The Dark Knight
How Christopher Nolan’s Film Nearly Achieved Masterpiece Status

What Up Yo.
My argument is simple. This film should have ended 35 mins earlier than it did.
It would have achieved “The Empire Strikes Back” greatness.


The window of a high-rise building explodes. The camera takes us inside the window, 2 men wearing clown masks shoot a cable to the roof of a building across the street.  The camera then takes us via the zip line across the street with them to the roof of a bank. One of the men disables the security as they both discuss The Joker, the man who has organized this heist. They say he wears make up, war paint. Once the man disabling the security is finished he is killed by his partner.

We are then taken to a street corner where another one of them waits, holding his mask at his side.

It’s a beautiful shot. We don’t see this mans face, but instinctively we know…

This is The Joker. 20131229-161535.jpg

We watch the robbery progress. Each man completes a task and is executed per the The Jokers instructions. As the robbery concludes, 3 men are left alive.  The banks vault has ben emptied, a bank teller (Actor William Fichtner) pulls out a shotgun and begins firing. He warns the clowns whose money they are stealing.

“You guys are dead!”

He is shot, then a school bus crashes in through the back entrance of the bank…killing the second to last bank robber. Incidentally, the bus doesn’t touch this bank robber…but the bus crashing through the bank is supposed to kill him…so it does.

The bus driver exits the bus and loads the cash from the vault into the school bus.  When he has completed loading, the last clown kills guns him down. As he prepares to board the bus and leave by himself, the wounded bank teller taunts the clown…

“What do you believe?!”

He yells at the last clown. The clown stops in his tracks, turns and approaches the wounded man. He leans down, and while removing his mask exclaims…

“I believe…whatever doesn’t kill you..simply makes you…stranger.”

And we lay our eyes on The Jokers face for the first time in the film. 20131229-162901.jpg

He stuffs a grenade into the bank tellers mouth & attaches the pin of the grenade to a piece of string. He carries the string with him into the school bus, and when he locks the door of the bus and drives out of the bank, the pin is yanked out of the grenade.

Seconds later as the bus pulls into the street and blends in with a dozen other school buses, instead of getting his head blown off, once the pin is released, smoke comes out of the grenade. The bank teller sits, terrified and confused .

The Batman and Lieutenant Gordon meet in the vault and discuss the crime, how marked bills weren’t taken, how this Joker is smart. They need to find out his identity.

Meanwhile, all the heads of Gotham’s City’s crime underworld have gotten together to discuss their options as The Batman, Lt. Gordon and Harvey Dent, the new district attorney, have waged war on them.

They are no longer in control of Gotham and they have just been robbed by this “Joker” character.

Enter mob accountant and Hong Kong business man Andrew Lau. He speaks to the mob via video conference and explains he is on a plane to Hong Kong out of the reaches of the Gotham City‘s jurisdiction,  and that he has taken the rest of their money from the Gotham City banks to hide it from the law so it can’t be touched. Only he knows where it is.

That’s when The Joker, the man who has just ripped them off, enters the room.

The Dark Knight

He warns them against trusting Lau, that Lau will sell them out when he gets caught.  That The Batman doesn’t care about extradition and jurisdiction…that he will get to Lau one way or another and “make him squeal”.

He explains that the only option they have is to kill The Batman.

The mob is still hesitant, but the Joker has told them what will happen otherwise and has put his offer on the table.

Cut to Rachel Dawes (the role of Rachel was played by Katie Holmes in the first film. She has been recast in this film by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who does great work), the love of Bruce’s life and old friend. She works with and is now dating Harvey Dent.

Bruce, having revealed himself as The Batman in “Batman Begins” was told by her that she won’t ever be with him until he stops being The Batman. Bruce, to win her back, has been looking for an endgame to allow him to walk away from the The Batman identity and to have a life with her.

He needs to leave the city in the hands of someone he feels is brave and capable of fighting Gotham’s mob. Someone incorruptible. As he watches Harvey, he begins to feel that Harvey will be the person who can take over as protector of Gotham legally. Harvey can be the hero The Batman, still a vigilante, can never be.

Dent and Gordon are furious they have lost Lau. To have Lau coöperate would allow for them to lock up most of the mob, and to fracture their control. They meet on the roof of the Gotham CIty Police Dept. and turn on the bat signal.

Gordon takes a chance and brings Harvey Dent into the fold with The Batman.

When The Batman arrives, Dent explains why they need Lau back in Gotham.
The Batman only asks Dent one question.

“If I bring you Lau, can you get him to talk?”

“I’ll get him to sing.”

The Batman goes to Hong Kong to capture Lau and bring him to justice in an amazing sequence shot primarily with IMAX cameras and film-stock. The scene is below.

Quickly after The Batman reruns Lau unconscious to the steps of the Gotham City Police Dept., Rachel gets Lau to make a deal to talk for clemency. Dent has kept his promise and record amounts of arrests are made in Gotham’s underworld the next day.

Lau did what exactly what The Joker warned the mob he would do. The mob then turn to the The Joker and unleash  him onto the streets of Gotham.

They have just made a deal with the devil.

The War Begins.

Immediately The Joker turns the tables on The Batman, Gordon and Dent and Gotham City becomes his playground.

His gang, influence and reputation grow. He begins to murder police, members of the DA’s office, judges and finally…the Joker murders Gordon.

Now, he wants Harvey Dent.

Bruce throws a fundraiser for Harvey.  He takes Rachel aside and tells her his plans to leave the city in Dent’s hands. Rachel is hesitant, she is falling in love with Dent. The Joker then crashes the fundraiser and demands the partygoers give up Harvey Dent. Then he meets Rachel for the first time. He begins to get rough with her while Wayne hides Dent and becomes The Batman Then The Batman and The Joker officially meet. Scene below.

The Joker will now turn his sights on The Batman.

He kidnaps a civilian who has dressed up as The Batman (an homage to The Sons Of Batman from Frank Millers “The Dark Knight Returns”) to fight crime in his name. The Joker films himself torturing the man and sends the footage to the Gotham City News outlets who broadcast it to the city.

In the video, The Joker issues a public demand to The Batman:

“You want order in Gotham? The Batman must take off his mask and turn himself in. Oh. And everyday he doesn’t…people will die. Starting tonight. I’m a man of my word.”

Bruce is torn, but he calls the Jokers bluff and refuses to turn himself in and as promised, people begin to die.

Finally in an effort to stop the mayhem, Bruce goes to a press conference Harvey Dent is giving with the intention of giving himself up as The Batman and surrendering to police. When Harvey finishes speaking,, Bruce prepares to step up but before he can, Harvey Dent steps forward instead and claims that he is in fact, The Batman. Bruce is stunned, but stays silent while Harvey is put in handcuffs and arrested.

Rachel has been watching this on TV is furious. While hiding at Wayne Manor from The Joker, this is the final nail in the coffin for Rachel and Bruce.  She is angered that Bruce did not act quick enough and didn’t stop Harvey from putting himself in harm’s way. She views Bruce’s inaction as cowardly and dishonest. In contrast, she views Harvey as courageous…and falls completely in love with him.

Unbeknownst to Bruce…she writes a letter to him and explains that she has chosen to marry Harvey and that she and Bruce can only be friends from then on. She gives the letter to Alfred, explaining that the letter is unsealed and for Alfred to give it to Bruce…

“When the time is right.”

Harvey, under arrest for the Batman crimes, is now to be transported to the county lockup to be processed. He will be taken there on a route via downtown Gotham (Chicago) in an armored van to protect him. The transport has multiple trucks backing them up along with air support, but the route to the lockup is blocked by a fire truck, completely on fire, that is blocking access to the main road. Traffic must be diverted to the roads lower levels. This will cut off air support. This will allow The Joker to ambush this transport.

In a film filled with amazing action sequences, this is the one. Shot with IMAX cameras and film stock, you must watch the scene to fully appreciate it. What the filmmakers accomplish here is history. Scene below.

The Joker is now in police custody, arrested by a very much alive Lt. Gordon. The Mayor appoints Gordon as the new Commissioner. While the officers congratulate him, they all notice applause coming from one of the cells. They stop to notice The Joker looking on and clapping for him.

The Dark Knight
The press ask Dent if he was working with The Batman the entire time.  He in turn says he was not, that he and Gordon hoped The Batman would step in to save his ass. Exhausted, he will now go to see Rachel.  He is put into a police car and leaves.

All is well in the world.
Gordon goes home to explain to his wife and child that he is in fact alive.

Then he gets the call.

Dent never made it back home.

Gordon rushes back to the station to question The Joker. This leads nowhere, The Joker toys with him. Gordon leaves the interrogation room to get a coffee.

The Joker sits in the dark, until the lights go on…. The Dark Knight

What follows is in my opinion the best scene in the”Dark Knight” trilogy.

This is the Batman/Joker interrogation scene.
The Joker draws parallels between them. The Dark Knight knows The Joker is partly right. They are more alike than different. They come from the same fantastic worlds, the existence of The Batman made a world where The Joker could exist possible.

“To them, you’re just a freak…like me. They need you right now…but when they don’t…they’ll cast you out.”

Brilliant scene is below.

The Batman and Gordon are now frantic, they will need to find and rescue both Dent and Rachel before time runs out. But The Joker has lied to The Batman, and he has given The Batman the address for where Dent is…telling him it is where Rachel is being held.

That’s what the devil does. He lies.

The Batman arrives at the address the Joker gave him for Rachel and finds a warehouse filled with large 20 gallon containers filled with gasoline.

Dent and Rachel have been communicating via walkie talkies that have been set up next to their positions. While Dent panics and struggles to get free…Rachel is calm, and trying to proclaim her love for him. Dent won’t stop. he must get free…

In trying to escape, he has knocked himself over in his chair along with one of the barrels of gasoline and half of his body and face submerged.

The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 613] (11)

We see and hear Rachel proclaim her love for Dent as he is furiously struggling. When he sees the Batman enter the warehouse, he screams…

“No!!! Not me!!! Why are you here for me!!! Save her!!!”

The Batman begins to pull Harvey out of the warehouse to freedom just as Gordon pulls up to the warehouse where Rachel is being on the others of town.

Gordon is too late. The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 600] (18)

The warehouse explodes and Rachel dies.

The warehouse Dent is in also explodes. The Batman has just gotten him out in time, but not out of the reach of the explosion which ignite the gasoline Dent has covering half his body.

Dent catches fire…The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 613] (9)
He has lost Rachel,

He has lost his face.
The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 814] (14)
Two Face is born.
The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 613] (12)
And The Joker is free and riding a stolen police car through the streets of Gotham…his head out the window like a dog, without a care in the world. The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 814] (16)
The Dark Knight stands amongst the rubble of where Rachel spent her final moments, devastated.
Convinced she was going to wait for him, unaware that she had in fact decided to marry Harvey Dent. The Dark Knight

Alfred tends to Bruce after Rachel dies.
The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 613] (6)
Bruce Wayne sits with his Batman outfit on and mask off…in a daze.
The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 613] (5)
Alfred brings him food…Rachel’s letter to Bruce professing her love for Harvey Dent on the tray.

The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 613] (3)

Bruce tells Alfred

“She was going to wait for me Alfred…Dent must never know.”

The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 613] (4)

Alfred knows the truth, he has read the letter.

The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 814] (13)

In a moment of tenderness and love, Alfred hides the letter from Bruce to protect him.

“What’s that?”

Bruce asks him…

The Dark Knight (VoicesFILM) [1440 x 613] (2)

“It can wait.”

Alfred responds.

And this is where I feel the film should have ended.

What we have seen up to this point…

A masterpiece.

If it had ended right there…the film would have become “The Empire Strikes Back” caliber.

This ending would have hurt us…

Would have forced us to accept it on its own terms…

And we would have.

Once the initial sting had faded and the smoke had cleared, our discontent would have given way to respect and the film would have been hailed as daring, provocative, truly dark and poignant.

The film didn’t end there though.

It continued.

In what transpired, there are a few good scenes…I’ll give the film that.

But all of them should have been left for the opening of the third film.

Why introduce…and them dispose of Two-Face…in 25 minutes?

You have just taken 2 hours to established a new villain.

This was executed so well that his back story and plight is tangible for the audience.

The film goes into it’s 4th act.

We see the The Joker go to the hospital to visit Dent.

The Joker issues a new threat, that he will begin to blow up Gothams hospitals one by one.

As they are being evacuated, he slips into Dents room.

Now, the scene is fantastic, Ledger nails another scene.

They both leave the hospital, Dent…now Two Face… will begin to exact justice upon those who have betrayed him, those who took The Jokers money to set up him and Rachel,  those responsible for Rachel’s death.

In “The Dark Knight,” when the third act starts, which is really the fourth act, a change takes place in the narrative, in the storytelling structure. It goes from no holds barred, brave & surprising storytelling to Hollywood formula. It’s unfortunate to say the least.

As fate would have it, tragedy struck and the world lost Heath Ledger after filming completed on “The Dark Knight” in 2007.

To film more scenes with The Joker would have been impossible without casting someone else…

And that’s fucking unthinkable.

But my argument here is that the film was finished.

The masterpiece had been accomplished.

We saw it unfold, we saw it conclude.

Jonathan Nolan had gone on record and said he felt the first and second acts of this film were strong and the third was not.

This leads me to believe that even the writers, Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer, were aware they had the ending, but were compelled move past their conclusion and to offer a morally satisfying ending to the world.

By doing this, I feel they did a great disservice to the film.

But that being said:

What they did accomplish is fucking high-octane, gasoline drenched cinema.

It’s simply one of the better films I’ve ever seen…

And either way, I’m much happier it exists at all…in any form.

Did you also see this in IMAX?

If not, you should have.


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