Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The crucial difference between The Dark Knight and Tim Burton's Batman is the Joker

It’s been 10 years since Christopher Nolan unleashed The Dark Knight, which has more or less been praised as the best Batman movie, if not the best superhero movie of all time. Heath Ledger’s Joker is often cited as the film’s masterstroke, and has earned further praise for the way Ledger and Nolan successfully created a new version of the character who was so memorably played by Jack Nicholson in 1989. But, as a new video essay from ScreenCrush points out, the two characters exist in movies that are almost shockingly similar.

Among the many, many similarities between the two—many of which were likely deliberate on Nolan’s part—are the Joker’s means of taking over the city’s mobs, his means of fomenting public distrust in Batman, Harvey Dent taking office, and the Joker’s one-on-one, fists-free meeting with Batman. But that meeting is key, because it helps draw the distinction between Nicholson and Ledger’s visions of the character. Nicholson’s Jack Napier, after all, killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, making for a personal connection between the two. Ledger’s Joker, on the other hand, is an enigma from nowhere, and his connection with Batman is more of a philosophical one.

While the 1989 Batman remains an excellent film, it more or less boils down to a revenge narrative, resulting in a demise for the Joker that’s fairly anticlimactic. By sparing the Joker in The Dark Knight, Nolan’s film allows that philisophical connection to branch out into other areas of the story, resulting in the film that transcended genre to become a satisfying, deeply thought-provoking drama.


Watch the full essay above.

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.

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