Ten years ago, I was consumed by The Dark Knight before it even released in theaters.
I LOVED Batman Begins. To this day, it’s still my absolute favorite Batman movie and one of the best comic book origin films ever made in my opinion.
So I was ALL IN for a sequel before it was even officially announced. I told everyone that all I wanted was a solid trilogy for this series and I did eventually get that, but I let The Dark Knight take me over. Completely.
First it was the revelation that they were using The Joker, which turned what was an awesome reference at the end of Begins into a realized situation for the sequel. I had no issues with Heath Ledger’s casting at the time either. It would certainly be a departure from his previous roles at the time, like A Knight’s Tale, 10 Things I Hate About You and of course Brokeback Mountain, but if Christopher Nolan was able to turn Patrick Bateman from American Psycho into the “world’s greatest detective” then he could certainly do a similar thing for Ledger.
Before we even got to that, there was 42 Entertainment’s viral marketing campaign, which is how I let the movie consume me before it even released. I didn’t dress up or go full bore into it, but I did track the puzzles and called the phone numbers and checked the internet daily to see if there was anything new and what it was. It was unreal, and this was before the social media boom. Twitter didn’t exist yet and Facebook was still very young, which is probably why you don’t see marketing quite on that scale anymore since social media has made everyone more accessible to messaging, good or bad.
When the Dentmobile came to Ann Arbor, my friend Jordan and I tracked it down and caught up with the campaign supporters in a La-Z-Boy recliner parking lot, after they had just held a rally for Harvey Dent inside the local mall and were asked to leave. I still have ALL of the swag from that visit, including bumper stickers, campaign buttons and an “I Believe in Harvey Dent” tee shirt that I wore to the IMAX premiere, ten years ago today.
I took that day off from work and everybody knew and accepted why. I went to Domino’s Pizza that day and bought a large pepperoni just to get the special Dark Knight pizza box, which I’m pretty sure I still have somewhere as well. I went to the theater at 7:30pm for a midnight show and there were already 70 people in line, which is still the most people I have seen in line for a movie that early. The hype was seriously that big for The Dark Knight. In fact, my theater remained open for 48 hours straight AFTER we saw it at the first midnight showing, and the line for people waiting to see it at 3:15am was as long as our line for the midnight showing was, and there were just as many dress-ups too (we had 10 Jokers, a couple of Batman’s and a Riddler).
I remember the reactions from the audience during the movie, including the applause for Ledger’s Joker and the reaction to his “magic trick” that had us all making noise, enough that I didn’t hear him say “Ta-da!” after he did it. He got a round of applause and cheers from the sold-out IMAX theater when his name came up in the end credits, which of course had a tinge of sadness in it from his death the January prior. I still wonder how much his career would have exploded after that role, and it surely would have with how critically acclaimed and revered his performance still is to this day. An entire generation considers him the definitive Joker and it’s more than understandable why. It was a truly legendary, one of a kind performance for the ages.
The Dark Knight as a movie represents the highest tier of comic book films and film in general with its then revolutionary IMAX filming, the incredible performances from Christian Bale, Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart and others, the viral marketing that fully engaged its audience, the distinguished mark of being the first comic book movie to reach the infamous billion-dollar mark at the box office and just the lasting effect it has had on the comic book movie landscape since then. Anyone that was genuinely unaware of Christopher Nolan’s ability as an auteur before that movie became incredibly aware of it afterwards, which spring boarded him into Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar since then. It also won two Oscars, with Ledger posthumously winning Best Supporting Actor and Richard King winning for Best Sound Editing.
When people talk about best comic book movies of all-time, The Dark Knight is almost always in the conversation and if it isn’t, someone will bring it up usually without argument. It’s really the last time that a DC movie was nearly unilaterally praised from all sides for what it did, which is funny for me because I was once told by an old friend that while it was a good movie, “it wouldn’t be one that we are talking about for years to come.”
And I thought my jokes were bad.