If you’ve read anything in the entertainment media over the last few days you’ll know that yes, The Dark Knight has hit its 10th anniversary. Released in 2008, Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel was and still is a remarkable achievement deserving of all the tributes and remembrances its received recently.
There are two narratives, though, that emerged that I took issue with to some extent. The one deals with the movie itself while the other touches on its marketing campaign.
Questionable Narrative #1: The Dark Knight Legitimized Comic Book Movies
[extreme chandler bing voice] Could you *be* any more condescending?
This narrative is based on the idea that comic book movies needed legitimizing in the first place and assumes that they by default come from a lower, less “important” rung of the movie universe. Neither is true, but they have their origins in the long-standing dismissal of comic books as a whole.
In the old days, prior to the 1980s, comic books were for kids. They weren’t seen as relevant by most of the very important cultural gatekeepers, critics and commentators. Their pulpy stories, serialized stories and graphical format made them less-than and certainly not the place where serious or relevant stories were being told.
After the 80s comic books became tied to the growing niche geek culture, the nerds who collected variant covers and went to conventions and eventually gathered in online communities to discuss their shared passions. The impact of their stories and the quality of the art could no longer be denied by the media, so instead they were written off as attractive only to the strange loner.
Really, though, the stories and character types are the same that have always been featured in mainstream entertainment. Anyone engaging in a good faith debate has to acknowledge that the differences between Batman and the vigilantes or detectives played on screen by Humphrey Bogart, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and others are slim at most.
The main effect The Dark Knight had was that critics and commentators could no longer take issue with a movie’s production quality as a way to not take the story or characters seriously. It was so good they had to praise it and thereby “legitimize” the comic book genre.
Questionable Narrative #2: The Campaign’s ARG Was a Game-Changer
On its face I don’t actually take issue with this statement. The problem I have is in some of the supporting arguments people have made to try and prove their point.
Too many essays just call out how the ARG elements of the movie’s marketing campaign were so fun and interesting. That’s true, but not for the reasons often cited.
While the web had, of course, been around and in widespread use for years, what The Dark Knight’s campaign did was seamlessly mesh the online and offline experience to create a story that tied directly into the opening of the movie. From websites for Harvey Dent’s campaign to become District Attorney to cakes being sent to people who solved online puzzles to flash mobs in cities across the country, everything worked together to bring the audience into the story, which ended with a call into the Gotham PD of a bank robbery in progress.
The marketing for Cloverfield that ran from mid-2007 to the release of that movie in early 2008 was just as innovative and fresh, but was centered almost entirely online, where people dissected clues and found messages hidden in photos and so on. It didn’t bridge online and offline activities and puzzles the way the marketing for TDK did, but the latter arguably couldn’t have happened without the former paving the way.
There are a lot of good reasons to revisit The Dark Knight on a regular basis. Let’s just make sure we’re not pretending comic book movies needed to be “legitimized” before they could be taken seriously and that we’re appreciating the nature of its innovative marketing for the right reasons.