments such as the violin, Zimmer manipulates it’s sound to draw out long, sharp notes that represent the conflict in Batman. This musical drone is found throughout the film, where times of tension, frustration or excitement are accompanied by different sounding tones. Method acting also played an important part in Nolan’s film, with Ledger going to extremes to portray the erratic Joker, which clearly paid off in an award winning performance.
There’s no doubt that The Dark Knight is a piece of art. Director Christopher Nolan uses his genius to explore the darker side of Gotham City (society) and the villains that dwell in the shadows. The sense of realism that the film creates is scarily enticing, led by the Oscar winning performance actor, Heath Ledger. Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker was groundbreaking for the industry, and has since inspired the creation of more grounded villains in modern day films. Nolan’s exploration into chaos, character, and choice, along with the inclusion of a masterful soundtrack, courtesy of Hans Zimmer, firmly places The Dark Knight in the library of Classic Films.
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