The Hero, the Villain and the Innocent Bystander

One Moment in Time

The year was 2008. A time for Hope. A time for change. A time for endings. A time for new beginnings. Whether we want them to or not, the truth is things change. Sometimes we embrace it. Sometimes we want things to remain just the way they are. Whether it happens fast or slow, one thing is for certain, movies are constantly going through changes.

Every decade has one or three movies that come along and completely change the way movies can be made and they change the way the audience experiences them. Whether we connect with a certain character or allow the world that they inhabit to captivate us, we get sucked into their story. Before we know it, these movies soon changed us.

Change can be scary and I’m not always open to it when it is immediately presented to me. All it takes is one moment in time for everything to change and one of the biggest changes in movies would come in 2008 within the superhero genre. It was a change that I wasn’t ready to have happen, but it was a change that can only be described as… “Magic”.



Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004) could only be described as pure magic. These movies came out at a time when technology was finally at a point where they were able to capture the web-slingers adventures as he slung around New York City perfectly.

The character of Peter Parker that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were able to create in the 60’s was nothing shy of magic. He shot up into popularity right away. After many different creations, Lee wanted to do something different and Peter Parker was like nothing that he had created before. With the vision of Sam Raimi and the performance from Tobey Maguire, they were able to capture the essence of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man and gave us that “magic”.

However, after a slight resurgence at the beginning of the millennium, it was beginning to feel as if superhero movies were starting to run their course.

Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 (2007) had just released the previous year, closing out the trilogy … but something felt off. The same team that was capable of giving us two absolutely flawless films just a few years before had now given us a movie that feel so magical. 

Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were both praised for their direction and performances and even though Spider-Man 3 had grossed more than its two predecessors, it was instead met with distain and criticism by both critics and fans alike. The audience wasn’t satisfied. I wasn’t satisfied.

But the reason I wasn’t satisfied with Spider-Man 3 was for a much different reason than what it usually gets hated for. Where most people will disregard this movie entirely, I feel that there is still magic somewhere within this film. You just have to know where to look.

Peter Parker

That magic lies not within Spider-Man, but Peter Parker.

I believe a big reason why Peter Parker shot up into popularity is because of the connection that people had with him. Not so much as a superhero, but a connection that is so much more than that. We connect with Peter Parker because he is the definition of the “everyman”.

He stands out from many of the other characters because none of them portray the trope was well as he does. Peter is different. He is down to earth, he has money problems, he has relationship problems, he has social problems. We are able to connect with him because his life resembles our own. We relate to Peter Parker because we are Peter Parker.

Spider-Man 3 was incapable of providing Peter with a satisfying conclusion. The problem seems to lie within the trope that he portrays. If he was given his happy ending, he wouldn’t be the down and out “everyman” that we relate to. Sadly, his story didn’t come full circle.

The End…?

No. I didn’t care that Spider-Man 3 hadn’t lived up to the first two entries. I felt that there was still so much more to Peter Parker to explore … and now he was just gone. One of the most beloved comic book characters’ journey on the silver screen had come to an end. Not with a triumphant blaze of glory but with an unfortunately fizzled thud.

Studio interference was later blamed, leaving fans to wonder had Sam Raimi been able to make the film he wanted to make instead of the one he was told to, maybe Spider-Man 3 would’ve been able to provide the audience with the same magic that both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 had been able to give us years before. 

Indeed, after many failed attempts with other characters, it felt like the superhero genre was in a downward spiral and the new age of superhero movies was now in disarray. Not from lack of popularity, but from lack of studios knowing what to do with the genre. Was a bust coming so soon after such a short boom?

After Spider-Man 3, I wondered if I would ever get another “everyman” that I would be able to relate to. Of course, little did anyone know that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just around the corner.


The Joker

However, there was another comic book movie that was scheduled to be released that summer. A sequel to Batman Begins (2005) called The Dark Knight (2008) would be one of two movies that would completely change the landscape of things to come. The superhero genre’s nosedive would soon be taking an unexpected upturn.

The Dark Knight would be one of two superhero movies that would be responsible for breathing new life into a dying genre. It helped course correct superhero movies and turned them into the dominating force that that ruled the box office in the decade to come.

But before that could happen, something else unexpected happened just three weeks into the new year. Something that none of us were prepared to hear. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news on that bitter January morning.

On January 22nd 2008 at the age of 28, Heath Ledger had tragically passed away.

Heath Ledger

As we are all aware, Heath Ledger had been cast to play the Joker in The Dark Knight. His performance as the Joker would become so immediately legendary that it would win him a posthumous Oscar the following year.

When news first broke of his casting, it was met with an overwhelmingly negative reaction. He had previously been in movies such as 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), A Knight’s Tale (2001) and more recently Brokeback Mountain (2005). None of these movies screamed “Joker” material. As far as the public was concerned, Heath Ledger was not the man for the job.

Of course, what we didn’t know at the time was that his performance as The Joker would be like nothing any of us had ever seen before … and unfortunately, neither would he.

My Reaction

Yes. I, too, judged Heath Ledger on how he looked in those first promotional pictures. That make up. That hair. … What was this? By whatever means or however I felt at the time, this “new” Joker was not and was never going to be “my” Joker.

Not being a huge fan of Batman Begins when it had first released, I immediately decided that The Dark Knight was not a movie that I would have any interest in watching. 

Thankfully, a group of friends would drag me to go see it and to this day, I am so glad that they did. Whatever I thought, or however I felt, about Heath Ledger‘s career prior to The Dark Knight would get completely thrown out the window after he showed us how to make a pencil disappear. Had I skipped out of watching this movie in the theater, I know that I would’ve forever regretted it.

Suffice it to say, now I see the funny side.

But Wait…!

It is indisputable that Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker stole the show in The Dark Knight. But it’s not Heath Ledger that I want to talk about, nor do I want to talk about the Joker. I’m not even wanting to solely focus on Spider-Man. What, or rather who, I want to focus on at this moment in time is the unsung hero (and villain) of The Dark Knight.

Who I want to focus on is a character who gets completely overlooked because of Ledger’s brilliant show-stealing performance. A character who is just as, if not more important, to The Dark Knight than Joker or even Batman, himself. A character who deserves to be acknowledged and appreciated in his own right, who deserves the attention and respect that he has never gotten. A character who, most importantly, deserves recognition.

I am, of course, referring to that of Harvey, Harvey, Harvey Dent.


Harvey Dent

The year was 2008. As I sat there, watching The Dark Knight in the theater, it was one of the most exhilarating movie-going experiences I can remember having in my youth. It brought a whole new breath of fresh air to superhero movies that had been lacking since the release of Spider-Man 2. It was fun, daring and most importantly, it made me feel something.

… but it wasn’t Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) who I was paying attention to at the time.

Gotham’s White Knight

In my opinion, The Dark Knight is one of the best superhero movies of the decade and still one of the most influential comic book movies of all time. What it was able to accomplish was revolutionary. However, despite this movie being called The Dark Knight, I have never once seen this as a Batman movie.

I know that might sound odd, but there is a method to my madness: I believe that there is a very good reason as to why “Batman” is not featured in the title of the film. The protagonist is not always the good guy in the story. The protagonist is who the story is about and as far as I’m concerned … The Dark Knight doesn’t work without Harvey Dent.

An Unlikely Hero

This a story about Gotham’s “White Knight”, and The Dark Knight is merely a double entendre of the duality that is presented when it comes to his journey throughout the course of the movie and without him there is no “revolutionary” superhero movie that defines what comes next.

Almost every single character and almost every single storyline revolves around Harvey Dent in some way: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and Batman, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the GCPD, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the Joker. They all come into contact with him in one way or the other over the course of the film.

Bruce, knowing that he will never be able to dawn the cape and cowl forever, looking at Harvey as if he can be a the new symbol of Hope that Gotham deserves. Jim Gordon, wanting to make a difference but knowing that he will never be able to while working alongside crooked cops in the GCPD. Rachel, choosing to spend her life with him instead of Bruce. Then there is the Joker who wants to tear him down.

Everybody fueling into, and being fueled by, one man.

All of their stories revolve around him. That is why I like to think of Harvey Dent as the true protagonist of The Dark Knight. … but that doesn’t mean that I view him as the hero of the story, nor as the villain. How I choose to see Harvey is as something so much more.

The Every “Madman”

It’s true. … I once thought The Dark Knight had changed my life.

Along with Iron Man (2008), it helped pave the way and revolutionize the superhero genre. When this movie was first released, the Joker immediately became my new favorite character. It’s hard to deny that there is a type of freedom that he portrays with in which I was able to connect to in my more younger, nihilistic days.

However, I can see now that the connection I thought I had with the Joker was that of an adolescent who was just looking for an escape. As if the thought of growing up and getting older would prevent me from getting on with my life. Thankfully, I have since then grown out of that mentality and mindset. I have come to accept that the philosophy the Joker had of “watching the world burn” is nothing more than a childish view of the world.

As the years have passed and over the course of rewatching this film at the many different stages of my life, I’ve noticed that I have come to feel a connection to a different character altogether. A character who I didn’t feel was as important, or as iconic or as interesting as I thought he was the first time I watched this film.

I Believe in Harvey Dent

Again, I’m talking about Harvey Dent. After all this time, and after all of the many comic book movies and characters that have graced the screen, I keep coming back to Harvey. He is by no means a perfect character, nor does he have a perfect story. But I believe that there is a “magic” to Harvey nonetheless.

Looking back, what I didn’t realize was that Harvey was the “everyman” that I had been searching for. There is something about Harvey Dent that I never noticed. Maybe I needed to grow up a little bit to finally see it.

I’m still not sure that I can quite put my finger on it or describe it in words but every time that I rewatch this movie, I can’t help but notice that my focus lingers a little less on the Joker and I pay more attention to Harvey. Maybe it’s because I’m growing up, getting older and finally at an age when making the world a better place is the philosophy that I now choose to connect with.

Maybe that is why I feel that Harvey deserves a little more attention than he gets. Because after all this time, after all of the superhero movies that have come out since The Dark Knight was released all those years ago, I feel that if there is one character who will become lost to time … something tells me that it will eventually be him. 


All it took was one moment in time for Harvey Dent’s life to change and his role in this movie has also changed mine. Not in 2008 but so many more times since then. I’ve learned from Harvey when it comes to my own story. Instead of seeing myself as the hero or the villain, I have chosen to adopt a third option. A role that isn’t a definition to or as ambiguous as any character trope that I find myself playing at the current moment.