The timing of this post really has nothing to do with the upcoming release of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. It has more to do with a debate I read about which Joker was better, and someone saying, I kid you not, “You only like Ledger in that movie because he died.” Really, no kidding. Someone actually said that to me. I was stunned. Anyway, let me first say I’m a huge fan of both Jokers and both of the versions of Batman they come from, and that’s key to understanding why this debate is pointless. I grew up watching reruns of Batman on TV, reading some of the 80’s comics, and had probably one of the best comic runs of Batman in my opinion, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight (I know, everyone says Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is the best, but I wasn’t collecting at that time).
First we take a look at Jack Nicholson’s Joker, from the Tim Burton film Batman. The film itself, was an updated, and darker version, of the classic comic books and shows. Violence was relatively tame, the darker elements of the Batman story were kept fairly light-hearted, and the action was what one expects from a super-hero movie of the time.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Michael Keaton was great as both Bruce Wayne, and Batman, and the chemistry between Keaton and Nicholson made the conflict between their characters fun to watch. As far as Nicholson goes, playing the Joker, well it’s Jack Nicholson. I don’t think I’ve seen a single role of his that wasn’t fantastic. He brought the sadistic, humorous crazy that is that version of the Joker. There really is no comparison for this version of the Joker in live-action film or TV. Remember that, this version of the Joker…live-action.
Now, we move on to Heath Ledger’s Joker. As seen in Batman: The Dark Knight. Chris Nolan brought us a much darker version of Batman with his trilogy of movies. His remind me more of the darker spin-offs of the Batman comics, and nothing at all like the TV show or previous movies. The action is brutal, violent, and realistic. Nolan’s batman is presented in a much more real-world frame of mind, with a little less camp, and much more seriousness.
These type of movies call for an entirely different version of the Joker. Ledger’s version calls to mind the Joker from Legends of the Darknight, or Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. This Joker still laughs, but it’s not funny at all. He brings a sick and sadistic humor that makes you uncomfortable to laugh at. This version is completely different than Nicholson’s, but equally as brilliant.
That’s really the core of why this debate is pointless. These version of the Joker are both totally different, called from different version of the Batman mythology, and protrayed in different ways to meet the needs of the film and story. They are both perfect for the role that they were playing, and both played by great actors. In both cases they made these movies what they were, and I can’t honestly think of better actors to have played them at the time.
All that said, I think it goes without question though, these two were perfect for the live-action version of the Joker, but they both pale in comparison to this Joker.