“The Dark Knight” is the sequel to the 2005 “Batman Begins” film – being the second movie in the revamped Batman franchise. The original cast returned with Christian Bale returning as the caped-crusader Batman/Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucien Fox. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes as Rachael Dawes.
Every Batman movie has a central villain, and so it was chosen that Heath Ledger was to be the new-look Joker. Considered by many people to be a rising-star in Hollywood, Ledger was slowly getting recognition for his obvious acting-ability and the roles that he was taking on. Until “The Dark Knight” opportunity arrived, many casual film-fans would have never seen Heath or remembered him in many films if they were being honest.
He quietly built a strong portfolio of work as the years past, proving to be an underrated actor that could hold a movie together. But on the 22nd January 2008, Heath Ledger was found dead after an apparent prescription-medication overdose. The life of a young talent was ended at just 28-years-old.
“The Dark Knight” movie had now lost one of its main protagonists – much of the marketing and hype surrounding the sequel was about the re-imagined Joker and what Ledger had brought to the part. The usual process of publicity would involve endless press-junkets with the actors, extolling the great time, effort and camaraderie that they all had while on set. But this would be different in a big way – one of the co-stars was dead.
Before the official release date came the hype about Heath Ledger’s performance. Some critics would gift his acting to that of an Oscar-winner (usually unheard of in this genre). Bare in mind that no other actor (as a comic-book character) had ever won in any Oscar category in the awards’ history.
The first “Batman Begins” made good money on its opening weekend in 2005, making an estimated $49 million (according to IMDB.com) in the USA alone. Three years later, “The Dark Knight” achieved a phenomenal $158 million opening-gross. Taking into account inflation, the figures are still extremely impressive for any movie’s debut.
“The Dark Knight” is a fairly decent action-adventure film that happens to be about Batman; much of its success though has to be down to the unfortunate death of Heath Ledger. With stories and rumours being circulated about that the role of the Joker “affected” him in a psychological way are unfounded. He was an actor first-and-foremost, a natural screen-performer that had the ability to do whatever was asked of him.
When the Oscars academy gave Heath a posthumous “Best Supporting Actor” award, you couldn’t really see why it took his death to see his potential as a performer – the gesture seemed half-hearted and in bad taste. The film received an overly enthusiastic response than maybe it should of – many film-goers would have been drawn to “The Dark Knight” because of Ledger’s untimely death rather than the actor’s screen presence.
There is some irony that more people went to see a movie with Heath Ledger in it after he died than when he was alive and well. The cynical view is that his passing was the reason “The Dark Knight” was a smash hit; looking at the worldwide revenues could anyone argue that fact now.