The Dark Knight: It’s a real movie

Like There Will Be Blood! Or The Departed! Or The Firm! Or anything with Tom Hanks!

I so want to talk about Style Weekly’s Most Powerful People list,* but since Christian Bale is loads more interesting than the Ukrop family (that’s just a fact), I will do what I am paid to do here, and gush sickeningly about The Dark Knight.

Guys, I want to cry when I think about how much Christopher Nolan is giving me hope for the future of filmmaking. No, seriously. The Dark Knight is a real movie! With real editing and acting and a neat score and everything! It’s like Michael Clayton if George Clooney were replaced by Batman!** Yeah, THAT real! Michael Clayton real! I think I’m not exaggerating when I say that this film effectively alters the way of the superhero movie forever. Neither camp nor irony have a place in this film. Where Batman Begins extended what in retrospect seems to be timid feelers, The Dark Knight embraces reality full force.

A few hours before I saw this film, I happened to catch the beginning of the 1995 Joel Schumacher neon extravaganza (aka Batman Forever), in which Chris O’Donnell and Val Kilmer wisecracked their way through a cartoonish, blacklit landscape of surreally costumed thugs. Somebody enjoyed that film enough to hire Schumacher to craft what is surely the laughing stock of the entire film industry, Batman and Robin — you know, the one with George Clooney and Alicia Silverstone and Arnold Schwarzenegger….and more neon. But ven Tim Burton‘s first two Batman incarnations, both classic in their own ways, seem trifling and childish compared with this film.

Actually, a whole hell of a lot of other movies seem childish now, also. Including Iron Man, Spider-Man, and even, I have to admit, X-Men. A large part of it is because none of the above movies, or any movie like them, has really had a villain quite like Heath Ledger‘s Joker. There’s a posthumous Best Supporting Actor award in this for him in 2009, certainly, and the role deserves it. But it’s not just Ledger’s phenomenal performance (a friend of mine wrote to me that the audience pines for him when he’s not onscreen, and I think that’s an excellent way to put it) that creates this truly mesmerizing villain. Nolan has stripped The Joker of his backstory. A man who has no origins, no agenda, and no grudge against anyone in particular also has no weaknesses. It was a brilliant screenwriting move and not the only one in the film. There are other things going on here. Unexpected relationships, gritty cinematography, top-quality acting, and a setting and pace reminiscent of The Departed — these things inform us that big budget superhero flicks can (and should) deliver a product worth every dollar that was put into it.

Is Christopher Nolan the dark knight of twenty-first century cinema? Between him and Andrew Stanton (director/writer of Wall-E), I feel that at last, someone in Hollywood is paying attention. And the bar has been raised so high that filmgoers will demand the same level of quality from their blockbusters, be they about robots, giant bats, or anything in between.

*Tomorrow I would have my car covered in mashed potatoes and White House rolls (one hopes). Update: you can join the discussion about this article and what it means about our city over in Op/Ed!
**I know George Clooney was Batman, but it makes things too confusing to bring that up. It’s like the time travel paradox. Kinda like it, anyway.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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