To cobble together thoughts on The Dark Knight over a decade after its release is to look more at its legacy and impact on filmmaking than on any specific part. Many an amicable discussion may come from the longevity of such a piece, whether on the topic of Christopher Nolan’s stunning direction or the blurring of action, thriller and detective genres. Those are effective, but The Dark Knight can work best as an understanding of comic book villains. It sets the bar high for those that wish to replicate these heroes and horror stories for later iterations. It holds a legacy that is known by many, mainly the tragic brilliance of Heath Ledger. But to look beyond that for a moment, there are performances here that outshine the craft he presents, moments that provide subtlety, unnoticed in the face of the best-remembered scenes and quotable moments.
What should be noted of The Dark Knight is that it is one of the few superhero films to transcend the usual, decades-old tropes. An opening sequence engages with the heist thrillers of the 20th century, the fast-paced hit of adrenalin and the double-crossing of villains cements the manic, rapid attitude of their instability. Picking off allies as well as enemies marks Ledger’s Joker as a force for his friends and foes to reckon with. It is here in these early scenes too that we understand the impact of Batman Begins, with the vigilante justice now extending to copycat performers, clad in armour and costumes similar to that of the caped crusader. “Will the real Batman please stand up”, Joker taunts with a pop-culture reference. This would have been much less effective if it weren’t for those vigilantes at the beginning, they are key to discerning the relation Batman has not as a character, but as an image of justice in Nolan’s dark streets of Gotham.
Christian Bale dons not just the cowl and cape, but the plot armour necessary to bring out the better moments in The Dark Knight. Wounds in the line of duty are showcased well, the scars and bruises are there, but never seem to deter or defect his work. He is marked with his past antics, but his performance in fighting never shows signs of these sombre, wounded moments. A shame, too, it could have added much to the fractured state and inevitable dynamic between the Wayne and Batman split. Here there is the potential to contrast this alter-ego with that of the forced change of Harvey Dent.
It is Aaron Eckhart who steals the show, and his impact in the role of Harvey Dent is notable for its slow descent, rather than sudden exposure to madness. Compelling the command Joker may have, it is the just and good beginnings Dent has that soon erode into madness that engages with me more than Ledger. Eckhart presents the quirks and intricacies, the heads or tails shtick, his creative flavour appears early in the way he files his court proceedings and emboldened masculinity in the face of danger. His response to having a gun pointed at him is not to cower or cry but to grab and dismantle. These moments are a treat, it showcases his representation as the typical American hero, and how crucial it is at protecting that image in times of desperate need. His white teeth, red rage and blue eyes make Eckhart’s morph into a deranged lunatic missing half a face all the more susceptible to justifying his own intentions, avenging the death of his loved one.
Nolan is not able to perfect the craft, and even the strongest of superhero flicks have weak scenes. Here, it is the detective work that lets it down. While Batman may hold the title of World’s Greatest Detective, Nolan does not. That much shows in the scriptwriting, and the impact Father Time has had on some of the more quotable lines has eroded their effect. Inevitable, and thankfully does not hamper the broad, well-rounded tone and effective style Nolan utilises. Some men do want to watch the world burn, and, as much as that line has been overquoted, it does ring true for The Dark Knight.