The Set of 400: #6 – My Favorite Magic Trick

Today! Because sometimes you turn to a man you don’t fully understand –

The Dark Knight (2008)

Directed by Christopher Nolan (x4)

Starring Christian Bale (x2), Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman (x5), Michael Caine (x7), Morgan Freeman (x5), Eric Roberts, Melinda McGraw, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Jai White, Tiny Lister (x3), William Fichter, Cillian Murphy (x3), David Dastmalchian, Ron Dean (x2), Chin Han, Nestor Carbonell (x2), Monique Gabriela Curnen, Keith Kupferer

If you had told me after Batman Begins that the Christopher Nolan films would eclipse the Burton ones in my personal evaluation, I would’ve said you’d gone goofy (because that’s an actual phrase I’m likely to use, rest assured). But this quickly became my prime example of the first movie in a series functioning more as a prequel than an original film. To even classify The Dark Knight as a sequel would mean to ascribe more qualities and value to Begins than it deserves. I know some people love it, and it’s fine, I guess, but only once The Dark Knight burst into existence. Otherwise, it’s just sort of sepia douchebaggery and table setting and Katie Holmes.

Meh

But the stars also aligned just right for Dark Knight in a lot of personal respects, too. As I’ve frequently mentioned, I moved to Chicago in June of 2008, and we’d just begun our first box office pool (I had Iron Man, which opened to kick off May), so movies were very much at the forefront of everything that year. It didn’t hurt that it was an extraordinarily big summer for films – what with Indiana Jones 4, the beginning of the MCU, Wall-E, Tropic Thunder, The Incredible Hulk, and the first Joker feature in nearly thirty years (plus, er, Speed Racer). But above all else – The Dark Knight is the most Chicago of movies, with virtually every outdoor scene filmed here in the big town. While they avoid showing the full skyline, or the Wrigley building, it’s so obviously Chicago as to be impossible to hide.

The first job I got after moving was in the Illinois Center building on Wacker, which I quickly discovered was featured as Bruce Wayne’s apartment, as the mansion had been destroyed in Begins. How cool is that? I walked through that lobby every day that summer, and on the big screen they were hosting Harvey Dent fundraisers being hijacked by the Joker!

They just hung some lights and threw in a decorative staircase! (Also, shout out to Vermont senator Patrick Leahy, getting roughed up screen left!)

(Scenes that appear much higher in the building were filmed at the hotel around the corner, as its supposed to be a penthouse, and Illinois Center’s lobby is, like virtually all respectable lobbies, on the ground floor.)

To this day, I still refer to the stretch of LaSalle Street ending at the Board of Trade building as Batman Street, as this is where the tractor trailer flips over. You can see a bunch of Chicago signage on the stores during this scene – maybe this was an oversight, or maybe they just figured there was no hiding the Chicago-ness of it all. We saw this movie at the Navy Pier IMAX theater, and the boat sequence is established from the end of the same pier! The under-construction building hosting the final Batman/Joker showdown is the Trump hotel at the bend in the river! Lower Wacker Drive features the tremendous underground chase/battle! Look, it helps that this movie is amazing and they could’ve filmed it in Pittsburgh (Thanks for stealing my background opportunities, Dark Knight Rises!) and I’d still love it, but considering when I moved here and when it was released, I often describe The Dark Knight as basically being a home movie for me.

Batman Street, USA!

But it took me a while to accept that The Dark Knight had become my favorite Batman movie, never mind clawing its way up to sixth overall now. As you’ll remember from #18, Burton’s Batman was my favorite movie for years growing up, to the point that it still drags Batman Returns onto this list, back at #205. It’s a hard mindset to break out of, really, when you’re set on something for so long. I simply didn’t believe it was possible anyone could make a better Bat film – and yes, I realize how shortsighted this idea is, especially about Burton’s somewhat campy take on the whole thing. But who could’ve guessed that The Dark Knight would be that good? It single-handedly changed Oscar rules, as its snub was considered so egregious (and in favor of such mediocre fare as Frost/Nixon and The Reader) that they expanded the Best Picture category back to its 1930s/1940s size.

2008 also managed to kick off what I think we can all agree has been the golden age of comic book movies. Between this and Iron Man, we were launched into a decade’s worth of epic masterpiece superheroing. Sure, the best of the Spider-Man movies were behind us, and the uneven first X-Men trilogy, but we had the entire glorious MCU to come, The Dark Knight Rises, the superior X-Men prequel/sequels (First Class, Days of Future Past, Logan, Deadpool), Wonder Woman – these were gravy times. By the time you read this – has this all definitively come to a close? Endgame just came out and managed to redeem Infinity War for me, but there aren’t a ton of indications what happens next. And the DC film universe is still a mess. And Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, so I don’t know what this means for X-Men. It feels like we’ve come to the end of a lot lately, capes-and-tights wise.

All things considered – and there is plenty to consider at this point –

Some just galloped toward the end faster than others

The Dark Knight is still my choice for best superhero movie ever. Look, in the aggregate, the MCU has obliterated DC in all film respects – there really are only one or two MCU movies that are average at worst – but opposite their highs (say, Iron Man/Black Panther/Civil War/Endgame/Guardians) I still think TDK gets the nod as top movie. I don’t even have a solid choice for second – by this list, Batman is my second favorite, but I recognize it’s not really the second best superhero movie. I need a little distance – the last couple years have had a bunch of great movies – so I can’t properly evaluate this for a little while. That’s how I operate!

This is the fourth Batman movie on this, and the fourth Nolan, following #139 The Dark Knight Rises, #347 Memento, and #34 Inception. Mark my words – we’re within a decade of his Best Picture/Best Director film – I don’t know what it is, but it’s rapidly approaching. Michael Caine leads the way on the actor side, joining the Sevens after Dark Knight Rises, Inception, #220 Without a Clue, #180 Hannah and Her Sisters, #188 Muppet Christmas Carol, and #140 Noises Off, but I’d also like to shoutout some Chicago locals I’ve caught on stage here in town that also appear in the movie – David Dastmalchian (who plays that nutcase Dent kidnaps) and Keith Kupferer (who says “He should turn himself in!” at the press conference), who we saw in productions of Buried Child with Shattered Globe at the Greenhouse Theater Center and God of Carnage and Sweat at the Goodman, respectively!

Dastmalchian in TDK

Kupferer in the terrific 2019 Sweat production

Coming tomorrow! That’s pretty dangerous, building a road in the middle of the street –

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