Both Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger are brilliant in the villainous role of Batman.
The two Jokers differ slightly due to the context in which they are portrayed. 2008’s The Dark Night, which featured Ledger in his last performance, was a serious crime thriller that made great use of modern-day cinematic techniques. In Tim Burton’s 1989 version of Batman, the storyline follows closer to that of the comic book series. Nicholson does not start the film with the persona of the famous villain. Instead, he’s at first a mob guy living a life of crime in New York City. After a series of unfortunate events leave Jack Napier (Nicholson) outcasted and disfigured, he reinvents himself as The Joker. His character is also looking to destruct, but Jack brings a surprisingly lighthearted and even charming vibe to the villainous role. The 1989 film even sees The Joker and his crew do what looks like a choreographed dance to to the tune of Prince as they waltz around a museum from which they intend to steal all the paintings.
Nicholson’s character is is not as deranged as the oneportrayed by Heath Ledger. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to the audience.
In The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger as The Joker is an evil trickster, one who gets his gratification from toying with the people whom he intends to victimize. The mind games are a big part of this character. He shows no emotion towards other humans.
Jack Nicholson’s role in 1989 was not as dark, although the character is just as evil. Despite his scary looks and malicious deeds, Nicholson still displays human-like tendencies. His character is bent on revenge against a city that he feels has cast him aside. The Joker even lusts after a woman, Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), but reacts angrily when rejected by her. The character is appealing since he has different sides. We can relate perhaps a little because the human element is there.
In 2008’s version of Batman, Heath Ledger shows no interest in the opposite sex. He is fixated solely on committing his crimes as well as toying with the members of law enforcement.
The two versions of the film follow different storylines, so it’s difficult to say who played the best Joker character. In terms of entertainment, Heath Ledger did it for me. As we are now in the 21st century, cinematic sophistication has enabled movies to go far beyond stories that are depicted on the screen. They are experiences.
Ledger brought a different element to the psychopath that is the Joker. Not only was he brilliant, evil and cunning, but Ledger had an energy about him that captivated audiences. As the villain he was the one putting people on the edge of their seats, not Batman. When word spread that he would play the Joker, moviegoers were wondering how a reserved and tranquil Heath Ledger would be able to pull off such a twisted mess of a character. Upon seeing The Dark Knight, we know why: He completely immersed himself in the role. There was nothing on the screen that resembled Heath Ledger the person, with the exception of his physical features which were well concealed behind makeup. Despite The Joker’s evil deeds we want more of him and this devilish character. We can’t help but feel entertained by his high-pitched voice and messy make-up job, elements which allow him to come off as a silly but highly dangerous villain.
I think I speak for most people when I say we were shocked by Ledger’s acting ability in this movie. His previous roles were never anything close to the Joker – which is conservatively described as the role of a menacing and sadistic comic villain. The public wondered how he was able to pull off such a brilliant performance in the movie. It was unlike anything we’d ever seen from him… or anyone.