How The Dark Knight legitimized and changed the trajectory of the superhero movie…
I read an article from 2008 in the Los Angeles Times, part of an interview with Christopher Nolan in which he describes his favorite scene from The Dark Knight: the interrogation scene, a pivotal moment in the movie where the conflict between our hero, Batman, and the Joker is defined. Batman, not the man behind the mask but the symbol for order and justice pushes his code to the fringe in his confrontation with his antipode, the Joker, the arbiter of anarchy and chaos.
It’s hard to isolate a single moment from The Dark Knight that specifically stands out; the movie, top to bottom, is masterfully constructed. It is, by all means, the magnum opus of the superhero genre. Reading the article, you gain an understanding of the man behind the camera, the thought and effort and planning, but also the restraint, his ability to let the actors operate and experiment in this artificial setting in an attempt to convey something real, raw. I’m making and objective claim that this is something that sets Nolan apart from the rest of the flock (or many of them), the craftsmanship, a rare ability to manipulate the many moving parts on set.
I’ve always felt—and remain steadfast—that The Dark Knight trilogy sets the standard for superhero films. They balance action with a detailed meticulousness; they at once suspend belief and ground their viewers in guttural reality of Gotham. The series is obsessively referential, giving viewers a holistic view of the Caped Crusader, his fear in Batman Begins, his rage in The Dark Knight, and his humility in The Dark Knight Rises. The series in its entirety is so stitched together, so complete, as if to give a definitive end to cinematic story of The Dark Knight, sending his saga instead back to the page.
Alas, though, here we are: the Joker standalone is officially a go, and Matt Reeves is anxiously waiting to spin the wheels on yet another iteration of the Batman story. In addition, the Academy has created the “popular film prize,” a reckless move to make up for a reckless decision. Back to The Dark Knight: sorry fans of the superhero film, the Academy’s snub of The Dark Knight is the reason a superhero film will never win the big one, the reason we have the popular film prize, because, suffice to say, I’m not sure any superhero film I’ve seen before or since can stand up to The Dark Knight, and awarding anything after the fact would be, simply, quite confusing.
I think you can honestly make the argument that Hollywood lost the public at the 81st Academy Awards. It’s nominees for best picture: Slumdog Millionaire (winner), Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, and The Reader. Not to discredit any of these movies, some were perfectly…serviceable, but to say that The Dark Knight doesn’t belong in the same category, or shouldn’t have won the category is about as dubious a stance that one can take. Seriously, if we were clinking glasses at one of those black-tie-pinky-raising-post-Oscar parties you could easily make the case among the critics that The Dark Knight’s artistic ambitions and the complexity of its characters and story are just as if not more compelling than the movies that were recognized with nominations.
It doesn’t have to be about the awards, the material accolades; to understand how great of a movie The Dark Knight is, simply ask someone, anyone—tap them on the shoulder, step right into their personal space, thpray them with thpit when you thpeak, if you’re talking about The Dark Knight, these annoying offenses will be returned with an enthusiastic eagerness to talk about a movie that made a memory.
My Dark Knight story? We purchased tickets weeks in advance. I ditched a summer league water polo game to go stand in line. In front of us were the GameStop guys. Generally, I can’t speak for the worldwide perspective on GameStop. But in Huntington Beach, these guys were assholes. Walking in with an armful of used games that cost you (your mom, let’s be honest) something north of hundred dollars, you braced yourself to settle for sixteen cents and a smug smile, and, like the pathetic, helpless teenager you were, and because your mom would rather let you eat shit than drive you ten miles across down to Best Buy, you bought whatever you foolishly hoped to exchange for. But it was nice to reconcile on some shared ground, that even those predatory, heartless, bloodsucking GameStoppers (who were undoubtedly just doing their job and didn’t deserve the ire of my teenage pettiness) couldn’t wait to witness the most anticipated movie of the year. The theatre was loud, engaged, and, when it ended, captivated. I think I saw the movie two more times in theaters that summer.
The Dark Knight defined and changed the trajectory of superhero film. It legitimized the genre, and opened the gates for other films of the genre to follow. This hasn’t been without folly, as market forces (yeah, I think we can dumb it down to that) have leveraged consumer demand to produce content at an exhaustible pace. Instead of letting it simmer, DC and Warner Bros has instead pursued a course committed to recreating the success of the Nolan trilogy, to their detriment. Nolan explains this, quite simply, in an article published in Esquire. No doubt, with the inception of Netflix and Amazon as major players in production and content, and the ability the average person has to make a movie using only an iPhone (or Steven Soderbergh), the industry is warping away from the virtues of art, those that complimented the filmmaker’s approach to his process. Personally, I’d like to see Warner Bros and DC ease off the pedal and return to the drawing board, maybe pick up wherever Marvel leaves off, when the demand for superhero films feels a little parched. But, that’s no going to happen, so . . .
I’ll be writing exclusively about current, prior, and future developments in the DC/Warner Bros arena with a perspective filtered through this lens: ever skeptical and always hopeful.