From the Archives: Let’s Give The Joker a Vacation

From the Archives: Let’s Give The Joker a Vacation

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

I’m currently sitting at my parent’s house watching Tim Burton’s Batman on a giant hi-def TV, and I’ve reached a conclusion: I’m done with the Joker. It’s time to move on. Yes, yes, I know that he and Batman are opposite sides of the same coin, and they need each other just as much as they hate each other, and “you’re not so different, you and I,” and yada yada yada na na na na na na na na na na Batman.

Ever since the passing of Heath Ledger, which the world incorrectly believes was a result of his method-style preparation for his performance as the Joker, the new rule is that anyone who takes on the iconic role must actually descend into madness. It’s this stupid notion that lead Jared Leto to legitimately abuse his cast mates on the set of Suicide Squad only to create a Joker that is basically Miley Cyrus. I mean, it’s not as awful of a creation as many have been saying, but it’s such a departure from everything that defines the Joker that it hardly seems worth calling him the Joker. I guess we’ll have to wait until The Batman to really make a judgment.

Yet, for my money, nobody has ever so much as touched Jack Nicholson’s take on the character (Ledger was close), and all he had to do was have a bit of fun with it. As I watch Nicholson prance, giggle, and destroy, I see why his version has endured as the most potent. Unlike Ledger or Leto, Nicholson’s Joker is a bit pathetic. He cares whether or not he dies. He’s sexually insecure. He has an ego that can be bruised. Nicholson’s Joker has no credo, no desire to prove that chaos is the way of life. He’s much too selfish for that. To espouse the benefits of madness would undercut his own enjoyment of it. He laughs, he dances, he drives a purple car, has a Joker brand helicopter and a joy buzzer that electrocutes its mark. He doesn’t just represent the darker side of Batman, but he explicitly pisses Batman off by being so gleeful about it.

He’s a real jokester. He’s THE Joker. The other versions are just jerks in white makeup.

As essential as he is to Batman’s canon, it’s time to move on. Or at the very least, if we’re never again going to go more than a couple of years without a new Batman film, we should give the Joker a break. Call me closed-minded, but I just don’t see anything else we can do with the character to make him interesting, especially when the incredible rogues gallery of Batman villains has remained largely untapped*. Seriously, give me a legitimate take on Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Solomon Grundy, Calendar Man, or Victor Zsasz. Heck, if we can manage to divorce ourselves from grim and gritty, I’d love to see Batman square off against Clayface on the big screen.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll keep watching new Joker tales as long as you keep giving them to me, but it’s getting tired. If we dispatch of Joker as a standard, maybe we’ll finally be done with revisiting Batman’s origin as well. It’s a win win.

*Who’d have ever expected Gotham to be the perfect vehicle for such a thing?

Leave a Reply