The Dark Knight’s Legacy & The Brilliance of Ledger’s Joker

The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s superhero magnum opus. Critically acclaimed and widely renowned as one of the greatest films of this generation; the legacy of this film is everlasting. July 18th marked the 10-year anniversary since its premiere and so for the first time ever, this film was rereleased in a 70mm IMAX format for a limited time. The first time seeing this film in theaters, I was only 13 years old and even then, I knew that this film was a different kind of special. 10 years later, having the opportunity to see it in the breathtaking 70mm format only enhanced every aspect of this film and gave me an evident reminder as to why this film was a cut above the rest.

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For the readers who are unclear about the difference between 70mm and what they are used to seeing, it essentially has to do with the size of the reel used to film. The standard film reel is 35mm, but the double size allows for a larger aspect ratio as well as a much more crisp and detailed image with rich deeper colors. It enhances the viewing experience in every manner, some even comparing the difference between 35mm to 70mm as being similar to DVD and Blu-ray. Getting the chance to watch The Dark Knight in this format elevated the experience to even greater heights. The film starts off in 70mm from the get-go with the entire bank heist scene shown in this mesmerizing format. The scene, like the film itself, was larger than life. The intensity of Hans Zimmer’s score and the breathtaking visuals in 70mm almost made it feel like I was watching the film again for the first time, with a renewed level of excitement and intensity. By having the first scene filmed in 70mm, it does an outstanding job of captivating the audience in from the start, keeping us in awe and wonder of what we were experiencing.

There were a few scenes and many key shots that were in 70mm and they looked absolutely sensational. Most, if not all the shots of Gotham’s skyline were shot in 70mm as well as the entire chase scene, when Joker and henchmen were chasing after Dent while he was in police custody, and the final battle between Joker and Batman on the construction site. One key scene which really showcased the beauty of this film in 70mm was the shot of Bruce standing in the rubble after Rachel’s death. The contrasting colors of the orange-red fire against the blueish hue and deep black of the foreground were amplified by the detail and rich color vibrancy of the 70mm format. There were more scattered scenes and shots in 70mm throughout the film but those key scenes were the ones that really put you in awe of the film’s magnificence. The Dark Knight paved the way for superhero films to be more than just campy fun and showed that they can be some of the most profitable endeavors for a studio to take.

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With a little over a billion dollars at the box office, the success of The Dark Knight took superhero films from their niche market to the mainstream while showing that quality and content didn’t have to be sacrificed along the way. 10 years later, the film is still regarded as the one of the, if not the greatest superhero film of all time. There are a plethora of factors as to why The Dark Knight was met with such a massive success and why its legacy appears to be timeless. Factors such as the visuals, which as I mentioned earlier, were enhanced immensely by the 70mm format, the intense score, and other technical aspects such as the beautiful cinematography are all important points and can be discussed at length. Instead, I will be focusing on more on the performance, brilliant writing, and plot, primarily in terms of the standout character; who many believe to be the key reason on why this film is so memorable, The Joker.

The story juggles between the 3 main protagonists, Bruce, Gordon, and Harvey, and the main antagonist, The Joker. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is legendary and will be one remembered for ages, setting the bar at a level unheard of for this type of role, a bar which in my opinion has yet to be met. But along with his amazing performance we have to take into account how brilliantly written his character, and the film in general was. The Joker is as shown in this film, and believing himself to be, one step ahead of everyone else, and much smarter than he is given credit for. From almost the start of the film we see that he tricks his own henchmen into killing each other during the bank heist, allowing for himself to make off with all of the cash stolen, leaving no loose ends. His next scene, which is subtle, but highly important to his character is the scene where he is negotiating with the mob bosses. For one, not only does he warn them all of Batman’s capabilities, which they scoff at and are later proven wrong, but the key scene is when Gambol tells the Joker that he’s crazy. For that one moment, you can see that The Joker actually becomes uncharacteristically serious with almost dead-eyes staring at Gambol saying, “No I’m not” twice, with even more emphasis the second time, taking it almost as a personal insult.

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The second time we get to see his genius shown is during the interrogation scene between himself and Batman. Aside from the impeccable writing/dialogue which could be a whole article by itself, his brilliance is shown more when he deliberately switches the addresses of both Harvey and Rachel’s locations. The Joker knows that the death of Harvey Dent wouldn’t really serve his true plan well and he was well aware of two factors that I believe causes him to switch them on Batman. The first was exactly what he mentioned to Batman himself, his astonishment on how instinctively Batman was willing throw himself out the window to save Rachel, and second, the very apparent fact that the GCPD wouldn’t be able to save whoever they went after in time. So, to ensure Harvey’s survival as well as his suffering and declension into madness, he switched the addresses knowing that Batman would rush to the aid of Rachel when in reality he was on his way to save Dent, and that the cops would not be able to save Rachel.

Fast forward to the hospital where Joker goes to meet with Harvey, only to deepen the wound and drive Harvey further into madness. He starts off by reasoning with him that he not the one responsible for what Harvey has been through, referring to himself as “a mad dog” doing things for the sake of doing them, with no true goal or purpose. He professes that he is antithesis of Harvey’s true enemy, the mob, Gordon, and their plans, referring to them as “the schemers”. He claims that he’s just an agent of chaos, there to incite anarchy. The irony of the whole scene is the fact that the Joker is there enticing Harvey so things go according to his own plan, destroying the spirit of Gotham and to bring out the ugliness/madness in its people. The line “Do I really look like a guy with a plan” is brilliantly placed in the beginning of the scene for that exact reason. The Joker is aware that his appearance and the way he makes his actions appear to be an act of spontaneity allows people to overlook and underestimate his true genius.

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A few more factors appear towards the end of the film which also add into why The Joker is such a brilliant character in this film, albeit in a subtle way. Firstly, the switching of the hostages with the henchmen was an ingenious way to throw off the police and keep Batman preoccupied for as long as possible. The next one which is a big one, was so brilliantly shot in such a subtle manner, especially after his talk with Harvey. It was the shot of Joker reading off a script while talking to the citizens on the boats. It undeniably gives us the impression that he’s much more calculating and methodical than what he’d like Gotham to believe. It gives us an even greater sense that the actions he takes and have taken were not is not just random insanity and that they are premeditated to an end with some sort of grander scheme in mind.

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To bring everything full circle we come to the end where The Joker has been apprehended but unbeknownst to Batman, he gets the last laugh after all, in regard to Gotham’s White Knight, Harvey Dent. The final scene is what really drives home his speech to Batman during the interrogation scene. Knowing that there’s a good chance Batman will succeed in taking him down, he had Harvey ready as his true “ace in the hole” as he referred to it. With Harvey driven into madness and kidnapping Gordon’s family there was no going back, especially with the police closing in. One way or another, someone would have to answer for the crimes Harvey has committed. After saving Gordon, which resulted in Harvey’s death, Batman was forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. In order to preserve the bit of hope that Harvey had given the city, Bruce put all of Dent’s egregious action upon himself, taking the blame for what Harvey had done. Though the Joker doesn’t win completely he still takes victory in the sense that all 3 of the main protagonists had lost in a way by the end. The Joker proved that Harvey could be brought down into insanity, which in turn resulted in the death of Harvey Dent. Gordon’s family eventually left him after the whole ordeal, with Gordon knowing that he could not tell the truth about what happened that night for the sake of Gotham. Finally, Batman, who like Dent, suffered the loss of Rachel and in the end was outcasted, such as the Joker claimed he would be in the interrogation. Forced to be on the run, Bruce went into exile, hanging up the cowl until the events of Rises. In the end, The Joker was one step ahead of the curve.

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Heath’s legendary performance coupled with the brilliant writing of Christopher Nolan and David Goyer, we got see the performance of a lifetime. This is why I believe The Joker to be the biggest factor in what made this film so memorable. Watching this film in 70mm ten years later, further proved that the magnificence of this film is unwavering and can only be amplified. Every single aspect of this film, from the captivating visuals, Zimmer’s powerful score, its gripping story and especially strong character performances, could each be an achievement on its own. This film revolutionized what a superhero film could be and its influence on the blockbuster landscape can be seen throughout the last decade and into the future. The legacy of The Dark Knight is unquestionable and everlasting.

 

 

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