Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ultimate Joker?

There is a movement to force Warner from ever using the Joker in any movie - ever. Called the Ultimate Joker, this movement says that Heath Ledger was so good in the role that it should be retired.

I disagree.

I do think that the current franchise should drop using the Joker again, even though he appeared to survive Dark Knight. His story has been told. Even if Ledger was still alive, they could not top what they already did. All they could do is up the body count and dilute the character.

But, was this the defining performance which was so good that no one should ever try again? Come on. A generation ago they said the same thing about Jack Nicholson's performance. Each appealed to the current audience by tapping into current culture.

Ledger's version was a dead serious anarchist. He loved destruction for its own sake. This tapped into our current fears of terrorists. We never learned where he came from. He gave a few different stories about his scars. Presumably both were lies.

Nicholson's version was crazier. He also tapped into current fears. His method was product tampering - something that had killed several people in the 1980s. He also used the trick of luring people to a big event so that he could kill them (and presumably loot their bodies). Plus he had more fun.

Then there was the 1960s version with Cesar Romero. The serious version of Batman wouldn't have worked back then. The only way that people accepted a man dressed like a bat who fought similarly bizarre criminals was to play it as over-the-top. Romero's Joker fit in with this premise but gave it enough of an edge to stand out. Of all of Batman's foes in the 1960s, Joker was the most deadly. At one point he poisoned a possibly disloyal assistant  (Batman revived her with universal bat-antidote).

The comic book versions have also reflected the various versions of the Joker. Starting out as simply a colorful criminal, he became deadly and vengeful after the Comics Code was loosened around 1970. In one memorable appearance in the mid-1970s, he used chemicals to make fish look like himself. He then demanded that he be able to patent the Joker Fish and collect royalties and killed the patent clerk who told him that this couldn't be done. So far no screen version has been quite that cunning or deranged.

In another decade or two, after the current version has run its course, Warner will probably want to reboot the franchise again. The fans will want to see the newest version of the Joker. Why should they be denied?

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