My take on the look alone, which is not much at all to go by, is that this is a Joker who would look dangerous if I
were to meet him, but who doesn't look like a danger to the film version of Batman. There's something about making him less visually absurd that makes him appear too...mortal to be much of a threat to a ninja-trained martial artist with billions of dollars in technology at his disposal. It doesn't say "terrifying madman genius" so much as "pretentious creep with a knife."
To be honest, a lot of that is the scarring. It doesn't make him look grotesque and frightening to me, it makes him look like like he should be on a gurney being prepped for reconstructive surgery. That is to say, I see it and think "injury" rather than "psychosis in the flesh." Having that much scar tissue and wounding right on your face doesn't make you a badass, it just makes you a guy who feels much more pain than an ordinary person when someone punches you in the kisser.
The more cartoonish Nicholson Joker got away with a lot for me because he looked like he belonged to an entirely different order of existence; his out-of-place clownishness made it visually acceptable when he did "unrealistic" things. It also made him a bit scarier in a sense, albeit that his Gotham was one of Tim Burton's equally bizarre Gothic theme park sets.
This, by contrast, is a mildly disfigured man in makeup and a garish suit. He seems neither supernaturally evil nor particularly hard to find and beat up. He certainly doesn't seem like someone who could hold a city under seige. Real serial killers really can't -- they rely on fear, but they're not exactly going to hold off a physically powerful, determined person in a confrontation.
Real serial killers, the ones most of us seem to agree are evoked up by this look for the Joker, instead pick targets they think are weaker than themselves -- younger women, the elderly, children and confused teens, the unsuspecting -- and use a combination of their normal appearance and their hidden viciousness to do what they do. And then they dissolve back into the population. They're not hard to catch because they're nigh-superhuman; they're hard to catch because you don't know what they look like or who they are beyond a hopelessly generic profile of "white male, aged 25 to 35, likely history of juvenile crime or unstable personal relationships."
This guy can't do that for extremely obvious reasons; Ted Bundy would have been caught within a day if he had this guy's under-the-makeup appearance. John Wayne Gacy could take the clown makeup off, and he didn't wear it to kill: he wore it as part of his mask of sanity and respectability, entertaining at children's parties.
I don't envy the filmmakers; something like this had to be done to the Joker to fit him into their very grounded version of Gotham. The problem is that the sort of character the Joker is, even in that very first story or two, is not realistic to begin with. In his first story, he has one of those perfect comic-books-only disguises at one point and an effectively magical set of poisons that do whatever the plot requires, including working on exact timetables when he advance-injects his first victim. Even in Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, he gets gadgets like his sentient, flying bomb robots and mind-control chemicals at various points. You can't really make the Joker work without letting him mildly or seriously violate even the loosened version of realism that governs Batman.
Few of Batman's disfigured and thoroughly insane villains really are realistic, despite what we fans like to think. Realistically, that sort of catastrophic insanity coupled with disfigurement makes everything from recruiting underlings to forging workable plans to hiding out. Likewise, realistically grotesque psychotics -- as opposed to smoothly-attired sociopaths -- don't do so well in organized crime.
Remember, Batman Begins kept the Scarecrow in civilian clothing virtually until the very finish, and gave him both a respectable facade and a powerful backer to build him to the point that he could take on the Nolan Batman. And once he went insane, he was a raving loon who babbled so much that Katie Holmes dropped him with a taser before he did anything. To the extent that he was able to harm others, it was thanks to surprise, his concealed nerve gas, and in the cases of Rachel Dawes and Carmine Falcone, the fact that they didn't see him as anything other than a normal creep in a suit. No one is going to look at this Joker and see "deceptively normal." They're going to see "murderous lunatic in makeup; snipe him, officers."
Oddly enough, the problem is that this Joker may not be realistic enough
. If the idea is that he uses theatricality and fear as does Batman, perhaps he needs a Joker face that he can take off completely rather than one that, in fidelity to the comics, is etched onto his face. If he can just wash the makeup off and vanish into the crowd in a more subdued suit, he can elude the Batman and get into police headquarters to gas them all or set bombs where he likes. This design seems like a compromise between the comics' impossible visuals and Batman Begins
more than a concession to pseudo-realism.
All that said, I'll be quite interested to see what sorts of things the movie gives this Joker to do, since in the end that is what will determine whether or not any of this works. A really well-considered plot and the suggestion in the trailer that the Joker has the mobs at his disposal will go a long way to making him seem like a match for Batman.
- Omar Karindu
"A Renoir. I have three, myself. I had four, but ordered one burned...It displeased me." -- Doctor Doom
"It's not, 'Oh, they killed Sue Dibney and I always loved that character,' it's 'Oh, they broke a story engine that could have told a thousand stories in order to publish a single 'important' one.'" -- John Seavey