It's axiomatic: The degree to which an Antagonist gets under our skin determines how much potential there is for a Protagonist to be a compelling force and, by extension, how likely it is the movie will be a success. One thing was pretty obvious about 'The Dark Knight' from the start: Heath Ledger nailed his character, and I'm thinking people want to see 'The Dark Knight' not so much for Christian Bale's portrayal of the titular character but for Ledger's portrayal of The Joker.
Do a Google image search for 'The Dark Knight' and The Joker's picture comes up more than Batman's. Out of the first 21 returns only 6 feature Batman exclusively, the rest are of that madman with the wicked grin and the fuck you attitude. Everyone is looking for details about Ledger's performance -- pictures, write ups, anything. We all want to know more about that sizzling energy.
Even mainstream press coverage is heavily skewed:
(I just love how The Joker says 'Hit me'! as the Bat Cycle approaches. And Ledger's body language [like when he claps his hands]...it's just so, well...'fuck you').
All this interest is due, in part at least, to Ledger's death, but I was far more interested in The Joker than I was in Batman even before Ledger died. Maybe it's because The Joker is so anti-authoritarian, maybe it's because he's spitting mad because his face got fucked up in some kind of accident and he wants payback -- I don't know. Now I'm thinking it's just the simple fact the Ledger brought power to his portrayal; that is, I've picked up on what everyone else has -- Ledger's Joker is a force to be reckoned with, a character brought to life by an actor burning white-hot with inspiration -- and it's this that makes 'The Dark Knight' a winner, a must-see.
Batman has his work cut out for him. Not only is a bad guy on the loose, but it's a bad guy we believe in and are cheering for. (The editor might want to keep this in mind during final cut.) Hats off to screenwriters Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan for creating such a well-cut character, and to Heath Ledger for digging so deep to make The Joker real.
Can't wait to see this movie.