Heath Ledger

Warner Bros. announced today that Heath Ledger will be breaking out the sardonic smile and blood-curdling cackle of the Joker for 'The Dark Knight,' a sequel to 2005's critical and box-office smash 'Batman Begins.' The Oscar nominee (for last year's 'Brokeback Mountain') steps into shoes previously inhabited by a despicably charismatic Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's 1989 'Batman.'

Christian Bale will reprise his role as the titular Dark Knight, and Christopher Nolan ('Memento') will again direct. Meanwhile, Nolan's younger brother Jonah -- who co-wrote the screenplay for the upcoming magician flick 'The Prestige' with Christopher and whose short story 'Memento Mori' provided the inspiration for 'Memento' -- has been tapped to pen the script.

Does 'The Dark Knight' have the potential to be the best Batman movie -- and possibly the best superhero movie -- ever made? I believe it does. Here's why ...

Christian Bale in Batman Begins

1) Heath Ledger is a phenomenal choice to play the Clown Prince of Crime. The character of the Joker demands a delicate balance sociopathic darkness and playful humor -- not an easy task for any actor. But Ledger's turn in 'Brokeback' proved beyond a doubt that he can handle serious material, while his performance in the underrated 'Casanova' showcased his comedic talents. Plus, not too many guys can sell a line such as "What is it with this chick? Does she have beer-flavored nipples or something?" -- but Ledger nails it in '10 Things I Hate About You.' That gives me hope.

2) As Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman, Christian Bale is perhaps the best and most believably cast superhero in movie history. Now, some may argue that it's Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine -- and these are both examples of outstanding casting. But as Bruce Wayne, Bale is the perfect blend of charm, intelligence and nonchalance. And as Batman he's brawny, badass and tortured as hell. Bale makes us believe that Bruce Wayne is the kind of guy who cares so little about what others think that he'll get drunk and go fountain-swimming with a couple of models in a hotel restaurant. But he's also the kind of guy who cares so much about other people that he'll go home afterwards, toss on a mask and cape, and put his life to the hazard for the good of the nameless, faceless masses of Gotham.

3) With 'Batman Begins,' Nolan breathed new life into a franchise that had become associated with salami-sized rubber Bat nipples, villains that fought with neon glow sticks and dialogue that carried the foul stench of stale Gorgonzola. Nolan's film returned the Batman to his darker, edgier roots -- and his cheese-free, noirish filmmaking sensibilites pretty much guarantee we're in for another dose of the same this time around.

Read the news story about 'The Dark Knight'

See Heath Ledger photos | filmography

Get more about 'Batman Begins'

Tags: Batman, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Christopher Nolan, Summer Movies
categories Features, Cinematical