It must have been very tempting for Nolan to return to a franchise that he made his name on. The demand was high, the money was available, and Nolan now had the punch of majority control on any movie he wanted to make. But as always, if Nolan were to return to Gotham it would be by his own rules; he was about to reintroduce the concept of an intelligent blockbuster.
Following the ‘rest bite’ of The Prestige, he had renewed vigor and a fresh palette of ideas for Bruce Wayne and company. The premise of The Dark Knight is simple; how do you nourish the idea of character study established in the first film? The answer was self-evident; you destroy everything. With chaos being the central theme of The Dark Knight, Nolan was now in full swing of creating a huge spectacle. But with The Dark Knight, he put emphasis on the action being reflective of the characters it involved, every nuance of destruction helps to flesh out those implicated. Aside from looking downright awesome, one cannot help but notice that the flipping truck denotes desperation (a last ditch attempt of an “immovable object” stopping an “unstoppable force”). The Hong Kong siege illustrates the unwavering determination and resourcefulness of Bruce Wayne, as does the “clowns are the hostages” sonar assault. Then you have the opening bank job…but more on that later.
In terms of motifs, the usual Nolan suspects are all present and accounted for in The Dark Knight, with some of the lesser used ones taking a more prominent place; most notably betrayal. The relationship developed between Bruce and Rachel is amped up and given new life by a stronger actress (Maggie Gyllenhaal), then crow barred into relevance by the involvement of Harvey Dent. Once again, its Rachel’s existence in The Dark Knight that proves key to the creation of Two-Face, and the near downfall of Batman. Another prominent Nolan-esque feature is the Insomnia-style tinkering of conventions established by prior Batman films – the drawing of Batman from the shadows into daylight. He uses the jarring imagery of Batman in brightly lit rooms to show a stark difference in the villainy of the Joker. The fear that Batman utilizes from moving in darkness is stripped from him by a pressing need to be more of an out and out force for good against the one man in Gotham who doesn’t feel trepidation.
Many critics have taken umbrage at the dense plot and assumptive dialogue of the film, but if anything, it shows that Nolan is unwilling to present films for the sake of entertainment. He does, of course, want people to enjoy his films, but he also wants to make them resonate, to be worth revisiting; and we all know that with a film as detailed as The Dark Knight every viewing experience is as fresh and rewarding as the last.
Stand Out Moment:
There are so many excellent scenes within The Dark Knight, and it is hard to cherry pick just one. However, this scene is first out of the gate, and as a result becomes the most haunting. Remember that whole monologue I delivered earlier about Nolan providing inspired entrances for major characters? Well imagine seeing this sequence for the first time in glorious IMAX.
Sweeping in to a bright, sunny Gotham, a window suddenly shatters. Two men in masks fire a high-tension cable from the opening to a nearby rooftop, they hook on and descend. Meanwhile, an unidentified man stands quietly at a street corner; clown mask in hand. A car approaches and he gets in. The men attend a nearby bank and gracefully start to rob it. One by one, the robbers begin to kill each other, eventually leaving two under fire from a bank manager. The man from the street shoots him in the leg, shortly followed by the last male from the vault figuring out the scheme, “he asked you to kill me, didn’t he?” The man from the street responds, “no, no, no. I kill the bus driver.” A moment of confusion, “bus driver? What bus….” Suddenly a large yellow school bus comes ripping through the wall, hitting the robber with full force. After loading the bus with the money, the man from the street kills the bus driver (as promised). He approaches the bleeding bank manager, who is running his mouth about criminals with ethics; “What do you believe in!?” The man from the street approaches him, he puts a grenade in his mouth and says; “I believe that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you…” He lifts of his clown mask to uncover a face much more gruesome than we could have imagined, The Joker has arrived. He smiles and finishes his sentence, “…stranger.”
What an iconic way to introduce such an iconic character. This would prove to be Heath Ledger’s last and greatest performance, and would cement The Dark Knight’s legacy as the greatest comic book film ever; if not one of the greatest films ever. But it all starts with this spectacular bank robbery, second to the genius of Michael Mann’s Heat, and finishes with a shocking and cheer inducing reveal. Even if Nolan had never made another film after this, it would still be enough to etch his name into the history books of cinema.
Nolan on The Dark Knight:
“If you assess the film carefully and analyze it with other films, it’s not a particularly violent film actually. There is no blood. Very few people get shot and killed, compared with other action films,” said Nolan. “There’s plenty of violence in the film, believe me. We tried to shoot it and dress it in a very responsible way so that the intensity of the film comes more from the performances and the idea of what’s happening and what might happen. A lot of the intensity comes from the threat of those things that may happen that then don’t. There’s definitely an intensity to that.”
While it customary to use 2nd unit directors for action and assistant directors for ‘pick up’ shots, Nolan insists on filming every single frame in his movies.