On evil’s side and in good company


Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart, welcome to Hollywood’s elite and gaudy Arkham club.

In the highly anticipated new Batman film “The Dark Knight,” which opens July 18, Ledger is stepping into the purple suit of the Joker, while Eckhart will portray Gotham City Dist. Atty. Harvey Dent, who starts the movie as a handsome lawman but ends up as Two-Face, the villain driven insane by disfiguring wounds.

“Harvey Dent is a tragic figure, and his story is the backbone of this film,” says Christopher Nolan, the director of the acclaimed franchise-rejuvenating 2005 film “Batman Begins,” who returns with Christian Bale again playing the caped crusader. “The Joker, he sort of cuts through the film -- he’s got no story arc, he’s just a force of nature tearing through. Heath has given an amazing performance in the role, it’s really extraordinary.”


Ledger and Eckhart will be joined in “Dark Knight” by “Batman” veteran Cillian Murphy, who reprises his role as the Scarecrow.

There’s a long and colorful screen history of Gotham bad guys who all seem to die violently or end up imprisoned (if only briefly) in the bleak towers of Arkham Asylum. The scenery-chewing roles -- as well as some staggering paydays -- have attracted a gallery of Hollywood’s biggest names, including four Oscar winners (Jack Nicholson, Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Palance, Christopher Walken) and half a dozen Oscar nominees (Michelle Pfeiffer, Liam Neeson, Jim Carrey, Uma Thurman, Ken Watanabe, Danny DeVito) and, um, one frosty-looking governor (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Don’t expect a lot laughs in this summer’s return to the cave. “It’s a dark and complex story,” Nolan said, “and the villains are dark and complex as well.”

-- Geoff Boucher