The Joker is Batman’s most iconic villain. While many of his other villains are more physically imposing, none have left quite an impact like the Joker. The villain is so iconic, that he’s even getting his own standalone movie. The new film is completely separate from all other continuity and even earning Oscar buzz, but also it’s fair of backlash.
With the film in cinemas soon, now seems like the perfect time to take a look at the Joker, some of the iconic performances, why it’s such a great role, and whether audiences should be worried about going to see it in cinemas…
“Wait ’til they get a load of me”
The Joker first appeared in 1940 in the first issue of “Batman” (who finally got his own book after starting in “Detective Comics”). Initially intended to be a one-off villain who was killed off at the end of the story, a panel showing his survival was added at the last minute. The Joker would return several times, with his own unique brand of chaos changing from serial killer to prankster and a hybrid of both as the years went by. The first live-action incarnation came alongside the campy Adam West Batman (1966-68) played by Cesar Romero. He was tied for most popular villains on the show appearing in 22 episodes, as well as the feature-length movie.
The next time Joker appeared in live-action, it was in 1989’s Batman played by Jack Nicholson, starring opposite Micheal Keaton’s Caped Crusader. He wouldn’t appear again in a film until 2008, despite the Batman franchise being hugely successful in the 90’s before Batman and Robin put it on ice (Mr Freeze pun intended). However, the character lived on in comics and animated series, with Mark Hamill being the definitive voice for many fans.
“You wanna know how I got these scars?”
In 2008, Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker in The Dark Knight which was met with huge disapproval from fans (some things never change). Despite this, production continued resulting in the iconic performance that makes The Dark Knight the phenomenon that it is. Ledger went to extreme lengths to get into the mindset of the character, locking himself in his hotel room, keeping a journal in character, and directing the hostage videos seen in the film. His best-known role, it would also tragically be his last, as he was found dead in his room a few months after completing filming (He was part way through his final film, which had to use clever recasting for some scenes). His untimely death sent shockwaves throughout the world and helped his Joker transcend just the one film. He posthumously won a (well deserved) Oscar for the role, helping the film transform comic book movies as well as the Oscars.
However, not all the effects of The Dark Knight were positive. Ledger’s death meant the character did not appear in The Dark Knight Rises. At a midnight showing of the film, a gunman opened fire on the audience claiming he was the Joker and was inspired by the character, which was an unfortunate addition to Ledger’s legacy.
The next film the Joker appeared in was 2016’s Suicide Squad played by Jared Leto. Naturally, he had some big shoes to fill and Leto responded by taking the method acting up to 11. Leto lived the character resulting in some quite disturbing set stories. After so much build-up, audiences were disappointed to find out he had barely 15 minutes of screentime. This film was the first to feature his relationship with Harley Quinn, an abusive relationship in the comics.
“Madness is a lot like gravity, all it takes is a little push”
Joaquin Phoenix is the next person to play the Joker and, if early screenings are any indication, gives a phenomenal performance as the character. However, some feel that, by making him the protagonist and sympathetic, it reinforces ideas about toxic masculinity and violence that have led to real-life crimes like the shooting (the cinema it took place in will not show the new film) and some authorities preparing for copycats.
It is hard to say if people are right to be worried about such things until the film is released. While it is likely that this is an overreaction, some people are understandably worried. These fears could impact its opening weekend, but it seems unfair to blame Phoenix, who could still be on track for an Oscar.
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