10 years after it's theatrical debut, and it's safe to say Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is still viewed by many fans as a gold standard for superhero movies. The follow-up to 2005's Batman Begins ranks on may lists as one of the best Batman movies ever, casting a shadow which Warner Bros. and the DC Extended Universe can't seem to emerge from.
While a lot of its success, both critically and financially, is attributed to the dynamic between Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne/Batman and the late Heath Ledger's anarchy-driven Joker, there's another element in the movie's narrative we simply can't ignore: Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent.
Many people have fond memories of Ledger's unforgettable performance, but Eckhart's villainous take on Batman's ally turned enemy was equally riveting. Taking his descent into madness into consideration, there are a few reasons why he's the one who actually stands out as the most tragic villain in comic book movies to date.
Harvey's journey is best summed up by the iconic line, "You either die a hero, or live long enough to become a villain." It's a stark indictment on society, encapsulating how good people can falter even when trying to bring light to the world, either giving up after becoming tired of the struggle, or in Harvey's case, becoming corrupt themselves. With him though, he truly was someone who wanted to make Gotham a better place, which is why he garnered the tag of "White Knight."
He was a real hero, a champion for everyone, putting his name, face and life on the line, as seen when he pretended to be the Bat to lure Joker and his goons out. His actions further inspired Bruce to believe true justice could be dispensed without Batman, which eventually restored his faith in a broken city.
As a lawyer, he fought for justice, only to be literally burnt by the system he tried to reform. What hurt most in watching his fate unravel was that it wasn't his own anguish that turned him dark, but the fact that the very people he fought to protect were the ones who took the one thing which mattered most to him, Maggie Gyllenhaal's Rachel Dawes. Losing the love of your life and woman you intend to marry surely would break the strongest of wills, which is what happened to Harvey. Then, to rub salt into his wounds, the criminals who helped orchestrate her death were tainted Gotham police officers he had repeatedly warned Commissioner Gordon and Batman about.
Which is what makes the tragedy so painful. The same folks he wanted to weed out basically killed his family and drove him mentally off the edge. Everyone ignored Harvey's warning signs and the price paid was so big at the end of the film. This is why, while we won't condone it, it's understandable why he went after those who murdered Rachel, which sadly led to a crusade of revenge. Sure, Joker will be remembered for his chaos and motivations of purifying Gotham for its citizens' hypocrisy, but with Harvey, he was merely a selfless man robbed of something so precious: a future. He was willing to sacrifice everything, but even he couldn't predict the toll which would be asked of him.