With Christopher Nolan’s eagerly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises hitting cinemas today, now is the perfect time to look back at the first two wildly successful parts of the Dark Knight Trilogy, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, considering the outstanding moments and scenes that have helped this trilogy bring Batman back to the height of the zeitgeist.
Batman Begins (2005)
The Death of Thomas and Martha Wayne
Considering how this moment is the defining event in Bruce Wayne’s life, capturing the depth of the trauma, tragedy, fear and honesty in this scene audiences are so familiar with was crucial in establishing Nolan’s vision of the Batman myth. Rather than represent in the flashback format as seen in all the previous versions, which focus on the symbolic images of the gun and the broken pearl necklace, Nolan captures the erratic nature and cold reality of such a random act of street violence. This stripped down and un-sentimentalized representation sent a clear message to the audience about exactly what kind of Batman film Nolan was delivering.
The First Night
Like the death of his parents, the first time Bruce dons the cape and cowl to strike against the evils of Gotham is fundamental to the character. As such, the moment Batman is unleashed is captured in a compelling and iconic way. Nolan plays upon the stealth of Batman and has him lurk in the shadows, practically invisible as the creeping fears of the henchmen grow ever more intense. When he finally shows himself in the open to Falcone, there was no doubt that Batman had returned.
The Tumbler Unleashed
This is the showpiece. It’s as simple as that. In a film that is mostly restrained and concerned with building the character up from within the shadows, Batman’s race against time to save Rachel showcases the film’s new “Bat-mobile,” the tumbler. Like the rest of the film, the physicality and dark textures that Nolan crafts in his vision of Batman can be seen here and are amped up within this action packed sequence, filled with destruction, speed and a relentless tank that can jump from rooftop to rooftop. Not subtle, but definitely exciting.
“Why Do We Fall?”
There may be showier moments, but perhaps the most intimate and emotional moment after the Death of the Waynes is this tender exchange between Bruce and his faithful butler, Alfred. As Wayne Manor crumbles and burns around them, Alfred saves Bruce’s life and takes his injured master to the cave. With Bruce doubting in his mission and himself, Alfred is able to repeat the inspirational words of Thomas Wayne. This scene captures the love and support shared between these two strong men, and shows just how important Alfred is to Bruce as his surrogate father.
While only a fleeting moment, Nolan’s teaser shot of the Joker Playing card is played to perfection. Subtle and effective, it leaves a jolt of excitement and expands the possibilities for the series in one swoop. Many superhero films try to leave a sequel baiting tease (I’m looking at you, Marvel!), but none has been more satisfying and beautifully simple than this image.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Where Batman Begins is a brooding origin tale, and the scenes that stand out more emotionally driven, The Dark Knight increases both the action and the drama. The opening sequence in particular was a statement. Bursting onto the screen with a scale above and beyond the previous film, Nolan takes us head first into the first of Joker’s games, a bank heist as intense as that of Michael Mann’s epic Heat (1995), with a delicate balance between shocks, horror and black humour, that keeps the viewer on edge and builds anticipation for moment the whole sequence builds towards…the reveal of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Unquestionably, one of the great film openings.
The Joker’s Magic show
The opening heist sets up the introduction of the Joker, but it is this sequence that announces just how dangerous and charismatic the character truly is. Interrupting the gangland meeting, his mocking laughter cuts across the film, not maniacal but sinister. Of course, the infamous “magic trick” is the most memorable moment, with the brutality depicted and sheer shock it creates literally taking the audience’s breath away. Its power to disturb and unsettle both instills the scale of the threat Batman faces and also just how far Nolan is willing to go. As the scene continues, The Joker’s personality comes more into perspective, with the little eccentricities and the darkly funny elements of the character shining through, to create a menacing ambiance that lingers with the audience long after the film has finished.
Harvey shows his Dark Side
A scene often overshadowed by the more bravura moments, and the dominance of the Joker as the villainous force of nature, is Harvey Dent’s own brand of interrogation. An intense scene which keeps the viewer on edge, it’s paced to perfect and, in particular, lit with a grimy light in which Dent’s face is often caught between darkness and light, foreshadowing the very physical divide that would befall him. Most importantly, we finally see for the first time in the film, the rage buried deep beneath the gleaming façade of Harvey Dent, beautifully setting up his inevitable fall from grace into villainy.
In a film all about escalation, both through the narrative and in the production of the film itself, The Dark Knight’s chase sequence is superior in every possible way. The Joker’s attack on the SWAT team is both epic in scale, and claustrophobic in its intensity. The scene culminates in one of the most outlandish stunts of recent times: A huge lorry flipping over from back to front on the street. It is a moment that is quite honestly stunning from a technical and cinematic perspective, and reminds just how big a blockbuster this film is. Oh and bonus points for the introduction of the sleek, stylish Bat-pod, a perfect counterpoint from the brute force of the Tumbler.
The Joker. The Batman. One claustrophobic interrogation room. It’s a simple set up, but perhaps more than any other moment in either film, the combination of performance, style, form and an understanding of the essence of the character create, perhaps, the most impressive and effective scene in the series so far. Bale and Ledger truly are forces of nature, delivering so much power and precision in their every move and tick, able to stand toe to toe and capture the twisted dynamic between the hero and his nemesis. Nolan keeps the camera focused intensely on the two, as the tension builds and the violence explodes. Indeed, the sudden release of rage feels so raw and shocking, no other film has dared show this potential within the character. However, The Joker’s insane defiance to break is even more powerful and frightening still. This scene doesn’t just define the film, but it stands as one of the best clashes between the two old foes in Batman history.
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