8. Transferring Harvey Dent
If Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is short on anything, it’s chase scenes. While there are a few noteworthy exceptions that prove this rule, there are none better than The Dark Knight’s scene in which an armoured vehicle transferring the recently arrested Harvey Dent through the streets of Gotham is followed and fired at by a team led by the Joker; Batman and his Batmobile in close pursuit. It’s frantic, it’s rampant, there’s tension between multiple characters, and it all escalates until the ultimate test: Joker asking Batman to kill him.
In no way is the escalation of this scene better exemplified than in the moment Joker swaps a machine gun for a bazooka. Nolan plays it mostly for laughs (as is in-keeping with the Joker character in the wider comic book lore as well as the audacious and unpredictable nature of this version) but also life-threatening to one of the movie’s main characters, Harvey Dent – it’s popcorn-selling fun with a purpose. And importantly, it’s only when Joker fires the weapon that Batman arrives. As Joker moves on, Batman dismantles his Batmobile for a Batcycle, elevating tensions further both in narrative terms but also visual ones, Batman now more susceptible to outside factors; Joker shortly thereafter reduced to standing alone in the middle of a street with one of his smaller guns. Man versus man, Joker begs to be killed, but with Batman unwilling, James Gordon instead returns to arrest the criminal and put him behind bars.
It’s a scene that a lesser director could have made generic or worse forgettable, but Christopher Nolan uses it to visually illustrate how Batman and Joker are heading closer and closer to mutual oblivion, how for all of their efforts they are wearing one another down into next to nothing. And better still, he does so whilst creating meaningful moments of characterisation for Harvey Dent and James Gordon, reminding us of their importance as regards Bruce Wayne’s wishes to place Gotham into the hands of a “real hero”, elevating the underlying plotline between Wayne, Dent and Gordon that shall prove the crux of the film’s final act.
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7. Batman’s Epilogue Sacrifice
“He’s the hero Gotham deserves but not the one it needs right now.”
The closing sequence of The Dark Knight features so many satisfying narrative conclusions, not least of which is Bruce Wayne being able to exorcise his demons by saving James Gordon’s family from suffering a similar fate to his own, but it’s Gordon’s explanation to his son of the Batman’s true sacrifice in spurring Harvey Dent that best evaluates the sacrifices Wayne has had to make over the course of the film.
With Dent lying dead on the floor, Bruce turns his face and tells Gordon to blame the Batman for the murders Dent has committed, Wayne well and truly tied to the ideal that Gotham can move on with a “real” hero as opposed to a masked vigilante. It’s a moment that ties back to the conclusion of Batman Begins when Rachel tells Bruce that she’ll wait for Gotham to no longer need him – “maybe one day when Gotham no longer needs Batman, we’ll see him again” – and speaks of how Rachel’s own stance has distorted Wayne’s truth; a truth he’ll have to face head-on in The Dark Knight Rises courtesy of help from Alfred and the circumstances of Bane’s plan. As he runs into the mist, police on the chase, we also come to understand how this is a sacrifice of ego; that for all the glitz, glamour and celebration that has gone hand-in-hand with Batman’s rise in prominence and Bruce Wayne’s return to the world, Gotham still means more to Bruce Wayne than even himself.
Delivered in typically pitch perfect fashion by Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight’s iconic and revolutionary score rising underneath, it’s the kind of ending that satisfactorily concludes major story threads whilst offering the resulting conundrums (Batman on the run, his potential absence from Gotham, the lies surrounding Dent) as tantalising threads to pick up in the third film; a piece of filmmaking that warrants its position as the conclusion of the film.
6. Joker Meets the Mob
“Do you want to see a magic trick?”
Joker meeting the mob in The Dark Knight is a scene that has become synonymous with the superhero movie genre, a vital piece of the Joker’s characterisation taken out of context for everything from supercuts on YouTube to big money advertising; truly a transcendent moment.
Here, Joker breaches a meeting between the most influential and most violent mob members, interrupting Lau’s video call plan to offer a plan of his own: “kill the Batman”. It’s the first we hear of Joker following the opening scene and sets the table for the outlandish nature of his being right off the bat (pun intended). As another mob leader says “if it’s so easy, why haven’t you done it already?”
Following up with his trademarked magic trick (making a pencil disappear by lodging it into a mobster’s eye socket) and then not wanting to “blow things out of proportion” (pull the pins on the grenades lining the insides of his suit), there’s plenty to love about how he’s written here, but it’s the performance of Ledger himself that truly immortalises this scene, his making the most of every line and opportunity to move within the frame being one of the best illustrations of the quality of his performance in The Dark Knight.
While this scene does more for Joker than it does to enhance the narrative as a whole, it being more squarely focused on his journey as the antagonist than a myriad of characters and strands as is the case for the majority of entries on this list, its outstanding delivery and presentation make it an unmissable, important moment for The Dark Knight, an all-time great comic book movie moment.