As rare as it may be, this weekend is a completely safe for film audiences to view new releases. No worries, no concerns, no fears. Buy a ticket and some overprices concession stand snacks, and relax in your semi-reclining stadium seat with complete confidence. You simply can’t lose.
In all fairness, we should probably warn you about Space Chimps, another mediocre animated movie built upon a flimsy concept, annoyingly cute talking animals, and second-rate voice acting talent (Cheryl Hines, Jeff Daniels, and Patrick “The Tick” Warburton). We should also probably caution you about Mama Mia, yet another in a long line of film adaptations of Broadway musicals, this one even doubly obnoxious as it is based on ABBA’s greatest hits. But we aren’t. As a matter of fact, we’re just going to ignore them. You might as well ignore them, too, because the rest of the country isn’t even giving them a second thought. Why?
How does a comic book movie sequel create such an overwhelming atmosphere of anticipation that it it practically sells out at every theater offering reserve ticket purchases? There are a lot of contributing factors that one can point to (screenplay by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, direction by Christopher Nolan, performances by Christian Bale and Aaron Eckhart, phenomenal art direction and set design), but the simplest answer is really a two word reply: Heath Ledger.
Despite what many might imply, this mad rush to see The Dark Knight has nothing to do with Ledger’s accidental death, and the tasteless rumors that immediately flooded the media. It might have sounded cool to claim that playing the role of the Clown Prince of Crime drove Ledger to madness and suicide, but those fanciful deductions were proven false and laid to rest before the week was out. Admittedly, the Oscar nominated actor’s untimely death heightened the nation’s awareness of his upcoming performance. But it is a great insult to imply that millions of people are flocking to the theaters simply to satisfy their morbid curiosity by watching the last film of a great actor who died at a tragically young age. It is an insult, because it overshadows the true reason why this film is promising to break an ass load of box office records.
Heath Ledger’s Joker is freakin’ scary.
For the first time in a long time, American audiences are being confronted by a villain that is truly and undeniably evil in the creepiest sense of the word. This isn’t Sid Cesar mugging for the camera and giggling like a fool. This isn’t the loveable smart-ass Jack Nicholson acting nutty and occasionally killing people. The Joker that the Dark Knight trailers have introduced us to is a darkly disturbing lunatic, criminally insane in the purist sense of the term. This is a kill-happy lunatic with a pocket full of knives, a face full of running greasepaint, a talent for creating havoc, and a spine-chilling chuckle that would make Peter Parker wet his Spidey underoos.
What was the last movie bad guy that was both unimaginably scary, yet frighteningly believable? The closest one that springs to mind here is Hannibal Lecter, and only from the first film. Its been that long, and like the rest of the people out there scrambling to secure opening weekend tickets, we can’t wait to bear witness to that kind of entertaining evil once again.
As Michael Caine so eloquently explained in the dialogue-only teaser, “Some people just want to watch the world burn.” After getting a mere glimpse at the Joker in the Dark Knight trailers, we just want to watch him try and set it on fire.