While working on issue D of the zine I got chatting to the brilliant guys over at the film education organisation, Into Film. Into Film puts film at the heart of learning and personal development for young people aged 5 – 19, and their Young Reporter Programme provides the opportunity to become the voice of the organisation. Members of the programme are given the opportunity to develop film reporting and reviewing skills, receive media training and attend exclusive behind-the-scenes events. Now, specially for Shelf Heroes, 13-year-old reporter Billy takes on Christopher Nolan’s epic second instalment in the Batman series, The Dark Knight.
The character of Batman is one of the most famous and iconic superheroes of all time, standing proudly alongside other heroes like Superman and Spider-Man. Created by Bob Kane in 1939, the character has proved to have long-lasting appeal, and the world he inhabits, along with the equally popular cast of side characters, has captivated audiences throughout generations. Of course, the character has been adapted into countless other pieces of media including shows, video games and several films. Some of the most famous movies starring the hero are Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, which has been praised by critics and fans alike.
Released in the summer of 2008, The Dark Knight is the second film in the trilogy and tells the story of the age-old battle between Batman and his maniacal arch-nemesis the Joker. Many have adored the film but what did I think of the comic book movie? Let’s find out...
The Dark Knight is a masterfully executed, amazingly acted and beautiful spectacle that really does the caped crusader justice. The story, which is carried out over quite a lengthy running time, is complex and moves through many, occasionally seemingly independent, stages and set pieces but which are tied together in a continuous arc that follows the central characters and their trials and tribulations. Although it twists and turns a lot, the story is still easy to follow and really gets you invested in the horrible circumstances.
However, the best thing about the plot is its execution – specifically the tone. Like many 13-year-olds, I’m used to my comic-book adventures being light, easy viewing, but Nolan decided to move away from the style of previous Batman movies to present a much darker superhero world. The Dark Knight is bleak, gloomy, and often it seems as if things will never go right for the heroes. The sombre atmosphere helps to set the stakes and gives the audience an idea of what’s to come. It’s also often very scary, with the famous ‘Why so serious?’ scene and the video of the Joker interrogating the fake Batman being notable chilling moments.
The film looks absolutely gorgeous; set against the backdrop of the looming, industrial state of Gotham City, Nolan uses wide, sweeping shots to portray the sheer size of the location and isn’t afraid to get close up with the camera either, especially when the Joker is delivering an evil speech. The visuals used are great and employ a range of practical and CGI effects when needed. For example the jaw-dropping truck-flip sequence and Two-Face’s terrifyingly real face both use practical and computer-generated effects to their advantage, respectively. The film’s costume and make-up (something I don’t usually look out for when watching films) are also exceptional, with Batman’s costume and the Joker’s face being stand-outs (I had to contemplate whether the red make-up around the Joker’s mouth was blood!).
The characters are vastly more complex and strangely relatable than a superhero film feels like it has any right to be, with their struggles being clear and often heart-breaking. They are all introduced clearly – Batman secretive and a great fighter, Dent charming and likable, Bruce Wayne suave and stoic, and the Joker psychopathic and manipulative. I appreciated these blunt intros to the characters as it set up their basic personalities, only for them to be turned on their heads later on.
Surprisingly, Batman is one of the least engaging characters. He’s rather simplistic but nevertheless likable and a hero you can get behind. His secret identity, Bruce Wayne, is also not too interesting but still a flawed protagonist. Christian Bale plays him mostly very well but his gruff voice whilst being Batman is quite hard to understand and honestly rather comic.
There are a few notable supporting characters (thankfully the cast is kept limited and it isn’t cluttered with unnecessary villains or sidekicks) and they are done very well. The character of Harvey Dent seems amiable and justice-driven but he is shown to have his mental limits later on in the movie, making him a much more threatening and interesting character. Aaron Eckhart plays the character brilliantly, showcasing the two sides of his twisted personality fiercely. His performance is one of the highlights of the film for me.
Michael Caine, great as he is as the bumbling butler Alfred, seems to be designated to utter philosophical or motivational messages. Jim Gordon is virtuous and righteous but sometimes feels a bit side-lined compared with the other characters, although Gary Oldman portrays him greatly. The character of Lucius Fox, whilst not a very prominent one, is extremely likable, thanks in part to the general appeal of Morgan Freeman. Rachel Dawes overcomes the weak damsel in distress, love-interest stereotype and is a strong character, albeit not very complex in terms of flaws.
Now, the real star of the show is by far the late Heath Ledger as the Joker, a role that earned him a posthumous Academy Award. It’s hard to know where to begin with this character so I guess I should start with the beginning. We are introduced to him through a fantastic opening sequence in which his men, whilst carrying out a bank robbery, discuss what their boss might be like, before violently betraying each other until the Joker is revealed to be one of them and kills them all. The rumours being spread about the villain build up the anticipation for the unveiling of the character and when we learn that he’s the one who masterminded it all, it pays off greatly.
From this beginning onwards, the Joker continues to astound, horrify and steal every scene he’s in. He has so many memorable and quotable moments, such as the way he changes the story of how he got his scars so that we never discover his back-story, his talk to Harvey in the hospital, or his ‘magic trick’ (aka shoving a pencil into someone’s head so it ‘disappears’). He proves to be a maniacal, bloodcurdling and surprisingly complicated antagonist brought to tremendous life by the superb Heath Ledger. The little quirks he inhabits - the way he licks his lips or his scary, haunting laugh - really elevate his character to a creepier, more realistic human. He is especially fantastic in the intense interrogation scene between Batman and himself, which leads up to an incredibly tense and heart-breaking scene between Harvey and Rachel.
The score, masterfully composed by Hans Zimmer, helps raise the tension and excitement with electrifying tunes like ‘The Joker’s Theme’ and ‘The Dark Knight Theme’.
The screenplay is written brilliantly with memorable quotes like ‘You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain’, and ‘He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs’. The first one foreshadows the latter half of the film and the second ends the movie in a sombre, yet profound note. Speaking of which, the ending is very nicely done but it does give a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion to the villains.
One of the best things about The Dark Knight is the way Christopher Nolan raises the film above a simple turn-off-your-brain action movie and makes it into a tense drama that gets you invested in its characters and plot. It’s engaging, well acted and striking with explosive, exhilarating action set pieces and equally exciting dialogue. Is it perfect? No, but it is one of the best comic book movies – no, action movies – I’ve ever seen.
Billy is part of Into Film’s Young Reporter Programme, which gives young people the opportunity to experience and learn through exciting assignments in the film industry. Into Film’s UK-wide offer puts film at the heart of children and young people's learning, contributing to their cultural, creative and personal development, through access to a wide variety of films and filmmaking projects. Working with the film industry and education sector, the organisation gives children and young people the chance to experience film and the moving image creatively and critically, as well as learning about the film industry and careers within it.
Its film clubs provide numerous opportunities for teaching and learning through film, including access to a diverse catalogue of films, and activities and resources which seek to ignite and cultivate the interest of all young people regardless of their background or ability.
For more information, visit www.intofilm.org.