Sunday, August 06, 2006

As my plastic surgeon always said, if you've gotta go, go with a smile!

So, Nolan, Bale and company have made the announcement; the sequel to 2005's Batman Begins will be titled The Dark Knight. The title is notable in that it doesn't include the name Batman, which may be the first time we've had a superhero movie that didn't include the name of the hero in the title. It will feature the villain we were teased with at the end of Begins, the greatest of Batman's foes, the Joker.

And the Joker will be played by none other than Heath Ledger. Heath Ledger, star of such diverse movies as Ten Things I Hate About You, A Knight's Tale, The Patriot, The Brothers Grimm, and Brokeback Mountain.

I've been a fan of Mr. Ledger ever since Ten Things I Hate About You. My wife's obsession interest in him began even earlier, with the short-lived television series Roar. I think he's a good actor, but does he have the chops to pull off the Joker?

But for some reason, I'm having trouble accepting it. Possibly because of the age issue. Heath Ledger is several years younger than Christian Bale, and for some reason, the Joker has always just seemed older than Batman to me.

(And sure, this could just because Cesar Romero was older than Adam West, and Jack Nicholson is older than Michael Keaton. I'm willing to accept possible reasons for the bias.)

I'm not dismissing it out of hand, mind you. But he's got some big shoes to fill.

The Joker I grew up with was Cesar Romero. Cesar Romero, goofy and ridiculous. He never even shaved off his mustache for the role, instead choosing to put the pancake makeup over the mustache. The Batman television show was camp, pure and simple, but it was such fun camp.

And, of course, all of the villains were top-notch all the way. Cesar Romero as the Joker, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, not to mention the series of Catwomen, each of whom was excellent in their own way.

(I know that many people are hardline Lee Meriweather fans. And that's ok. But to this day, Eartha Kitt is the perfect Catwoman in my mind. Better than Michelle Pfeiffer. And worlds above Halle Berry.)

I don't want to see Ledger portray that vision of the Joker. Romero's Joker was a product of its time, its genre, and the Batman comics that existed in that era. Revisiting them now would be a terrible mistake, I believe. But I'd be lying if I said that I won't be thinking of Romero when I see Ledger.

Then, of course, there's Jack Nicholson. Nicholson's portrayal of the Joker made number seven in my Top Ten Movie Villains list. (Romero wasn't eligible, even with the Batman movie, I consider those four to be television villains, not film villains.) He would've ranked even higher if the presence of Jack Nicholson hadn't overshadowed the role of the Joker. Nicholson's Joker was psychotic and scary, but at the same time goofy and fun.

I like Nicholson's Joker. But I hope that Ledger's Joker has a thoroughly different take. I also hope that we either get no origin story at all for the Joker, or we get the Red Hood origin, as seen so wonderfully in Batman: The Killing Joke. Burton's Batman followed the same theme, with Napier being thrown into the chemicals due to Batman's interference with the crime, but it wasn't quite the same.

For one thing, Napier was already a psychotic thug, whereas the hapless comic of Killing Joke was just an ordinary guy who had a Really. Bad. Day.

I don't know what the plot of The Dark Knight is going to be. I don't know how it's going to come off. And I'm not sure that Ledger is going to be able to hang with Nicholson and Romero. I didn't have this apprehension about Spacey replacing Hackman as the Joker, but I'm just not sure if Ledger is in the same weight class as Kevin Spacey. But, we shall see.


Anonymous Matt said...

I found Nicholson's portrayal disappointing. He was more of a gangster with clown weapons, which fit the origin story they had but fell short of the version of the Joker I grew up with.

I'm hoping Ledger's part is written more along the lines of the Joker from Batman the Animated Series, voiced by Mark Hamill. I want to see a Joker who is brilliant, devious, and a serious threat, but completely loony and always taking humor out of his twisted crimes.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous nico said...

Nicholson would have made a much better Two Face.

I also think Tommy Lee Jones' Two Face would have been more appropriate as the Joker, but it's probably better to just not think much about that movie.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous Os said...

I'm with Matt on this one. For me, Mark Hamil IS the Joker. It may be cheating a bit, and I'll give allowances for live ation, but I'd like to see the manic attitude and, most importantly, the laugh, that he brought to the table.

Oh, and for my money, Julie Newmar is the best Catwoman.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

I'm not in any way arguing that Nicholson was the perfect Joker. He wasn't. I too prefered Hamil's version in the cartoon, and, as I said, Romero's version was better too, I thought.

But I maintain that there is no way that Ledger isn't going to be compared to Nicholson, at least in the eyes of the public. Whether you liked it or not, it left a huge impression on the media-consuming public.

I don't want to see Ledger try to duplicate Nicholson. Not at all. Nor do I want to see him try to duplicate Romero. Or even Hamil.

But by taking on this role, he will be compared to them. My concern is that he isn't in their weight class.

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it'll be interesting to say the least.

2:04 AM  
Anonymous Terry Bayer said...

Patients can surely get a lot of life lessons from plastic surgeons. I remember my doctor telling me something about how little modifications can turn a person's life perspective by 360 degrees. Well, it's sad that we lost Heath early. And I think he did quite a great job in The Dark Knight.

3:23 PM  

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