‘Definitely the Joker’
If anyone who saw The Dark Knight is asked what they liked best about the film, this is almost always the response. The bar for playing a Batman villain was well and truly raised by Heath Ledger, immortalised not only on screen but off screen as his ‘Joker’ became his legacy to cinema. Some say the part drove him mad, others who worked on the film tell of Ledger’s total immersion in the character off-set as he altered his walk and talked for hours on end to his own reflection perfecting his ‘Joker’ voice. For me Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’ is as striking and memorable as Marlon Brando’s ‘Godfather’ or Jonny Depp’s ‘Captain Jack Sparrow’. I have a great deal of sympathy for whoever had to follow his performance: even Cinderella’s ass-ugly stepsisters ain’t got the feet to fill them shoes.
Whether Nolan twisted his arm or not, Inception star Tom Hardy really gave his role as Bane a hard hitting shot. Aesthetically, Bane is on par with the Joker for having a distinctive look: the Joker’s smile was pretty special, but Bane takes orthodontistry to a whole new level with his Hannibal Lecter style mouthpiece (am I the only one who was annoyed that we never saw it taken off?). In terms of a voice, yes it was inaudible at times, but Batman’s been croaking away for years! I actually liked Bane’s voice; I was expecting some stereotypical hard man grunt but was pleasantly surprised with his posh-tinny-tones.
Where Bane struggled to kindle the intellectual romance that blossomed between the Joker and Batman (‘unstoppable force meets an immovable object’), he made up for in his impressive strength and fondness of fisticuffs.
All this considered…I still prefer the Joker. ‘BUT WHY?’ I shout in my head, since opinion with no reason does not make for a good film comment. I suppose I could reason that it’s down to some of Bane’s failings: where does his motivation to complete the mission of the League of Shadows come from when it’s leader clearly didn’t like him? What does the mask actually do other than give Tom Hardy a tough time acting with his eyebrows? Was he copying the Joker in giving a button to the public and wanting human nature to take over? Why does he save a little girl when he’s such a bastard? For me, Nolan doesn’t seem to give Hardy as much of a stand-alone character as he gave Heath, and relies on Batman Begins to give Bane a motive. A little lazy maybe?
Even with this criticism, Hardy’s performance as ‘Bane’ is still incredibly powerful. The ending especially adds another dimension to the character, one that was a total surprise. In any other film franchise, Hardy’s ‘Bane’ would be iconic. Yet, whilst Hardy’s input to the trilogy will be remembered as a great performance, Ledger’s ‘Joker’ will go down as an all time classic performance. It is Ledger’s commitment to making every aspect of the Joker seem real that swings it, every movement and every word comes with meticulous calculation, the likes of which Hardy cannot compete with from behind his metal mask.