The Dark Knight is possibly the "inflection point" for many comic book fans as it set into motion the consistent evolution of the way superheroes, super villains and comic book characters are portrayed on screen. This post aims to talk about the various themes and subjects introduced by the film to the superhero genre on its 10th anniversary.
The Vindication of Villainy :
Many would remember Dark Knight for multiple reasons but every individual on this planet who has seen the movie will remember it for the way the Late Heath Ledger portrayed The Joker. Its true that Jack Nicholson also portrayed The Joker in "Batman" in 1989 and created an everlasting impression but Heath Ledger bought something unique to the character. The Joker with Ledger is a disruptive fellow and in many ways is like a boot strapped entrepreneur. Be it his lecture on "never doing for free at something you are good at" to fellow Mafia operatives, his sermon to rival gangsters "This Town deserves a better class of criminals", to "Everything Burns"to killing rival gangster Gambol with the story of his scars and ending with "Why so serious", to Harvey Dent's induction into crime with "Introduce some anarchy". The Joker shines bright in the film while his righteous arch enemy Batman/Bruce Wayne in his fleeting Lamborghini and Bat-Gadgets is looked upon as rather "cozy" and a safe player.
Nolan with his carefully strategised screenwriting creates a narrative which does balance the good vs evil duel but makes sure that "evil" under the Joker looks a bit "palatable" and makes The Joker the centre piece of "The Dark Knight" and its treatment. It looks like as if everything was hunky dory until The Joker arrives and disrupts the status quo....For the worst I might add. His seriousness and philosophy clearly overtakes his humour. He is seen as an "agent of chaos", as he uses his gang of street rogues and criminals to orchestrate multi pronged attacks on Gotham City at various levels. The Judiciary, The Executive and The Law and Order are targeted by him. Never before in a motion picture of superheroes, they have shown a Chief Justice being assassinated by a super villain.
But I think the most superior scene in the film is when The Joker recruits Harvey Dent into becoming "Two Face". At that time in 2008, it was possibly a first on celluloid that a super villain initiates and recruits another super villain. Although in comic books, Two-Face has a different origin. In totality, never before being "evil" was never so cool. Villainy is at the centre of the narrative in "The Dark Knight".
The subdued "Batman" :-
It might be noted that Batman as a franchise in the "Pre Nolan Era" existed in a chocolatey avatar of sorts. One look at "Batman", "Batman Returns", "Batman Forever", "Batman and Robin" , and one can see that these films come from another realm of imagination as compared to Nolan's vision. The key to this change was the use of the new version of Batman. Nolan chose Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight" as the source material for penning the screenplay which has an alternate and nuanced version of Batman. Miller's Batman is a departure from the Bob Kane and Bill Finger's Batman. The Dark Knight paints the picture of a psychologically evolved superhero who is far more human and intense than his earlier portrayals. He is at sixes and sevens with his own actions and at the same time learns and moves on. But the most significant thing from Batman which comes out in TDK is his submissive and yet visible love for Rachel. One can see that he reduces completely when he is unable to save Rachel at the end. Also Two Face/ Harvey Dent laments him for his take on being a self proclaimed vigilante. For the first time, Batman has multiple father figures in one film. Alfred Pennyworth played by Michael Caine, Lucius Fox played by Morgan Freeman, his own father Thomas Wayne (in his thoughts) are all guides for the "orphan" Bruce Wayne. In his duel with the Joker, Batman clearly is on the receiving end almost every time. The Joker explains that Batman is similar to him but he has a better cause.
The Love Triangle of The Dark Knight :-
Nolan had skilfully created the love triangle of Rachel Dawes, Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne. Its this triangle which helps the story move forward and create emotions in the story line.
One would remember the love letter sent by Rachel to Bruce before she dies and how Alfred opens it without Bruce's knowledge. Harvey on the other hand had the most dynamic character arc of the film. He graduates from a tireless crusader against crime as District Attorney to the dreaded Two Face. In addition he too loves Rachel. I think Nolan used this triangle to get the attention of the audience away from the superlative Joker and Batman. The perspective of getting an improved actor like Maggie Gyllenhaal over the candy floss Katie Holmes also bought depth to this triangle. Nothing against Holmes, but her oomph overshadowed her intellect in "Batman Begins"....
The Production Design and Score of Hans Zimmer :-
In production design, TDK created new benchmarks in superhero films. The Batpod, the re imagined Batmobile, The city of Gotham ( Toronto in reality), The look and feel of a "Raw Joker", The Batman gadgetry with Lucius Fox, the Wayne manor and the Wayne Enterprises complex were all created with a new perspective. One look at the Gotham of "Batman and Robin" and TDK will tell you how different it is. In fact Nathan Crowley who did the production work went on to create even bigger masterpieces in "Dunkirk", "Interstellar", "The Dark Knight Rises"and more.
I think every Bat-Fan would have listened to Hans Zimmer's score in the TDK. It became a cult classic of sorts with a new album called "The Dark Knight Remixes" featuring global DJ's such as Dick Van Dyke, The Crystal Method producing it. Also Zimmer's indelible contribution to TDK will remain his score for The Joker. The score in many waves opens layer by layer about the mystique of the super villain. In fact, Zimmer creates a shrill noise in its composition of The "Why So Serious" track which is too hard to tolerate at a point. Zimmer and Nolan use this as an opportunity to create the "chaos" and "madness" around The Joker. My personal favourite was "The Dark Knight" track itself which was almost 17 minutes in duration.
In Popular Culture:-
The biggest take home from The Dark Knight comes from its legacy. Not only did it break box office records but it paved the way for the monster success of "The Dark Knight Rises". Also Christopher Nolan is often credited to have given The Batman a large canvas through his trilogy. This means that the conflict of Gotham City is a global conflict as per Nolan's vision. Each incident is larger than life in TDK.
The death of a young Heath Ledger made him immortal after his epic Oscar winning portrayal. Its Ledger who is worshipped by millions across the globe in his role when you see him on T-Shirts, Key Chains, Posters, Mugs, Memes and so on......
Gotham and its diversity :
It can be argued that Gotham is itself a character in the film. Its citizenry not only is in the middle of the war between Batman and The Joker but also has several casualties in the conflict. The overarching mystique of Gotham and its skyscrapers give a befitting canvas for the story of Dark Knight to unravel. Be it the Mayor Of Gotham, Commissioner Gordon, The army of Joker, A Hispanic Mayor, African Americans holding positions of power in Wayne Enterprises and a Chinese operative routing money across the globe, The City of Gotham is a melting pot of various cultures. Batman has himself been portrayed as a crusader for diversity. In "Batman Begins" Bruce is trained at The League Of The Shadows by Ra's Al Ghul who was a trained samurai master. In "The Dark Knight Rises", Bruce takes his solitude at The Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan,India. The moot point here is that The Dark Knight is not an exclusive American story and it portrays universal themes.
FILMI BANIYA VERDICT:
The Dark Knight's success inspired Marvel Studios to build larger than life superhero films. TDK is and always be the most popular Batman film ever made.