WARNING: SPOILERS for Todd Phillips’s Joker, in theatres now.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins follow up The Dark Knight gave the world the most iconic version of the Joker, played by Heath Ledger. As such, expectations were high of Joaquin Phoenix’s version. Comparisons between the two began almost immediately after the first trailer was released. While Phoenix did deliver one of his career best performances, but Heath’s version still reigns superior.
Why Heath Ledger’s Joker Is Iconic
Ledger’s version of the Clown Prince Of Crime impacted audiences deeply because of the anarchy and chaos he represented. He didn’t just terrorize society, he wanted a better class of criminals. The way this Joker went from wanting Batman dead to feeling complete due to him brought a sense of intimate intimidation right from the comics. From the mind games he played to his terrifying laughter, everything signalled that he was a maniac. This Joker wanted to purge society and the path he took for that was one of chaos.
Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker Lacks The Coldness Of Ledger’s Version
This isn’t to say that Phoenix’s performance is any less than Ledger’s. Both are masterclass actors. But in Todd Phillip’s movie, the focus isn’t on the Joker aspect of the character. The focus is instead on what caused his mental breakdown. It’s also far removed from any comic book source material. Also he might never reach that level of frenzy since Batman doesn’t exist here.
It’s tough to put Ledger and Phoenix’s version side-by-side because Joker does humanize Arthur Fleck. He is an ordinary man looking for work, struggling romantically and more. His idiosyncrasies are that of mentally affected person and not of the DC Comics villain. That sense of unhinged chaos is lacking from Phoenix’s version even after he begins murdering people.
Moreover, Ledger’s character was focused on bringing about true change and exposing Gotham as a city of hypocrites. Arthur knows that Gotham’s society is a pile of shit but his impact on it is accidental and is in direct contrast to Ledger’s calculating and methodical ways. Ledger’s Joker doesn’t invoke pity, he is a man on a mission who is leading the pack. While Phoenix’s Joker isn’t there yet but maybe we will see more of the iconic Joker in Phoenix’s version in future sequels.
Want to know more about why Ledger’s version of the Joker is so iconic? Then check out the video below: