How Heath Ledger's Joker is The Ultimate Batman Antagonist

Many of the controversies involving Suicide Squad, the latest film in the DC Expanded Universe, have surrounded Jared Leto’s performance as the most iconic of Batman villains, the Joker. There’s been everything from Leto’s casting to the initial reveal of the character’s look and the reports of the actor’s antics on the set to the reception to the movie itself — including reactions to Leto’s overall performance and the decision by director David Ayer and the DC/Warner higher-ups to keep the Joker on the sidelines for the majority of the movie.

The return of The Joker to movie screens has led many movie fans to look back on previous big screen portrayals of the character, most notably Heath Ledger in 2008’s The Dark Knight. The performance, which landed Ledger a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, was acclaimed at the time as one of the best turns by any actor in a superhero film — and the performance has only gained stature over time. A new online video looks back at Ledger’s Joker and tries to determine why, exactly, he was Batman’s greatest foe.

The video, called "The Dark Knight — Creating the Ultimate Antagonist," was created by Michael Tucker and posted on his YouTube channel Lessons From the Screenplay. Using lots of video footage from Christopher Nolan’s film, the video goes through Ledger’s performance and shows us just why it has gained such legendary status.

Heath Ledger as the Joker in the opening scene of The Dark Knight

“When I think about why The Dark Knight works so well, the answer always seems clear: The Joker,” Tucker says in voiceover at the start of the video. Then he explains why, even beyond Ledger’s acting: The character is a perfect antagonist, as he “attacks the hero’s greatest weakness.” Drawing from the likes of Robert McKee and John Truby, Tucker argues that The Joker is so formidable against Batman because he uses the Caped Crusader’s own moral code against him, and fears nothing. There’s even a not-so-subtle shot at Leto - as footage plays of the character in Suicide Squad, Tucker states that “putting the Joker into a movie clearly does not automatically make it great.”

Considering how well thought out and executed the video is, Tucker’s reasoning may win over any fans doubting Ledger's Joker - at least in terms of how the character stacks up to other beloved Batman villains. Plus, the video reaffirms those fans who have long believed The Dark Knight's Joker to be the best incarnation of the villain.

That said, Ledger's Joker is arguably the most complex movie version of the character thanks to Nolan's focus on the antagonist, something that was certainly lacking in Suicide Squad as Leto's character was secondary to the titular villain team. Still, as the DCEU continues to move forward, there's plenty of time for Leto to return as the Clown Prince of Crime and add more to the debate of whether Ledger's Joker is the ultimate Batman antagonist.

Suicide Squad is in theaters now. Wonder Woman opens on June 2, 2017; Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash and Batman solo movie are currently without release dates.

Source: Lessons From the Screenplay/YouTube

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