Often, what you see on a screen when it comes to Hollywood blockbusters is not at all what the initial footage looked like. Whether it’s CGI, practical effects, models, costumes, make-up or any of the other numerous tactics employed to create movie magic, the finished product is almost always enhanced in some manner, especially when it comes to big budget films.
Thankfully, nearly every major blockbuster has its production recorded and documented by photographers and over the years, some truly incredible, exciting and often hilarious behind the scenes photos have made their way online. And so, on that note, join us today as we settle into another edition of our weekly column, where we’ll be exploring Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Not only is this the best superhero movie of all time, but it’s also one of cinema’s greatest accomplishments. When critics consider the best films ever made, a few selections usually bob to the surface: Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Schindler’s List, etc. No one could have imagined that a superhero sequel would ever face off against those titles. And yet, many critics out there, myself included, would nominate Christopher Nolan’s stunning Batman opus to join the ranks of cinema’s greatest.
Why is The Dark Knight so brilliant? Perhaps it’s because, despite initial appearances, the film is not just an endlessly quotable superhero movie. It would be more accurate to call it a sprawling crime saga, for it operates on a far more sophisticated plane than any other comic book adaptation to date.
It’s a weighty meditation on the nature of the antihero and the unending battle between good and evil, society and anarchy, and order and chaos. It works as a blockbuster, to be sure, but The Dark Knight also works on political, moral and philosophical levels. It’s a parable for post-9/11 America and the War on Terror, a simultaneous condemnation and exultation of the vigilante and a dissection of the public defender.
At the center of it all is Heath Ledger’s mad-dog portrayal of the Joker, a terrifying force for chaos so compelling that he’ll haunt your dreams. The actor’s transformative, physically grotesque performance is worthy of every accolade it received. He’s the perfect counterpoint to Christian Bale’s intensely controlled Batman; as the Joker says in one memorable scene, “Kill you? I don’t wanna kill you!… You complete me.” He’s serious, and Ledger sells his conviction with such unnerving gravitas that you’ll immediately believe in the character’s lunacy.
Artistically, it’s unforgettable. Credit Wally Pfister’s haunting cinematography and Nolan’s masterful touch. Gotham City positively teems with corruption, and the shadows on screen are so gorgeously dark and deep that it’s easy to get lost in them. The opening bank robbery is a straightforward work of art, gripping in its creativity and assurance, while the rest of the film is packed with brilliantly shot chases and fight sequences, ones which never neglect the symbolic side of the film’s narrative.
When people look back on the ’00s as a cinematic era, there’s no doubt in my mind that The Dark Knight will be considered the decade’s finest accomplishment. It’s the superhero epic that comic book devotees deserved, as well as the one the genre needed to break out into the mainstream. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece.