The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Batman Begins / The Dark Knight

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films from 2000 to 2009. Today’s entry counts as two films.

“Batman Begins” / “The Dark Knight”
Rated PG-13
2005 / 2008

Amid a barrage of gadgets, powers and close-fitting costumes, it’s easy to forget that legendary comic-book heroes are born from a creator’s sharp comment on the world he sees.

With 2005’s “Batman Begins” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan applied a much-needed defibrillator to the Bob Kane character’s near-vegetative movie franchise — updating Batman’s M.O. from a 1940s vigilante forged from Depression fragility and inner-city blight in a way that topically tantalized without abandoning noir roots.

Pure panic can’t accompany the predictable. Even the worst plans in scare-tactic politics — continuing war, rising gas prices, dying dollars — are, unfortunately, practices to be foreseen and accounted for. What of those crawling forth from a chasm of unanticipated evil — fueled not by gain or revenge, but ideology and a chaotic interest to prove that decent men cannot exist in indecent times?

These were the electrifying, thought-provoking and satisfyingly explored stakes of Nolan’s films — scorching examinations of the line between heroism and leadership.

They also proved entertainment with a brain as big as its budget could make a most welcome comeback. A pair of Batmobile chases on Chicago’s Lower Wacker Drive — one of them spilling over into the LaSalle Street canyon in the dead of night — were among the most brooding, and best, action sequences of The Zeroes.

Christian Bale makes the best Batman yet — internalizing the importance of the duality between Batman and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne. He dives into a deep well of anger and angst while conveying imperfections and easily exploited vulnerabilities that other Batmen have lacked. Through both films, Bale is ably aided by one of the richest cadres of supporting actors ever assembled — Michael Caine, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman and Tom Wilkinson.

But Heath Ledger’s Joker — the late actor’s penultimate role, in the second film — proves the driving agent in a disturbing double feature of destabilization. This Joker fully exploits the fallible nature of those he happily leads to their own annihilations. Plans mean little to a man obsessed with the extinction potential of chaos.

Part and parcel of the Joker’s havoc and destruction is forcing Batman, Eckhart’s tragic D.A. Harvey Dent and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s second-film incarnation of lawyer Rachel Dawes into impossible choices between idealism and love. With an unsettling effortlessness, Ledger establishes himself as the best Batman villain — a brain-to-bones sadist whom, sadly, we’ll never see again.

Moving with jittery squiggles, eyes flitting, face sandblasted and a tongue instinctively licking his scarred mouth, Ledger transforms into evil. You haven’t danced with the devil by the pale moonlight until Ledger takes your psyche out for a twirl.

Adherent to blockbuster formula, “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” triggered as many physical explosions as internal implosions. Yet the damage and mayhem hinged on just how much of their fallout the films’ protagonists could willingly absorb. Taken together as a collective crime saga, action film, character study and social commentary, Nolan’s Batman films were modern, multi-layered masterworks.

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14 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: Batman Begins / The Dark Knight”

  1. […] Powers in Goldmember Australia Auto Focus Avatar Away From Her Away We Go Bad Santa The Bank Job Batman Begins / The Dark Knight A Beautiful Mind Before Night Falls Before Sunset Best in Show / A Mighty Wind The Best of Youth Big […]

  2. […] direction that action-thrillers are heading. It rides along with the “Bourne” trilogy and “The Dark Knight” in a new wave that mirrors the subversive New Hollywood movement of the ’60s and […]

  3. […] other month. They all become very familiar. I think this one is up there in the same recognition of “The Dark Knight” where it is a really good story first that happens to have superhero characters in […]

  4. […] Batman series — its grounding in gritty reality — was evident in the poster for 2008′s “The Dark Knight” as well. The tagline, “Why so serious?,” seemed to be an announcement of the […]

  5. […] Most recent comic book films — and action movies in general (e.g. “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Dark Knight,” “The American,” etc.) — follow their heroes into the abyss, never to […]

  6. […] for the story’s wacky scenarios. Since when did filmmakers become such anti-escapists? Since “The Dark Knight” grounded Batman in gritty reality — and garnered critical acclaim for doing so? Even Carrey tones […]

  7. […] president), “Bruce Almighty” (playing God, no less), “Million Dollar Baby,” “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” “Gone Baby Gone” and […]

  8. […] Returns” reclaimed the Man of Steel’s good name from bad movies almost as well as “Batman Begins” did for the Dark Knight. Whether dabbing furiously or employing smooth strokes, Singer had a […]

  9. […] the color until a conclusion that, in this format, plays like a cross of “12 Angry Men” and “The Dark Knight’s” ferryboat […]

  10. […] One call solves it all. Nick: After at least touching upon the intricacies of extradition in “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan pretty much just leaves it at the idea that Saito can make a call and get Dom […]

  11. […] One call solves it all. Nick: After at least touching upon the intricacies of extradition in “The Dark Knight,” Christopher Nolan pretty much just leaves it at the idea that Saito can make a call and get Dom […]

  12. Nick Rogers says:

    joel: Thank you, good sir. My favorite films inspired by comic books almost always have an undercurrent of sociology – or, at the very least, a damn good introductory musical theme for its hero ("Blade II"). That Luke Cage movie has been in discussion for awhile, hasn’t it? I see Tyrese is signed for a 2011 release. Muy interesante.

    Joe: Thank you as well, good sir. There’s probably a graduate student much smarter than I am who has written a compelling paper about that very topic.

  13. Joe Shearer says:

    If I could offer one criticism of Nick’s work in this case, it’s that he lumped these two movies together. I understand why he did it, because they’re so connected thematically, but I’d like to see a greater discussion of each film, especially Batman Begins, in the context of real-world and politics. In other words, your analysis is so good I just wanted more of it.

    My favorite part about these films is the statement they make on politics and so deftly tie them into to certain socio-political goings-on of the time without making a silly message film. They deal not with the people in our own age who engaged in these practices, but concentrated on the crimes themselves, allowing the sharper of moviegoers to gauge the difference, and perhaps the younger viewers will one day revisit these films and realized they have absorbed their ultimate message, perhaps without even knowing it.

    That is the essence good filmmaking.

  14. joel says:

    a wonderful examination of the films nick, you’ve hit the proverbial nail by examining the aspects of comic’s lore that is too easily missed by those who see only men in tights. (tight tights) the ultimate purpose of these characters is to be a reflection of our underlying fears, motivations, and possibilities. when hollywood only sees an opportunity for more sex and ultra-violence, they miss out on the opportunity to play out a drama of our national psyche writ large. with the upcoming re-boot of spiderman and the (insane amount of) other upcoming comic book inspired movies, perhaps we will see a continued dialogue of our internal struggles as a nation and individuals. the cage movie helmed by singleton alone could bring back the trials of the inner city back into the public conciousness, like he did with boyz in the hood. here’s to the heroes bringing the truth to light once more.