Why Don’t We Call The Dark Knight a Comic Book Movie
It’s officially been ten years since The Dark Knight hit theaters, it quite literally took the world by storm, it took no time to wreak havoc and shatter the glass ceiling of the expected quality in a comic book film. The Dark Knight, however, is refused the title of a comic book film, many prefer to call it a political thriller, even a genre film. Why are we removing the culture and history that caused this film to even happen? That’s like celebrating a Superbowl in Salt Lake City, it just doesn’t make sense!
Why would you strip that pillar of the character away like that? At the time, there were 69 years of Batman history. Today, it’s 79 years. What have we learned in these past 10 years? We’ve learned that switching the bill on things can give us leverage to make a movie more than it needs to be. Boasting that you’ve watched a political thriller doesn’t take away the fact that our hero is named Batman, wears pointy ears, and fights a sociopath named The Joker. In ten years we’ve seen that phrase of comic book be uprooted and turned into a good term with the recent success of the MCU and DCEU. But we refuse to use it for The Dark Knight. Again, is it us, or is it a cultural thing? Do we refuse this label because we want to use this bridge to have a semblance of relevance when discussing film?
Or does it come with quality? Most regard The Dark Knight as one of the greatest films of all time. Why does the comic book movie label not come with that? Well, when we look at comic book movies that work well, a good amount of them regard fighting their worst selves under the guise of a copycat or clone. Iron Monger, Killmonger, etc. It’s nothing new, Iron Man came out in 2008 along with The Dark Knight. Both are fantastic films but only one boasts the comic book movie title. The Dark Knight truly does transcend, it takes that mirrored battle to a much more philosophical account. Favreau uses witty dialogue and humor to balance his film with topics of terrorism and warmongering. Nolan uses sharp dialogue and well-timed beats to the topic of domestic terrorism, mob families, ultimatums, etc. Both tackle some very relevant topics yet one ultimately trumps the other.
Stripping away the basics, these two films are quite similar but very different. That comes with embracing the characters, the reason we don’t talk about Iron Man in the same sentence as The Dark Knight maybe because of that comic book movie title, or it could really be about the quality. There’s something ridiculously safe about making a villain unrelatable with motives that are clearly deranged, whereas to this day people defend Heath Ledger’s Joker and even consider him the hero. This divisiveness gives a discussion that goes beyond when there’s a discussion about the motives of characters when arguments can be made that are considerably well defended. Maybe it does transcend the comic book movie genre. When the film is a grey of morals, and there’s no real good guy at the end of it. While comic books have changed, we owe it to The Dark Knight’s excellence for that change.
There’s an obvious difference between regular comic book movies and The Dark Knight, but do we disregard the most important fact? Do we lose the title of comic book movie when this film champions the genre? Does the prestigious film community hate the idea of adapted films but with capes? Considering that the genre hasn’t been able to get much recognition beyond makeup and SFX in awards season since The Dark Knight, it’s got to be critical of the story. Perhaps it’s that The Dark Knight doesn’t waste any time promising more than it has the time to.
As mentioned before, movies like Iron Man and The Dark Knight are similar but different. Both are able to boast technical achievements, narratives with strong characters, superb acting. But only one really beats time, is it the finite nature of The Dark Knight? As Robert Downey Jr has seen his character go from a cave with a car battery to being trapped in space with Nebula. Whereas The Dark Knight ends singularly with one choice leading to one tight-knit conclusion that doesn’t beg for empathy. We don’t need to be forced to feel, as we already understand the situation by the end of the film. The tale of Iron Man didn’t end with taking everything he worked for and throwing it out of the window for the greater good, he’s gone beyond that. His actions have caught up with him but nothing from his first outing lingers ten years later.
The singularity of The Dark Knight doesn’t require a previous viewing of Batman Begins or even a further viewing of The Dark Knight Rises for answers. Nolan was rushed to make Rises and that’s shown. The fact that The Dark Knight is such a singular outing and doesn’t require previous viewings for context let alone a follow up for answers speaks to its prestige as a film. When we demand answers, we get a hamfisted The Dark Knight Rises that simply can’t be its own thing. Maybe we don’t title it a comic book film as it isn’t like issue #231 of a series that you don’t have the rest of for context. We enter comic book films with the expectation of some prior context necessary to hop in. While many may argue against that, if you aren’t a big comic book movie person and your friends want you to see Infinity War, some context would really help.
Now I’m not saying the Marvel Cinematic Universe is bad, it’s quite like The Dark Knight, it was a successful mix of two things that led to impersonation in the form of sewing franchises together for financial gain. Often copying the realism of Nolan’s Batman and also meshing it with fictional characters. Redefining film as we know it. Without them, would we really have the good and bad that followed? We have Man of Steel or movies like the new Equalizer. We have the numerous failures or shared universes such as Dark Universe.
Finally, what actually defines a comic book movie? Does The Dark Knight fit the bill? Is it fair to remove it from the genre for the sake of raising something above the rest? It’s all up to your interpretation. A comic book film obviously has its adaptation of iconic characters and a story that bears some resemblance to a story that was previously published on paper. The Dark Knight truly has both yet we don’t call it what it is. As The Dark Knight fits many other comic book movies, does it’s singularity, poignancy, and characters muggy moral compasses make it merely a unique comic book movie or something else entirely?
History seems to be the real judge, and regardless of how it fits the bill perfectly, maybe it really does deserve to go beyond that. This begs the question as if The Dark Knight stands alone, what other similar films deserve that placement? As many other films have changed the genre, whether you like to admit it or not, films like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Spider-Man: Homecoming have changed the genre not only in the way we portray our heroes but also how their world reacts. They teach us the essence of tone and how we can take characters seriously or have a lot of fun. Maybe it’s time to kill this comic book movie genre along with its connotations.