Anatomy Of A Car Chase: The Dark Knight

Next week, the long-awaited Batman finale The Dark Knight Rises will drop in theaters across America. Its box office revenues will likely rival the annual GDP of several small countries.

I think it's appropriate that for this proposed feature we take a look back at a famous sequence in the series' second film, 2008's The Dark Knight. Specifically, it's the chase between Batman, the cops and The Joker's 18-wheeler.


I know this scene has received some criticism over its direction and wonky editing, but I think it's great anyway. I love the frantic, desperate pace, the sheer amount of destruction to the vehicles and the city, the lack of computer-generated effects, and the fact that it involves bazookas. It's quite possibly the most exciting part of the entire film.

In the movie, District Attorney Harvey Dent has just confessed to being Batman, and is being taken to jail in an armored police van escorted by cop cars. Unfortunately, the Joker has other plans, and forces the motorcade down into Lower Fifth Avenue by blocking their path with a flaming fire truck (one of the movie's eeriest images).

Down below, the cops are like "turkeys on Thanksgiving," as one cop so eloquently puts it. The Joker takes out their vehicles one by one using a garbage truck and an 18-wheeler. Batman shows up in the Tumbler, but his vehicle too suffers critical damage. With its escorts gone, the police van reemerges onto the upper streets of the Gotham financial district, the Joker's truck in hot pursuit. The villain's men even manage to crash a GCPD helicopter into the ground.

Luckily, Batman emerges in the Batpod and takes the 18-wheeler out in a big way - flipping it end-over-end. In the end, Dent is safe, the mystery driver of the police van is revealed to be a not-dead Jim Gordon, and the Joker is taken into custody. Which is exactly what he wanted…

As most people know, the chase and other parts of the movie were filmed in Chicago. This sequence was shot in the lower level of Wacker Drive near the Chicago River as well as in the city's financial district. The chase scene mostly eschews CGI, while other parts were done using scale models, like when the Tumbler crashes into the garbage truck.

And that scene where the semi-truck flips over? Yeah, they actually did that, flipping it up with a steam propulsion system built into the trailer. IGN can tell you more about it here.

We'll have to wait until Thursday to fully see what new vehicular mayhem Christopher Nolan has in store for us.

Check out the gallery to see the chase, view our contenders, and see how they shake out once the chase is done.

All Photos Credit: Warner Brothers via IMCDB.org


Part One


Part Two

Anatomy Of A Car Chase: The Dark Knight

The Tumbler

What it is in the film: A prototype Wayne Enterprises military vehicle that was never put into production. In "Batman Begins," Lucius Fox explains that it's designed to help erect bridges by jumping over chasms. It's resistant to small arms fire and is equipped with a variety of weapons, and the rocket booster on its bumper helps launch it into the air. What it lacked in looks compared to previous Batmobiles, the hulking, tank-like beast made up for in unstoppability.

What it really is: The actual vehicles used for filming were powered by 5.7-liter Chevrolet V8 engines with 500 horsepower. HowStuffWorks has the specs here: The Tumbler weighs about 5,000 pounds and is custom built with a heavy-duty truck transmission and rear axle. It has 37-inch off-road tires in the back and Hoosier racing tires up front. Even with all that weight, the Tumbler was still decently quick, pulling off 0-60 mph times in the low 5-second range.

What happens to it: When the police vehicles come under attack by the Joker's men, Batman shows up in the Tumbler and makes a valiant effort to shut them down. Unfortunately, it takes a bazooka hit from the Joker while trying to protect the police van carrying Harvey Dent. Faced with "catatstophic damage," the Tumbler self-destructs, but not before deploying the Batpod.


Anatomy Of A Car Chase: The Dark Knight

The Batpod

What it is in the film: Batman's high-speed motorcycle breaks away from the Tumbler as a kind of escape mechanism, not unlike the Hayabusa I'm building that will launch out of a Chevy Blazer. (Patent pending!) The two-wheeler boasts incredible speed and maneuverability, as well as an arsenal that seems comparable to the Tumbler. We see it has guns, rockets and grappling cables that Batman cleverly uses to flip over the Joker's 18-wheeler. It also seems able to drive up walls and flip around for a quick turn.

What it really is: The Batpod is actually pretty amazing in terms of its construction. Popular Mechanics breaks it down: it's powered by a high-performance single-cylinder engine placed inside a steel chassis and a Kevlar and carbon fiber body. Its exhaust system had to be built into the frame. The bike's steering system was so unusual that only one stunt driver in the world was able to pilot it.

What happens to it: The Batpod is one of the few vehicles to make it out of this chase intact, even though Batman dumps it after deciding, at the very last second, not to run the Joker over with it. The hero uses the Batpod as his primary vehicle through the rest of the film, and the iconic last shot of the movie is of him racing towards light at the end of a tunnel on it. The trailers for The Dark Knight Rises indicate Batman and Catwoman put it to use again.


Anatomy Of A Car Chase: The Dark Knight

Gotham City Police Cars

What it is in the film: Three police cars and a van full of SWAT officers escort Harvey Dent to jail.

What it really is: Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors. With a body-on-frame chassis, rear-wheel-drive and the ubiquitous 4.6-liter Modular V8, nobody does it better, baby. IMCDB lists the SWAT van as a Chevy step van.

What happens to it: Nothing good. The police cars get crushed by one of the Joker's henchmen in the garbage truck. One gets slammed into a guardrail and another is spun out. Another police car takes a bazooka shot to the trunk. The SWAT van gets pushed into the river by the Joker's truck. Hope those cops can swim.

Anatomy Of A Car Chase: The Dark Knight

GCPD Paddy Wagon

What it is in the film: This armored police van is tasked with getting Harvey Dent to county jail after he confesses to being Batman. It's driven by a mystery officer in a black mask who keeps his mouth shut throughout the chase, and another SWAT cop who screams like a little girl every chance he gets. The driver is revealed at the end to Jim Gordon, who is not dead as was previously assumed, and who turns out to have some pretty badass driving skills. Maybe he did some racing when he was younger.

What it really is: IMCDB lists the truck as a 1991 International 4700 that was clearly an armored truck in a past life.

What happens to it: Like the Batpod, this is one of the only vehicles to make it out of the scene more or less intact. The Joker's truck pulls along side the van and pelts it with gunfire. With cover from Batman, Gordon manages to get the van topside where it dodges a crashing police helicopter. In the end, Dent exits the van unharmed, but things only go downhill for him after that. Let's just say he ends up being half the man he used to be. Heyooo!


Anatomy Of A Car Chase: The Dark Knight

The Joker's Trucks

What it is in the film: After forcing the police onto Lower Fifth Avenue, the Joker begins a relentless assault on their cars in his effort to kill Dent. The Joker's 18-wheeler is adorned with a sign that reads, "Slaughter is the best medicine." He has his henchmen pull alongside the police motorcade, and they open up with guns and rocket fire from a panel in the trailer. Later, the Joker takes over driving duties himself ("I like this job – I like it!"). One of his henchmen also drives a garbage truck that is essentially a battering ram on wheels, knocking the SWAT van into the river.

What it really is: The Joker's truck is a Peterbilt 18-wheeler tractor trailer. There seems to be some debate over who built the garbage truck.

What happens to it: The garbage truck takes a vehicular uppercut from the Tumbler, which puts it out of the chase for good. The 18-wheeler stays in the game until the very end, but it gets taken out in a very epic way when the Batpod fires a cable into its grille, drives underneath it, then wraps the cable around some lampposts, causing the entire truck to flip over onto its back. This may be the only time in history that a "motorcycle vs. 18-wheeler" situation came out in favor of the motorcycle.