Movie Review: The Dark Knight (2008) **

In The Dark Knight, a chaotic new villain disrupts the status quo of Gotham’s corrupt underbelly, driving the entire city to the brink of madness. And he does it in a very fashionable purple suit with a green vest.

This movie is, in my esteem, the best of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. The Bat is my favorite caped (anti)hero; I have a very long-lasting, very personal fondness for any and all Batman adaptations. For a few years when these movies came out, I would say that Nolan Bat was my favorite. Nowadays, it simply does not rank.

Obviously The Dark Knight hasn’t changed. I’ve changed. I was twenty-years-old in 2008, and Nolan Bat hit me hard. It hit the culture hard! I was trying to explain to my young teen how the impact of the film was absolutely seismic — which had them raising an eyebrow, because they were so bored by the movie, they almost fell asleep. Sometimes they woke up because I burst out laughing, like when I saw the Batmobile again. Least penisy Batmobile? Yes. But does anyone else think it looks like the fantasy version of a Cybertruck? I bet Bale Bruce would have bought a Cybertruck.

Nolan did a killer job hitting American culture at the right moment. At the time, the idea of all phones being surveillance devices was still kinda science fiction. We were only a few years out from 9/11, the Bush II era was sunsetting, and the discourse around terrorism was intense. Some degree of jingoism was more standard (at least, where I was back then) because of a patriotic desire to cohere against external threats, and I more readily believed in “a hero we need, but don’t deserve.” This version of the Joker is more terrorist-like in his strategies. He is chaotic evil, unpredictable, unknowable, the way that many white Americans regarded our enemies of the time.

It’s striking how much of this feels simultaneously cynical and naive. Do you really think Gotham’s cops would be horrified at Batman brutalizing the Joker in an interrogation room? Highly doubtful.

There’s nothing more 2008 than the limited palette and brutalism. This was an era where we sucked all the color out of movies, ashamed of the excesses of the 90s, and not yet arriving in the nostalgic neons of the later 10s. Really, the whole thing feels ashamed: despite being an *absurdly* gravelly Batman with *ridiculously* militaristic attitudes, the self-seriousness of Nolan Bat is doing the absolute most to distance itself from campy comic book *everything*. Several key characters seem fabricated just so he won’t have to deal with the burden of comic book lore.

In retrospect, it’s laughable. Like a parody of itself. But I can’t deny it hit perfectly at the time! Every good moment in the movie remains constantly memed, even by a generation that hasn’t necessarily sat through the laborious plodding plot of the movie itself. So many quotes have become the blood in our cultural veins. Yet I have reached a point where I feel Nolan Bat is best experienced in memes, plucking out the good bits and leaving behind everything that’s so monotone visually and dynamically.

I guess I’m tired of Nolan’s style nowadays, too. I used to say he was my favorite auteur. Now I’m so frustrated by his muddy dialogue, buried under the rest of the audio, that I can’t even appreciate the way his movies are edited to great scores like a 2.5-hour long cinematic music video. His inability to write a woman with dimension drives me nuts.

The action scenes are still pretty sweet, though.

One other thing that hasn’t changed is how utterly delightful Heath Ledger’s Joker feels. My kid perked up whenever Joker was Jokering around, and I did too. Against the wooden blocky backdrop of Batman, here we got a funny and deliberate and pitch-perfectly sinister Joker. He’s so colorful by comparison. His suit is colorful, his Bugs Bunny-like cross dressing is colorful, and his “yeah, I guess I’ll shoot this guy too” gestures are colorful. As a Millennial, I can’t let mention of Ledger pass without pining for the future career we never got to see from him. I’m still devastated.

I can recognize this movie was so good in its time and also that it’s not good for me in this time. I can imagine lots of people still loving it: great score, solid performances, great action (when you get to it), a very cohesive aesthetic (surely others are still into that). But my definitive Batman these days is absolutely Batman Returns (deliciously goth as it is) and this one left me feeling extremely beige.

(image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

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