[3 August 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s official: on 31 July, Warner Brothers announced that Christopher Nolan would return to helm the sequel to his well received reimagining of the Batman saga. Entitled The Dark Knight, it also marks star Christian Bale’s return as the tortured superhero. However, the most surprising piece of information in the otherwise standard studio statement was the confirmation of one of the ‘Net’s worst kept secrets: Heath Ledger, star of last year’s Oscar hopeful Brokeback Mountain, and relative newcomer to the Hollywood A-list, would walk into the shoes formerly worn by Caesar Romero and Jack Nicholson. That’s right; Ledger has landed the plum role of supervillain The Joker, crazed comic counterpart to Bruce Wayne’s brooding crime fighter.
With production set to begin sometime in early 2007, there is still time, however, for Warners and Nolan to rethink this position. Sure, all the contracts have been signed and the PR machine is already gearing up, but one can still envision a quick casting change, especially when considering what the role would look like in the hands of a better suited star. In all honesty, Ledger may be terrific. His recent efforts in films like Lords of Dogtown and Casanova have won him an amazing amount of industry respect, and when you add the Best Actor nod for Mountain, his hiring seems wise from both a performance and fiscal standpoint.
But there are other actors who could equally fill this villain’s natty purple suit – and they wouldn’t have near the homophobic baggage that has already resulted in some horrendously tasteless messageboard joking. Here is a short list of possible substitutes should Ledger – or his employers – get a case of comic book geek cold feet.
In a perfect world, this incredibly gifted – and granted, eccentric - actor would be turning down offers instead of plying his perverse persona in such off-radar Indie fare as Simon Sez and a Wizard of Gore (???) remake. He’s proven his mantle as both a straight (Back to the Future) and surreal (Wild at Heart) presence, and even showed his action movie mantle by twice wielding a sword at Charlie’s able Angels. While age may be a factor (Glover’s in his mid 40s vs. Ledger’s late 20s) his work in 2003’s Willard redux indicates that no one can do determined dementia like David Letterman’s favorite talk show guest.
Though many in geekdom have already designated Law as the go to guy whenever the freshened franchise gets around to adding The Riddler to the mix. There’s a better argument to be made for this fine formal actor as the killer clown. Constantly shrouded in a good guy gloss, Law could stand getting his perfect cheekbones and supermodel looks messed up for a down and dirty stab at essaying Batman’s nemesis. Sure, it may be a stretch to think of Gigolo Joe, or the updated Alfie as the manic murderous harlequin, but acting is about challenge, and right about now, Law could use one.
He’s got the range. He’s got the look. And he’s got the prestige of both an Oscar and a turn opposite the world’s largest simian spectacle on his side. All Brody needs is a chance to prove that he’s more than just a surprise beneficiary of the Academy’s desire to celebrate the wayward Roman Polanski and he could be giggling away in psychotic glee. Though his career path both pre and post The Pianist has seen more peaks and valleys that an expedition into the Himalayas, the opportunity to play the Dark Knight’s white faced archenemy could be the focus his fading star status desperately needs.
After three consecutive films playing the bland bright spot - Obi Wan Kenobi - in George Lucas’s career killers, McGregor could use a bit of a goodwill boost. Sure, he’s got more projects under his belt, and on the horizon, than anyone else on this list (he’s got seven films already in production or preparing to start) but unless he finds an antidote to the mind-numbing awfulness of the Star War’s prequels, McGregor may be looking at a lifetime signing autographs at sci-fi conventions. While taking on the Joker may seem like a step backward into the same old greenscreen routine, it’s actually a way of balancing out the groan-inducing good of a galaxy far, far away with some incredibly bad ass evildoing.
Talk about taking the series full circle – why not give the original big screen Batman a chance to channel his own inner demons. Sure, Keaton’s in his mid-50s and is therefore probably too old to convincingly star alongside the toned and twee Bale, but there is something rather intriguing about seeing the man who many thought incapable of playing Bob Kane’s cracked champion take a turn at bringing the Bat’s best known antagonist to life. Let’s fact it - anyone who can stare down the deranged Method madness of Jack Nicholson, and come out the crazier, deserves a shot at embodying the Joker’s jolly jaundice.