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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Should the character of the Joker be retired from film?

A group of fans in Buenos Aires have started an online petition to convince Warner Bros. to retire the character of the Joker from film, in honor of the late Heath Ledger. At the petition site, Heath, The Ultimate Joker, the organizers explain themselves:

Can you imagine the super human efforts film companies would have to go through to find a fourth Joker after Heath Ledger? Is a better Joker even possible to imagine? Entertainment producers “sorry, but it’s simply impossible”

It’s impossible to imagine, impossible to draw or dub much less repeat the performance.

That’s why efforts to find one should simply cease. The Joker must die now and forever. Now is the time for him to rest in peace as Ledger has ennobled the honourable villain.

Of course a better Joker is possible to imagine. Perhaps not it’s hard to imagine what the details of that performance might look like, but impossible to imagine that someone could take the character further and wider and weirder than Ledger did? That’s not to slight Ledger’s performance, which is a wonder, and absolutely one of the best things at the movies in 2008, but come on, fanboys.

(I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that English is not their first language, and hence refrain from ripping into the concepts of “noble” and “honorable” being applied to the sociopathic Joker.)

And for how long do these fans imagine we should retire the Joker? For the next five years? Ten? Twenty? Forever? Can’t we assume that any debt of respect owed to Ledger and his unforgettable performance will work itself out naturally by Hollywood? If it’s too soon to try to revive the character, won’t the derision of fans be enough to quash it, either actually or by our ignoring it? Or do these fanboys seriously mean to suggest that no one, ever, should play the Joker again — not even in 200 years time?

CNN quotes Fer Barbella, the head honcho of the fan movement, who appears to think precisely that:

When Michael Jordan retired, they withdrew the number 23 jersey as an honor. It’s the same thing with Heath.

But it isn’t the same thing at all. The number on a athlete’s jersey has no impact on his performance. The better comparison would be: Because we love Runner X, and he ran a record-time marathon, we should ban anyone else from ever running a marathon, lest his record be broken.

How does that honor anyone?

What do you think? Should the character of the Joker be retired from film?

(Next up: I propose that we ban anyone from ever playing Hamlet again, because no one could ever be better than David Tennant, so why even bother trying?)

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)



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  • Aw, you took my answer about Hamlet, except I was going to say Laurence Olivier. Yeah, this is a bloody dumb idea. He probably shouldn’t be in the next film, but those nerds need to get a grip.

  • JoshDM

    Keep the Joker. The Superman Curse persists.

  • Chris

    The Joker is the greatest villian of the DC universe, to retire him from film would be the greatest mistake Warner Brothers could make. No one thought Jack’s performance could be upstaged but it has been and there is no reason to believe that another actor couldnt do as good or even better job than Heath. That actor just needs a great script and to be right for the part.

  • TC

    I think the character should be retired for a while. I mean, I wouldn’t even try to put a cameo in the next movie with him sitting in Arkham or something. I think the right thing to do would be to retire him in the Nolan/Bale Batman universe, and then later down the road, when someone else reinvents the series, bring him back. You obviously can’t just retire the greatest villain in the DC universe, as was pointed out above, but I think any person wanting to take the role later will use Heath’s performance as a springboard to prepare themselves for the role.

  • ESL

    My initial knee-jerk reaction was “Yes” the character should be retired, but you make an argument that is just way too compelling. I suppose my reaction is based on how close we are reacting to events–the movie has been out less than a year, Heath Ledger was my favorite actor in the movie, and I have little faith in Hollywood’s ability to find a good replacement actor in this case. But I have to admit, I never thought anyone could surpass Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker either. And Heath did.

    We’ll see.

  • PaulW

    No more Joker? And put Mark Hamill out of a job???

    Should we retire Richard III since Lawrence Olivier is dead?

    I guess with Basil Rathbone long gone, no one should even think of playing Sir Guy of Gisbourne… oops, someone forgot to tell Richard Armitage… and Robert Addie… and Michael Wincott… and…

    Are lawsuits pending on John Simm and Eric Roberts for playing the Master well after both Anthony Ainley and Robert Delgado shifted off this mortal coil?

    I say bring on more Jokers! Let’s get Hugh Laurie as the Joker! Don Johnson! Jean Claude Van Damme needs the work!

  • Martin

    Hell no.

    Whilst I don’t think they’ll bring Joker back for the next Batman (more out of using a new villain than out of respect), they should bring him back eventually because he’s too interesting of a character to ignore just because one actor died after playing him (no offence to Ledger, but sometimes a character is bigger than an actor).

  • Ryan H

    Well, I think it would be inappropriate to bring back the Joker for the Nolan/Bale Batman films, however many there might be. If they reboot the franchise again an another decade or so, he is fair game.

  • FREETHE JOKER

    NO NO A HUNDRED TIMES NO! AS much as I loved Heath’s performance of The Joker you cannot just retire a memorable character as The Joker like that. Do you know how many fans you’d have on your case? As in psychopathic fans who basically worship the ground the fictional Joker walks on. Retiring Joker is like Retiring Batman or hey let’s retire Dracula because no one can top Christopher Lee or Gary Oldman. These people are nuts, and not in a good way.

    LONG LIVE THE JOKER!

  • drew ryce

    What an absurd idea.
    Why not retire Frankenstein, Dracula, The Hunchback and The Man Who Laughs (the original Joker) after Karloff, Veidt, Legosi and Chaney did their distinctive performances?

  • I loved Heath’s performance. It is hard to think anyone could do it better. But Heath would not want the Joker to go away for his sake. Good luck to the poor guy who has to attempt it. I would be happy to go see someone try.( I would gloat in my seat if they fail)I do believe Heath has earned the Oscar.I just wish he were here to enjoy this with us. I keep hoping Nolan will use some clips he has put back so Heath can do a camio like appearance in the next movie.Even if it’s just a laugh. I’ll be crossing my fingers. The joker still lives.

  • The Clown Prince of Crime should never be shelved. Think of all the lost possibilities if The Joker was out of bounds. Yes, Heath Ledger did a fantastic Joker. I also love Mark Hamill’s take. It’s ridiculous that character should die with one actor alone. I pray that expectations wouldn’t damper another inspired performance by a thespian somewhere. Just imagine how disappointed Harley Quinn would feel.

    The truth is, The Joker belongs to all of us. To snuff a hint that The Joker could be just around the next corner would make our dreams a little more dull.

    Long live The Joker.

  • Shadowen

    Uh, no. I think I remember when Heath Ledger was announced people were skeptical. Heck, I remember people who had once said Jack Nicholson was the best possible Joker. And then they said that no one could top Mark Hamill’s voicework on the Batman Animated Series. And now they’re talking about Ledger in the same tones.

    No. And even if the next Joker does not live up to the legacy of Ledger or Hamill or Nicholson or whichever you prefer…oh well. Some people might say that about any classic character.

    I will say, I don’t think that the next film should include the Joker as an on-camera character, if ever in Nolan’s run on the Batman films (assuming he does more than one more).

  • Muzz

    Of course, the notion of retiring The Joker as a character is plainly absurd (most serious Batfans I know would only refer to Ledger performance as an iconic take on the character).
    There are many Jokers and there will be more.

    The real question is will there be any more Jokers in the Nolan cycle, let’s call it. And will they be the ‘same one’ or will they do something else (generational bad guys don’t happen very often).
    Well, most reaction is usually that ol’ Heath can’t or shouldn’t be replaced after such a great job. That there’s no one working who could pick up the mantle etc.
    But then on some message board or other I saw someone mention Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

    He’d probably never do it under the circumstances, but, yes, I think definately worthy of some internet beard-stroking fantasy casting.

  • curtis

    I think Joseph Gorden-Levitt has the same ability to tell a story as Heath. Brick and The Lookout were deep in that same way. Very talented in touching the viewer. I look forward to his future projects.

  • Paul

    I’m not a big comic book reader, but when I think of the vastness of Batman’s series, just how many villians he fought, if the movie guys keep returning to the Joker it’s just laziness. They should only use the Joker again if the metaphor in the character can be used in a new way. It’s different in TV and comics because they put out so many episodes, but a Batman movie is only every couple of years or so.

  • Mo

    A hundred years from now (should films still be made) there will still be a Joker, retirement or no retirement. A hundred years from now, it won’t even matter if we’ve moved on to some crazy holographic technology or who knows what. There will still be more Jokers, the same way there will still be King Arthurs, Odysseyuses, Casanovas, Sherlock Holmeses, Oliver Twists, and Beowulfs. There may even be more Houses in spite of the brilliance of Hugh Laurie. It just happened to Captain Kirk. Great characters don’t die.

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