It’s a foregone conclusion that ‘The Dark Knight’ is the best comic-book and superhero movie ever made — and it will probably forever remain so. There are at least a dozen of comic-book movies that get made every year and more than hundred have been made since the release of ‘The Dark Knight’, but still no single movie has been able to match the pedigree of Nolan’s film. Have you wondered why?
1. Nolan’s Reimagined Approach
The Dark Knight’s success in shaking the conscience of film-going audience and leaving a mark on their minds is not a mere coincidence. It has a lot to do with Christopher Nolan’s genius — that lies in the way he conceived a deep, intelligent and morally complex story out of a comic-book. By reimagining the approach to make a film based on a comic-book, he proved that superhero films can be thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. And by making a film that carried several underlying themes of chaos, anarchy, order, heroism, morality, he transcended the boundaries of a conventional action film.
2. Complex Exploration of Themes
Noted film critic Roger Ebert had this to say about ‘The Dark Knight’ and its complex exploration of themes:
“Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy. It is not a simplistic tale of good and evil. Batman is good, yes, The Joker is evil, yes. But Batman poses a more complex puzzle than usual: The citizens of Gotham City are in an uproar, calling him a vigilante and blaming him for the deaths of policemen and others. And the Joker is more than a villain. He’s a Mephistopheles whose actions are fiendishly designed to pose moral dilemmas for his enemies.”
3. Heath Ledger’s Joker
It would be imprudent of me, in this piece, to not acknowledge Heath Ledger’s Joker, without whom ‘The Dark Knight’ won’t be the film it is. I know, much of the brilliance in creating a character like Joker is attributed to Heath Ledger’s interpretation and performance. And I agree that Heath Ledger deserves the credit that he got. Having said that, Nolan’s role in creating a villain who’s smart, funny and menacing can’t be denied; because don’t forget that every character first originates on paper. And Nolan (with his brother) wrote Joker before Ledger interpreted it. Also, by allowing the villain to be more smart and powerful than the hero, Nolan put audiences into a moral dilemma: which side to choose, the good or the bad? There, too, lies Nolan’s genius.
4. Dark Yet Commercially Viable
Typically, movies based on comic-books or superheroes are supposed to entertain you — that’s their primary goal. They have a clear commercial agenda: to register as many footfalls as possible and to make loads of money for the studios. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, movie-making is as much an artistic endeavor as it is a commercial enterprise. ‘The Dark Knight’ and Nolan’s genius also lies in the fact that the film was such a big commercial success despite its dark nature.
5. Socio-Culturally Relevant
Finally, Nolan’s genius is also apparent in the amount of conversation and commentary that the film generated. There have been multiple interpretations of the underlying theme and message of ‘The Dark Knight’ (It’s always a good sign when a film is being discussed and commented upon in pop-culture). For example, Mystery writer Andrew Klavan, writing in The Wall Street Journal, compared the extreme measures that Batman takes to fight crime with those U.S. President George W. Bush used in the War on Terror. Klavan claims that, “at some level” The Dark Knight is “a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war.”
On the other hand, reviewing the film in The Sunday Times, Cosmo Landesman reached the opposite conclusion to Klavan, arguing:
“The Dark Knight offers up a lot of moralistic waffle about how we must hug a terrorist – okay, I exaggerate. At its heart, however, is a long and tedious discussion about how individuals and society must never abandon the rule of law in struggling against the forces of lawlessness. In fighting monsters, we must be careful not to become monsters – that sort of thing. The film champions the anti-war coalition’s claim that, in having a war on terror, you create the conditions for more terror. We are shown that innocent people died because of Batman – and he falls for it.“
Even the current U.S. President Barack Obama also had his own take on the film. He used the film to help explain how he understood the role and growth of ISIS:
“There’s a scene in the beginning in which the gang leaders of Gotham are meeting … These are men who had the city divided up. They were thugs, but there was a kind of order. Everyone had his turf. And then the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. ISIS is the Joker. It has the capacity to set the whole region on fire. That’s why we have to fight it.”
To summarize, I think, it would be fair to say that Christopher Nolan, in creating ‘The Dark Knight’, created not just a thrilling piece of action saga, but a film that will be remembered for its complex depiction of the fight between good versus evil, for its memorable villain, for its deft mixing of entertainment and art, and last but not the least, for its influence over pop-culture.