Ten years ago, I remember heading to my local cinema with a group of friends to see the second Batman film by Christopher Nolan. I can still remember how excited we were and this weekend I was able to relive the cinematic experience at the Odeon BFI IMAX at London’s Waterloo, which has the title of being the country’s largest cinema screen. For one week only, to mark the film’s 10th anniversary (where on earth has the time gone?!), it has been re-released on selected IMAX screens and it certainly did not disappoint. It therefore seemed appropriate to take this opportunity to reflect on the film, which is just as powerful on the big screen today as it was back in 2008.
Batman was always my favourite superhero when I was younger. I’ve still no idea why and I enjoyed the films of the 90s, but it wasn’t until Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, that I really felt I’d found my perfect portrayal of this character and the dark world of Gotham City.
Having said that, The Dark Knight is so much more than a superhero movie and it is because of the incredibly layered story, its themes and its stunning performances that it has remained one of my top ten films of all time. It’s one of those films that you perhaps went to see expecting it to be one thing and then realised it had so much more depth to it and it may be the second of a trilogy, but it stands firmly as the best of the three and is more than able to be viewed as a standalone film experience.
First, Nolan’s strong script packs so much in to the running time, from Gotham’s courageous, young DA determined to make a stand against the city’s underworld, whose journey takes such a dark and tragic turn, to the crazed terrorising of The Joker, to the emotional pull of Bruce Wayne towards the woman he still loves (this time played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). There are so many twists and turns during the film, that you’re exhausted by the end! It also manages to highlight some interesting social issues, my favourite being our perception of the good and bad of society and who is more deserving of being saved. It certainly speaks volumes that it is the boat of “good” citizens who are very willing to sacrifice the prisoners for the sake of themselves and seemingly only fail because none of them were willing to live with the guilt.
The script also managed to throw in a few shocks, particularly (for me anyway) the death of Rachel Dawes. Knowing Harvey had to survive in order to become Two Face, it was very clever to have Batman come to his rescue by mistake, making her death and both mens’ grief so much more powerful.
The film of course also looks visually stunning and seeing it in IMAX, when it was the first Hollywood film to be shot, in part, using IMAX 15/70 mm cameras and thus changed the role of IMAX in films, only enhanced that spectacle. From the opening shots of Gotham, to Batman gliding across the Hong Kong skyline, to the exhilarating armoured car chase (and that stunning lorry flip!), to simply the intensity of the emotions on display on a larger screen, it’s a film that continues to impress whether your first or 100th viewing. We’ve grown to expect films to look this good over the last decade and owe Nolan a huge debt of gratitude for that.
Then, of course, there are the performances, starting with the obvious. I’d been a fan of Heath Ledger for years and yet this role saw his acting talent step up to a whole new level. His Joker is dark, crazed, yet intelligent and crucially, very funny; frighteningly so in fact, which only makes him more fascinating. This isn’t a man in clown make-up. This is a figure to be feared and Ledger’s nuanced performance, full of tics and creepy mannerisms, is still utterly compelling and deeply chilling. You simply cannot take your eyes off him whenever he is on the screen.
Christian Bale also deserves so much credit for this film (and the trilogy as a whole), as this is not a two-dimensional action superhero role. He conveys the complexities of the man that is both Bruce Wayne and The Dark Knight and finds great depths of emotion throughout, particularly in his scenes with Michael Caine’s sublime Alfred and Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon. Bale not only looks the part physically, but he brings an emotional credibility to the character that hasn’t been matched before or since in my opinion. He isn’t perfect; he’s complex and flawed and you truly care about him.
Caine and Oldman are also incredible assets to the films, bringing weight to such iconic roles, meaning they truly make them their own and both develop a wonderful bond with Bale, one with Bruce Wayne and the other with his alter ego, allowing each to help shape the man he becomes across the trilogy. This second film also includes Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, whose passion and bravery to stand up for all that is just and decent, makes his ultimate fall in to darkness and despair so much more painful to watch. Eckhart plays both “faces” of Dent brilliantly and you certainly feel the depth of his loss following the shocking death of Rachel. It’s a testament to the strength of this film’s cast that I haven’t even mentioned Gyllenhaal or Morgan Freeman yet, both of whom play a vital role in the story.
Also, as well as looking visually stunning on the IMAX screen, this platform showcased the brilliance of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s gorgeous score. It’s so intrinsically woven in to the film that it’s an extra character and remains some of my favourite film music.
Whether you’re someone who, like me, loves this trilogy, or has never watched The Dark Knight before, if you’re able to catch it this week in IMAX, then I cannot recommend the experience strongly enough. I’m very tempted to go back for a second visit!
The Dark Knight is showing in selected IMAX screens (Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco & Toronto in North America and London in the UK) until 30th August 2018. Relive the trailer here: https://youtu.be/UwrOQ2pYDxY