I would love to come back to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy some ten, twenty, thirty years later, to see the way that time judges them. All three parts made it into IMDb’s Top 250, but a lot of this feels like it’s because they’re popular films in the age of the Internet and it is the folks of the Internet that ultimate decide what ends up on the list; I already found the shine coming off the last entry in the series, and while I quite like the first film as a perfect example of how to explain a superhero and their psychology to a person who doesn’t take for granted that the moment a character is bestowed with great power they will automatically take up the great responsibility of fighting crime, it’s nothing much beyond that. The Dark Knight, though, the middle film, the one that neither sets up or closes out the arc but escalates it, that I feel has the most longevity. I’ll just have to see if I’m right every ten years or so.
With Gotham City no longer beholden to its criminal families thanks to fearless district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and masked vigilante Batman (Christian Bale), the leaders of the underworld turn to a mysterious anarchistic figure in an attempt to regain control of the city: the Joker (Heath Ledger). Let’s be honest, Ledger’s portrayal of the iconic Batman villain, a twitching morass of contradictions and chaos with no history and no grand plans other than to watch the world burn, is the biggest draw of the whole film; every second he’s on the screen is mesmerising, a performance with all the bewildering intensity and destruction of a train wreck. The polar opposite he provides to the major figures in the film – not only to Batman, the arch-nemesis he uses to define himself, but also the moral Dent, the structured crime families, and even the wider society of Gotham itself – is the fuel the film runs on; there are been villains more cruel and wicked and villains that have been more satisfying to feel burning hatred for, but there has never been a villain that more thoroughly embraces the terrifying idea that the stability of a society is a fragile, tenuous agreement, and that it only takes the slightest push, the smallest thing out of the ordinary, to send it plunging headlong into an anarchistic nightmare.