Why ‘The Dark Knight’ is the best superhero movie of all time

Nothing can ever top it


Photo Courtesy of the Official “The Dark Knight” IMDb Page

By Shannon Moore, Staff Writer

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a massive Marvel fan. My room is covered with posters of various movies, I attend every Thursday night premiere with pride and Captain America merchandise makes up the majority of my wardrobe. I love Marvel and I love the movies they make; I’ll defend the Marvel Cinematic Universe forever. But I have to give credit where credit’s due. The MCU doesn’t have the best superhero movie of all time. That title goes to Christopher Nolan’s cinematic masterpiece, “The Dark Knight.”

“The Dark Knight,” released in 2008, is the second installment in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. With Christian Bale in the starring role, “The Dark Knight” provides a more mature, more advanced Batman than “Batman Begins.” And that means more advanced villains and a higher-stakes plot, too. Between incredible acting performances from the entire cast, tension grounded in real life and an ending no one could expect, “The Dark Knight” establishes itself as the untouchable best on-screen comic book adaptation. Despite my diehard love for Marvel, I’m highly doubtful anything can beat it.

First off, the acting. The movie is most well-known for Heath Ledger’s terrifying interpretation of the most iconic Batman villain, The Joker. Ledger, who sadly passed away before the movie’s release, won an Oscar posthumously for the role. His performance is one of the reasons – quite possibly the main reason – as to why “The Dark Knight” is so good. Ledger delivered a different interpretation of The Joker than previous adaptations — something darker, something truly unhinged. Previous Jokers were a little more lighthearted, a little bit more childish, while Ledger’s Joker is anything but. He’s insane, untamable and unpredictable. You truly never know what he’s going to do next. He serves as a perfect contrast to Bale’s Batman, who’s all about planning and making things go his way. Heath Ledger’s Joker is no longer just a character on a page, he’s brought the supervillain into the real world. All the terror he causes is plausible, from blowing up hospitals to putting the citizens of Gotham in impossible situations, making it all the more terrifying. His performance set the precedent for comic book villains to come: Ledger’s Joker is not only the best Joker, but the best comic book villain of all time.

The other villain in the film, Two-Face, portrayed by Aaron Eckhart, doesn’t start as a villain at all. He’s Harvey Dent, the newly elected Gotham District Attorney, who’s feared by criminals and mobsters alike. He’s often called Gotham’s “white knight,” and nearly everyone in the film places their faith in him. Batman even believes that if he can further Dent’s career, he can retire the Batman mantle. However, Dent’s assertation that, “you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” proves true. The Joker preys on Dent’s greatest love, Rachel Dawes, and involves them both in a plot which kills Rachel and leaves Dent with half his face burnt off – hence, the name Two-Face. Dent’s transformation from hero to villain is one of the best arcs in the film, and the most underrated. When I watched the movie for the first time, I never expected the transformation. It shocked me to my core and made me see the movie in a whole new light. Upon rewatches, the slow slip of Harvey Dent into a true villain never fails to surprise me. Eckhart perfectly portrays both Gotham’s golden boy and the terrifying Two-Face, making the character’s transformation that much better. Though he’s overshadowed by Ledger’s Joker, Dent is an important piece of the film, and it wouldn’t be the same without him.

While no one else in the film holds a candle to Ledger and Eckhart, the entire cast delivers great performances that keep the audience invested. Bale’s Batman is the most realistic version of the vigilante, and his Bruce Wayne is the perfect playboy with an undertone of vulnerability and loneliness. His motivations are clear and realistic, and his desire to make Gotham a better place truly shines. He’s supported by Michael Cane’s Alfred, which is by far the best Alfred adaptation to date. He truly cares for Bruce and the Wayne family, but balances this care with sass and sanity, grounding Batman himself. Wayne is also supported by Lucius Fox, portrayed by the legendary Morgan Freeman. Batman gets all his tech from him, and Fox, similar to Alfred, balances his care for Wayne with disdain at some of his choices. Lastly, Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon adds yet another layer of depth to the film, still making an impact despite all the other momentous cast members. Gordon’s unwavering belief in the power of Batman is a key component of the film and its ending.

The cast is probably the number one reason for the film’s success, but I believe its ending is what has really solidified it into cinematic history. Unlike every other comic book adaptation, “The Dark Knight” doesn’t end on a good note, although Batman still saves the day. He ends up taking the fall for Two-Face kidnapping and nearly killing Commissioner Gordon’s family, which allows Dent to remain Gotham’s symbol of hope. Batman is vilified throughout Gotham, the city never knowing who truly saved them. Since the public never witnessed Dent’s transformation into Two-Face, he remains Gotham’s white knight and sends the city into an era of peace. But Batman is the man behind the scenes, a silent guardian, a dark knight. Batman saved the city, but he couldn’t save himself. He willingly took the blame for something he didn’t do because he knew that’s what the city needed to thrive. It’s not a typical ending, especially not for a superhero movie. But that’s what makes it so incredible. Batman isn’t a hero in the traditional sense at the end of this one, he simply did what he needed to do. And that’s what makes him a true hero.

There are countless reasons why “The Dark Knight” is the best superhero movie of all time. While Marvel movies will forever hold a special place in my heart, I’d be lying if I said they could compare to Nolan’s incredible adaptation. With legendary performances from the entire cast, a plot that kept me on the edge of my seat and an ending I will never forget, “The Dark Knight” solidifies itself in cinematic history. Everything came together to make this movie phenomenal, and I’m confident it will remain the best comic book adaptation of all time.

Shannon Moore can be reached at [email protected].