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Face-Off: Joker (Nicholson) Vs. Joker (Ledger)

Jul. 23, 2012by: Mike Catalano
We got a very nice helping of Halloween fans' opinions on the very worst Halloween sequels in our last Face-Off and it made for a very interesting debate. The results were a mixed bag of tricks-or-treats. Some agreed that part 5 was the worst, while others felt that part 8 should have won. Some even stated that part 6 was truly the biggest piece of crap. Perhaps we'll revisit this Face-Off some time in the future.

Today, as fate would have it, we have another Face-Off concerning two characters and a film series very near and dear to my heart. It's not often that two separate actors create iconic performances by playing the same character, but in the cases of Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Ledger, that is exactly what we got! The only question is: which Joker will have the final laugh in today's bout. "And here... we... go."

Look
A creepy marvel of prosthetics and makeup, the way that Nicholson's overly wide, almost painful-looking smile remains forever frozen across his face is nothing short of striking and only enhances his commanding performance. The white face and hints of red and green were spot-on, perhaps a tad too perfect for someone whose was created by falling into toxic chemicals.
This look frightens. "Is it because of the scars?" Hell yes! Whoever devised the notion of literally slicing a permanent smile across Mr. Ledger's Joker face deserves an Oscar. That coupled with the sadistically smeared manner with which the facial make-up was applied and the messy, greasy greenish hair is the full interpretation of the maniacal real-life Joker that I want to see.
Violence
Jack's Joker has no problem bringing the bloodshed, happily offing plenty of patrons without hesitation. The best being a mad unloading of bullets (from straight shots to behind the back) into Jack Palance's mob boss, a nifty little stab with a feathered pen, and one hell of an electrocution via a joy buzzer. The dude even offs his right hand man, Bob, because "He stole my balloons!"
This Joker's middle name could have been Violence. He positively thrives on it while invoking his own version of a chaos theory. His introduction is essentially made through violence as he has every one of his bank robbing partners dispatched till he's the last one left with the loot. And nothing can top the abruptly brutal way that he takes out a crime boss's henchman with a little pen-sized "magic trick".
Humor
Ah, now is Jack's time to shine. From his hilarious infomercial for his deadly Joker products to his lovey-dovey pursuit of VIcki Vale, we are treated to a cosmic comical display that is most definitely the reason this Joker won over so many film goers. Even the wacky dance he does toward the end at the top of the cathedral is enough to have you in stitches.
Don't get me wrong. Ledger cracked me up a lot with the humor in his character, however his jokes came from a much more sadistic type of angle. I'm still fine with this, but in terms of all out humor, I'm giving Jack the edge.
Weaponry
Ah, those wonderful toys! The cool thing about Jack's Joker is his wide array of impossibly fun artillery. From that high voltage joy buzzer to those everyday health & beauty products that kill you with a smile, he's got almost as many outlandish devices as Batman. Props to him for using the same chemical that changed him as a weapon. And how can you not love that gun with the extra long barrel that he whips out of his pants towards the end.
"Nothing in his pockets, but knives and lint." That's about all we really get from Heath's Joker. That's not to say he doesn't do a great job point those sharp objects and other simple devices. He's a no frills villain and even admits it himself: "Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets." Though, the bazooka he fires at the SWAT truck was pretty bad ass.
Batman Relationship
An unexpected twist was added to Jack's Joker relationship with Batman when it was revealed that as a young criminal, Jack's character killed Bruce Wayne's parents. Then having Batman be the one to drop Jack into the vat of chemicals that turns him into Joker gave a very poetic touch to their interactions. Essentially, they both created each others' costumed alter egos and then had to battle to the death.
The relationship between Heath's Joker and Batman just feels so much more intimate. It's something much deeper than a simple origin factor. It's a strange and sick almost friendship (at least from the Joker's end) sort of similar to the way a jealous asshole older brother would feel towards his little brother. Once again, Heath beautifully sums it up in this perfect piece of dialogue: "This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren't you? You won't kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won't kill you because you're just too much fun." Epic.
Ledger
Why so serious? Was there any doubt that Mr. Ledger's fine Joker performance would rise to top of the card deck? Come on, he even won a friggin' Oscar for this role. A movie about Batman received an acting Oscar! What are the odds of something like that happening? So spit your bullets below and have your voice heard whether you agree or disagree. And feel free to send any future Face-Off ideas to me at mikecatalano@joblo.com.

Tags: Face-Off

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8:10AM on 07/24/2012
Heath Ledger's Joker fit the Nolan's universe better than Nicholson fit Burton's. Ledger and Nolan crafted the character into a symbol, much like Batman was attempting to be. Nicholson's Joker was just crazy, but Ledger's Joker was a symbol for chaos through his actions.

While I still love Nicholson's Joker, Ledger's was better.
Heath Ledger's Joker fit the Nolan's universe better than Nicholson fit Burton's. Ledger and Nolan crafted the character into a symbol, much like Batman was attempting to be. Nicholson's Joker was just crazy, but Ledger's Joker was a symbol for chaos through his actions.

While I still love Nicholson's Joker, Ledger's was better.
Your Reply:



+0
3:03AM on 07/24/2012

A fair assessment

I am not trying to pick a fight with adder_ia, but there have been so many different interpretations of The Joker in the comics over the past seventy or so years that you have no definitive take on the character. This leaves him very open to interpretation. Grant Morrison even came up with a pretty good explanation for this, citing that every once in a while The Joker would suffer from a gross personality change, switching styles, tactics and the level of violence. Anyway, I think Ledger did
I am not trying to pick a fight with adder_ia, but there have been so many different interpretations of The Joker in the comics over the past seventy or so years that you have no definitive take on the character. This leaves him very open to interpretation. Grant Morrison even came up with a pretty good explanation for this, citing that every once in a while The Joker would suffer from a gross personality change, switching styles, tactics and the level of violence. Anyway, I think Ledger did a better job overall but give credit also to make up, costume and direction. The Dark Knight was a better movie overall than Burton's Batman.
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+20
12:17PM on 07/23/2012

Not Really Fair

The writer of this article misses the boat I think. These actors did not portray the same character, not really. I think Nicholson went for the more comic book Joker, which he hit out of the park by the way, and Heath Ledger was going for a completely different character than the traditional Joker character and also hit it out of the park. It's kind of like comparing Roger Moore's James Bond and the current James Bond... Apples to Oranges.
The writer of this article misses the boat I think. These actors did not portray the same character, not really. I think Nicholson went for the more comic book Joker, which he hit out of the park by the way, and Heath Ledger was going for a completely different character than the traditional Joker character and also hit it out of the park. It's kind of like comparing Roger Moore's James Bond and the current James Bond... Apples to Oranges.
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6:33AM on 07/24/2012
Agree. Each actor lent their talents to the visions of their respective directors, and each actor did so to a T.
Agree. Each actor lent their talents to the visions of their respective directors, and each actor did so to a T.
11:35PM on 07/23/2012
It's not apples to oranges at all. You say they didn't portray the same character? No, in fact they portrayed THE EXACT SAME CHARACTER. But they each had different takes on the character. It's completely appropriate to compare the two, and would be ridiculous not to.

Same goes for James Bond.
It's not apples to oranges at all. You say they didn't portray the same character? No, in fact they portrayed THE EXACT SAME CHARACTER. But they each had different takes on the character. It's completely appropriate to compare the two, and would be ridiculous not to.

Same goes for James Bond.
11:58AM on 07/23/2012
I have to agree. They are both iconic great performances, one is fun and disturbing and the other is ULTRA disturbing. One may want to question if the Batman saga has gotten TOO disturbing and realistic and dark. "Why don't we cut you up into little pieces and feed you to your pooches? Hmm? And then we'll see how loyal a hungry dog really is. It's not about money... it's about sending a message. Everything burns! "
I have to agree. They are both iconic great performances, one is fun and disturbing and the other is ULTRA disturbing. One may want to question if the Batman saga has gotten TOO disturbing and realistic and dark. "Why don't we cut you up into little pieces and feed you to your pooches? Hmm? And then we'll see how loyal a hungry dog really is. It's not about money... it's about sending a message. Everything burns! "
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+0
11:52AM on 07/23/2012
Ledger was great, but Nicholson IS the Joker. Hell, he barely even needs the make-up.
Ledger was great, but Nicholson IS the Joker. Hell, he barely even needs the make-up.
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11:51AM on 07/23/2012
Great face-off! Nicholson's Joker will always be classic, but Ledger's performance will forever be legendary.
Great face-off! Nicholson's Joker will always be classic, but Ledger's performance will forever be legendary.
Your Reply:



-1
11:18AM on 07/23/2012
Ledger brought the Joker into the new millenium and showed the world how a decades old villan is supposed to be reinvented for the younger audience. Nicholson was great, but Ledger showed us a version that no one will ever forget.
Ledger brought the Joker into the new millenium and showed the world how a decades old villan is supposed to be reinvented for the younger audience. Nicholson was great, but Ledger showed us a version that no one will ever forget.
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8:46AM on 07/23/2012
if no one had ever played joker again on film, nicholson would still lose this. fat-fuck ham and egger.
if no one had ever played joker again on film, nicholson would still lose this. fat-fuck ham and egger.
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7:31PM on 07/23/2012
lol?
lol?

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