By Nick Maylor
I don’t remember a part of my life without Batman. When I was a kid, I relished in watching the William Dozier series starring the late Adam West as the “Bright Night”. I didn’t understand at the time that Batman would grow with me as I grew up and discovered the “dark” elements of the Dark Knight. I was born sort of at the perfect time for this. Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) came out when I was pushing three and while it would take me a few years to get ready for that incarnation, Adam West and Burt Ward had my back until I got there.
I remember viewing the Burton film at a young age although I can’t really remember when. I know that by the time Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) came out, I had seen Michael Keaton play the role. Kevin Conroy voiced Batman in the amazing animated 90s cartoon that still holds up. With its film-noir pseudo 1940s atmosphere, it carried over some of the more popular elements of the Burton film (including that amazing theme march by Danny Elfman) while carving out its own identity. It also gave us the two great actors who have carried out their rivalry as Batman and the Joker to this day in various forms of media, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, respectively.
By the time the ridiculous Joel Schumacher films came out, I was the perfect age. Batman & Robin (1998) is a lot of fun for a 12-year-old. Even through adult glasses, it remains one of my favourite bad movies. It’s terrible in such an entertaining way.
By the time Christopher Nolan was about to popularize the notion of reboots, I was again, the perfect age. Rounding 19 when Batman Begins (2005) was released, I was over-the-moon with the serious treatment superhero films were starting to get. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman? Sign me up. These are quality actors here! This isn’t just kid stuff anymore. That movie also forced me to revisit American Psycho (2000), a movie I hated as a 13-year-old kid but grew to appreciate as the budding satire that it is. That Christian Bale guy was pretty good, too.
In the fall of 2007, I enrolled in the Toronto Film School’s acting program. It was at a point where I had literally never been more excited for a movie to come out in my entire life. Nolan’s follow-up to Batman Begins was to feature the Joker, played by the recently Oscar-nominated Heath Ledger, a major up and comer. I spent years envisioning what the Joker would look like in the world that Nolan had created. I was stoked. I eagerly anticipated the first trailer. As I sat in the lobby of the CBC building at streamed it on my laptop, it didn’t disappoint.
The Joker! His voice! His laugh! “KILL THE BATMAN”
Man, this was going to be good.
By the time the film was about to be released, I ran into John H. Foote in the elevator. I told him that there were only seven days until the release, and how excited I was.
He told me he had already seen it!
Damned critics and their screeners…
Jealous doesn’t even begin to describe it.
A week later I walked into John’s office and spilled my guts about how great the movie was. We mused about whether or not it could receive a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.
Sadly, it did not. To this day, John and I agree that not only should it have received said nomination, The Dark Knight was the best picture of 2008, hands down. It should have won.
Here we are a decade later and the Oscars have finally awarded a superhero film a nomination for the Academy’s top prize. Black Panther (2018) is a genuinely brilliant film, but it owes much to the The Dark Knight, a movie that still (regardless of what the Oscars might have to say) reigns as the greatest comic-book film ever made.
Using the city of Gotham itself as a character, Nolan took inspiration from Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) in his epic sequel. The theme was escalation: even though hope had risen in Gotham due to the appearance of the Batman and his mission to clean up the city (with the help of rising GCDP star, Lieutenant Jim Gordon). A crazed menace known only as “The Joker” was causing havoc amongst Gotham’s underworld.
Heath Ledger was afforded every opportunity to create The Joker and his influence is everywhere. The character’s scarred “Glasgow smile” was accented by makeup created by Ledger Himself. The scenes where the Joker uses a handheld camera to send terrorist videos to the Gotham police were directed and shot by Ledger. He had created the greatest cinematic incarnation of evil since Anthony Hopkins brought us Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
When the character first appears on screen, the whole theatre was speechless. Observe:
You don’t see pencils disappearing like that every day.
Heath Ledger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor after his untimely death. There are some who would argue that the win was because of his death. I get angry when someone argues for that. Dead or alive, Mr. Ledger deserved that statue.
Some actors will tell you that it’s easier to swing for the fences, but harder to play it straight down the line. Christian Bale no doubt took a backseat to Ledger’s Joker in this film, but his portrayal of Bruce Wayne and his mission deserves recognition in it’s own right. The only actor to portray the Bat three times, Mr. Bale consistently demonstrated himself to be worthy of the cowl.
An ensemble supporting cast featuring Oscar winners Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman (along with future Oscar-winner Gary Oldman) were joined by Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal to round out Gotham’s supporting players for this epic tragedy.
Filmmaker Kevin Smith described the film as The Godfather Part II of comic-book movies. The description is apt.
The Dark Knight won the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Heath Ledger) and Best Sound Editing. It was additionally nominated for six others, these being Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup, and Best Film Editing. It holds the record for the most Oscar nominations received by a comic-book film.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor