Movie villains are getting rather boring these days, aren’t they? Particularly within superhero films. If a great villain makes a film stronger, to paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, there’s at least one clear reason why blockbusters are becoming rather unremarkable. That was rather apparent in “Suicide Squad” earlier this month.
While The Joker wasn’t ultimately the main villain (though he might’ve been better than The Enchantress), David Ayer’s film ultimately underutilized the character. It falsely assumed his presence would forgive its limited screen-time. For better or worse, though, Jared Leto’s interpretation shrunk under the shadow of Heath Ledger’s masterful, Oscar-winning portrayal in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”
Ledger’s supporting antagonist character not only stole the superhero film single-handed; he practically cemented it into greatness. He’s what people reflect upon the most upon retrospect, and he’s also what arguably makes it the best superhero film of all time. This is explored in-depth with “The Dark Knight — Creating the Ultimate Antagonist,” YouTube’s Lessons from the Screenplay latest video essay which breaks down why The Joker is the perfect opponent for Batman, as seen through Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s shooting screenplay.
Of course, The Joker was already great on his own. He’s quite possibly one of the best fictional characters of all-time, not merely one of the best villains ever. But the Nolans make Ledger’s Joker exceptionally good at attacking the hero’s greatest weakness, most notably in situations where the villainous character uses Batman’s strengths his weakness. The Joker’s laissez faire attitude towards Batman killing him is in direct opposition of the hero’s no-death policy, and since the only way to stop The Joker is to murder him, Batman is constantly haunted by his one moral code.
From there, he pressures the protagonist into various difficult situations, terrorizing our masked vigilante and forcing him to make difficult situations, ones that test his true character. In that regard, editor Michael Tucker believes “The Dark Knight” earns comparisons to David Fincher’s “Se7en,” in more ways than you might initially think.
But above all else, what makes The Joker such a great opposition for Batman — particularly in Nolan’s masterpiece — is knowing they both have the same goal, even if their moralities are on two separate sides of the same coin. Both have grand visions for Gotham, but one wants hope, justice and order, while the other wants to upset the establishment, disrupt order and ultimately embrace chaos. In the battle for Gotham’s soul, Batman (or, more specifically, Bruce Wayne) becomes both stronger and weaker fighting The Joker, possessing a stronger understanding of self, while also realizing his greatest weaknesses.
He’s not The Joker simply due to his wacky laugh, green hair, powdered make-up and manic mannerisms. Rather, he’s great for how he has a specific effect on our titular Dark Knight, and allows Batman to become the hero that shares the film’s title. That, in part, is why Ledger’s take on the character still resonates, and why Nolan’s film remains so definitive, particularly in regards to The Joker’s character. To get a better analysis, however, check out the video below.