It’s been almost 11 years since The Dark Knight was released but it’s impact on the film industry remains massive. Christopher Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins, his first venture into directing comic book films, was monumental in its creative direction and storytelling, simply for the fact that he focused on detail and realism rather than flash and fluff. The Dark Knight was the first of its kind to bring forth an Academy Award winner in Heath Ledger, posthumously, for his performance as The Joker, a role was once believed to be sacred thanks to Jack Nicholson’s performance of the character in 1989’s Batman.
The character is iconic and requires great range from the actor who plays it. Anyone can rub paint on their face and become a clown, but it takes a different breed of actor to become The Joker, the clown prince of darkness. This is something critics and fans alike can agree on — it’s a challenging role that’s revered and not taken lightly.
It has to be intimidating for anyone taking the role. Joaquin Phoenix is the latest to put on the paint in Joker, which will be released in theaters on Oct. 4. The film is already receiving high praise and was even given an eight-minute standing ovation at its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival and the Oscar hyper train is already leaving the station.
Film festival events are always controversial because they don’t speak for the majority of movie-goers. This doesn’t mean these films can’t be outstanding or well-received, it just means that what the average movie-goer looks for and what the average critic looks for are completely and utterly different. So, at this point, I’m cautious of giving much praise to such a film I haven’t seen, even though I do believe Phoenix is fitting for the part and will without a doubt have a memorable performance.
It will be interesting to see what Phoenix can bring to the role, something of significance to him. Each person that has made a memorable portrayal of The Joker has left that of an iconic mark on the character. And he seems poised to be no different, seemingly immersing himself in the role. With the 1960’s Batman television show, it was Cesar Romero’s giddiness and goofy laugh. With Jack Nicholson’s 1989 performance, it was his wit and grin. Ledger brought unique mannerisms and realism. And of course, you can’t forget Mark Hamill, who has created an unforgettable voice of The Joker through animation, just ask any comic book fan and they’ll tell you that they hear Hamill’s voice when reading the subject matter. This is why Jared Leto is forgettable – he brought nothing to the role, at least nothing noteworthy.
If Joker does indeed receive high praise and big box office numbers like most are thinking it will, you have to credit Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan a ton for it. This new incarnation of the role — which is bound to be critiqued ad nauseam — would have never been possible without The Dark Knight’s convicting ambitions. Nolan totally changed the game as far how movie-goers perceive comic book films and Ledger’s role as The Joker was the catalyst in that, not Christian Bale as Batman. Nolan took the eyes off the pomp and circumstance of comic book characters and veered them in a new direction, one where the audience looks into the heart and soul of the characters and not at his or her suits.
Phoenix only takes this role and has this opportunity because Nolan and Ledger changed the perception of the way comic book films and characters are perceived. Because of The Dark Knight back in 2008, studios can no make a solo movie focusing purely on a villain and get away with it. Moreover, there are better stories to tell now, at least more ambitious ones.