The Joker (Batman)
Tim Burton brought us a darker and more twisted Gotham for the first time with Batman, and Jack Nicholson was a perfect addition to that vision. Nicholson had already made a name for himself for playing psychopathic loose cannons in films like The Shining and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, so for him to step into The Joker seemed appropriate.
His off-kilter sensibility brought The Joker to a new level, like we hadn’t yet seen in the 1960’s television series, or subsequent film. Nicholson’s clownish sarcastic demeanor as The Joker lends well — when I watched this film as a child, I felt like The Joker was completely unpredictable. One minute he’s dancing around, the next he’s shooting Bruce Wayne, with no warning. Burton and Nicholson also manage to create moments in the Joker that elicit a lot of empathy from the audience. Those moments are about the Joker’s past, emphasizing that he’s just a wayward soul, suffering from mental illness. You feel sorry for him right up until the moment he turns and kills another innocent victim. Empathy is the secret ingredient to any great bad guy.
This Joker is still cleaner and more buttoned-up than Heath Ledger’s Joker, but there’s something about him that makes him equally insidious. Maybe it’s the plastered-on smile, or the yellow eyes, but I think it’s mostly because Nicholson naturally brings a sense of danger and terror to this classic villain.