The Dark Knight is a movie that feels like it is constantly accelerating. It doesn’t really have a climax because the entire film feels like the climax. It’s both the biggest strength and weakness of The Dark Knight, a film released to massive critical acclaim and unexpected blockbuster success in 2008, with many critics and even more fans adorning it with the title of greatest superhero film ever made. At the time, people gave it that title because it was a comic book movie that didn’t feel like a comic book movie because it took itself seriously.
But now, I believe that critical acclaim is actually due to the constant acceleration of the movie, always moving without pause. Bruce is never resting in his pursuit of The Joker. Harvey Dent is never resting in his pursuit of justice against the mob. The only scene that feels kind of like a breather, a moment where we can rest and digest the story, is when Bruce, Harvey, Rachel and a ballerina from the Moscow Ballet are sitting down for dinner. It’s a crucial moment because Harvey spews out the line “you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” But it’s even more important for showing Harvey’s true face and colors, revealing who these characters are and what they care about (Harvey about justice, Rachel about Harvey, Bruce about Rachel, ballerina about wherever her food is.)
The movie could benefit from a lot more of these more mellow scenes, as everything else is high stakes tension that mostly works and fails when it doesn’t. The movie feels overlong and overstuffed. However, even for its constant acceleration, when we do get to the action sequences, they are dazzling and spectacular and just as wow-worthy as when we first watched them nine years ago. The entire sequence where The Joker derails Harvey’s transport and starts the chase sequence on the streets of Gotham should serve as instructional material to anyone learning to operate an IMAX camera or any action sequence that involves fast-moving cars or explosive weapons.
Don’t get me wrong, the constant acceleration isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is the film’s most defining characteristic. But depending on how much you need to stick to a conventional story structure with breaks and paces between action and acceleration will determine how much you still like this movie nine years later.