The Dark Knight ★★★★

In the summer of 2008 I was 17 years-old and my list of favourite movies was a roll call of the movies appearing on IMDB’s Top 250. I went and saw The Dark Knight at a midnight showing with a group of 15 people. We lined up in the popcorn scented corridor around 4pm and camped out with a portable iPod player and a couple boxes of Pizza and trays of café mochas from Tim Horton’s. One friend was dressed up like the joker. The hype was incredible.

After the movie was over we did not go home. The movie had fuelled us with energy. We all agreed that it was one of the best movies we had ever seen. We went to a beer vendor and the oldest of us bought enough for everyone and we took up shop in a neighbourhood park and smoked and drank until sunrise. We all went to see the movie again before going home; the joker make-up on the one friend cracked and smeared.

When the movie was released onto Blu-Ray I watched it at least 10 times over the next year. I listened to the soundtrack on repeat. I very nearly started to read the graphic novels, which was not something I had ever considered for a moment before that. The obsession rivaled the ones I had for halcyon days of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

As of this week, I had not seen The Dark Knight for nearly 6 years. I have fond memories of the movie, but I had never felt a burning desire to revisit for a long time. This re-watch was very spur of the moment.

The opening moments still fill me with excitement and happiness; the sinister score and the smoky batman logo fading in and then cutting to the bank robbery is iconic. The story is economically presented, with quick scenes of exposition telling us who will be important this time, and what the stakes are going to be. The Joker’s reveal is wonderful, and so is his first scene with the mob.

Nolan has a curious way of editing his movies; it never feels like there are any actual “scenes”, just a collection of moments that drift away and fade into the next. It certainly helps with pacing, but moments never linger, and it maybe lessens the impact certain scenes should have. But the amount of information we need to absorb makes us active participants, and I think this is one of his greatest strengths as a storyteller. We’re always engaged because to not be would make his movies kind of unbearable to watch. He’s not a gifted visual storyteller, I’d even call him pretty clumsy, but his plotting is fantastic, and the ideas he has create the potential for iconic moments.

I do think there are flaws aplenty. I think the film is far too long, with too much story crammed into one narrative. The final fight scenes are not much fun to watch, especially how they’re intercut with the scenes on the ferries. The sonar vision looks quite dated already. Nolan can’t really shoot an exciting action scene. These are all things that I found grating this time around, and even a little bored by.

However, I come back to The Joker. He utterly dominates the film and gives it a jolt of energy every time he’s around. His chaotic presence is unpredictable and very compelling to watch. The status of this film rests entirely on his shoulders. I’m not even sure this would be half as admired if this character did not work as well as he does. Ledger did a terrific job.

So in the end, it’s a movie I admire for the way it presents a superhero with a serious story with genuine human stakes. I love how many scenes still fill me with that giddiness that brings me back to the first time I saw it in theaters all those years ago. I can’t quite say I love it anymore, but it’s something I’ll definitely recognize as a landmark movie for myself and many others.