It’s been recently announced that director Todd Phillips and actor Joaquin Phoenix, may be returning for a sequel to their critical and commercial smash hit, JOKER. A lot of fans, may initially be very happy to hear this news, but today I’d like to put forth the argument that making a sequel to JOKER is a bad idea.
Throughout the making of this film, right up to press interviews before the premiere Phoenix and Phillips stuck to their guns, as they did from the very beginning. Even when the box office juggernaut opened to critical and commercial success, Phoenix and Phillips said loud and clear that this was a one off. This was meant to be a standalone story. Which is partially what made the movie so interesting. Every movie studio, especially when it comes to comic book properties, is always looking for their next franchise. So when the trailers for JOKER dropped and the movie garnered seriously positive buzz, mostly due to what looked to be an incredible performance from Joaquin Phoenix, chatter began about the possibility of a sequel. When asked if a sequel could possibly be in the cards, the answer from Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips was always an unequivocal NO. That’s not how they approached this project, it was a character study with a beginning, middle, and end.
In this franchise driven environment, it’s refreshing to hear filmmakers say we’re here to make one movie and one movie alone. Especially when every film studio is trying to copy the success of Marvel and make a 20 film series. These guys came along and said, we want to do this one, fucked up little movie, on the cheap, let us do it our way and fuck off.
Clearly that strategy paid off. Though it’s by no means perfect, JOKER is one of the best films of the year. The movie coming close to $1 billion in box office revenue with such a low budget, makes it one of the most financially successful comic book films ever made. Not to mention, Joaquin Phoenix is all but a shoe in for an Oscar nomination next year. So, with the film being complete home run, one can see why Warner Bros would have serious interest in reuniting their director and star for a sequel. I’d argue the film’s success is due to audience’s looking for some diversity in their entertainment. Instead of making a sequel to a film that was designed to stand alone, get another talented filmmaker with a unique, singular vision for a different DC property, keep the budget low and let them have at it. Evolution is the only way that superhero films will survive. Change or die.
I would also argue I’m not sure where the sequel to JOKER would go from here. Todd Phillips has been on record saying that pitched JOKER to Joaquin Phoenix as “sneaking a gritty, art house character study through the studio system”. Phoenix’s interest was in telling a story about a man’s descent into madness, not a story about The Joker we know from the comics. In fact, Joaquin Phoenix didn’t even want Todd Phillips to have Thomas Wayne in the movie, he wanted the character to have a different name, even that was too much of a connection to the comic book for him. The connections to the greater Batman mythology in JOKER are minimal to say the least. Todd Phillips basically bullshitted Joaquin Phoenix and kept in things like the Thomas Wayne character and the murder of The Wayne’s at the end of the film.
Now this is just my opinion, but I think there are two ways to go with a sequel to JOKER. The first would be add a Batman into the mix. However, keep him at the periphery, don’t make him a main character and keep him very grounded. As grounded as they made The Joker in the first film. It would be incredibly fascinating to see how Arthur Fleck, who has now become The Joker would approach the emergence of someone like The Batman.
The problem is Joaquin Phoenix would never make a movie like that. While doing the interview rounds for JOKER, one of the reporters asked Joaquin Phoenix, how his version of The Joker would react to someone like Batman appearing in Gotham. Phoenix smiled, he seemed to genuinely like the question, and after a moment of thought he said “That’s great question. I don’t know I’ve never thought about it.”. Really?! C’mon! YOU NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT IT?! Batman is only the most important and fundamentally driving force in the life of the character you’re playing, but you’ve never thought of it, OK that makes sense (in case you can’t tell I’m oozing sarcasm and mild disgust as I write this).Batman and the Joker are one of the great yin and yang characters in all of popular culture. They are defined by one another. But hey, he never really thought about it! (….fucking dipshit...).
So if Phoenix never once gave a fuck about how his character would feel about Batman, I think it’s safe to say he would never agree to appear in a movie featuring Batman alongside his version of The Joker. Now, the second way to go for a JOKER sequel, would be to do some version of the classic Bruce Timm and Paul Dini story Mad Love about the creation of Harley Quinn and the beginning of her love story with The Joker. I’m not talking about the bullshit nonsensical version of their love story we saw in the god awful Suicide Squad film, I’m to I’m talking about the classic graphic novel Mad Love.
Dr. Harleen Quinnzel is a new psychiatrist at Arkham. She’s young, beautiful, and ambitious. She imagines getting rich writing some kind of breakthrough book about the psychology of these colorful super criminals. She manages to arrange sessions to meet with and attempt to treat The Joker, confident that she can handle him. As their sessions go on, The Joker begins to completely manipulate and control her. She falls completely under his spell, breaks him out of Arkham and becomes the now iconic Harley Quinn. A film like that could really work, but it has the same problems my first proposed scenario does. It has too many ties to the comic book source material, which Joaquin Phoenix has no interest in whatsoever.
An even bigger mistake would be for the studio to try to replicate the “JOKER Formula” of a gritty, dressed down, no frills take on another Batman villain. Admittedly, I think there are a few members of Batman’s rogues gallery that this could work with, but who the fuck really wants to see that?
Don’t get me wrong, I’d be very interested to see what a sequel to JOKER would look like. However, it’s all a question of if they even have a story to tell. If Joaquin Phoenix didn’t even want the name of Thomas Wayne to even be in the movie, he’s certainly not going to want to include some version of Batman or Harley Quinn in a potential sequel. There is a third way they could go, but I don’t think it really works either. They make a movie that’s a continuation of the first film and focus on The Joker and his continued transformation into one of the greatest super villains in all of fiction.
Here’s why that concept doesn’t quite work either. Based on where we leave The Joker at the end of this film, The only way to go for him is to fall deeper and deeper into the persona of The Joker. He would have to evolve into a more “classic”, for lack of a better word, version of The Joker. As he becomes more insane and embraces his identity as The Joker, we’d see things like his deadly Joker laughing gas, elaborate plots against the city, the personification of terror and evil. Just as I don’t think Joaquin Phoenix would ever do a movie with Batman and Harley Quinn, I also don’t think he would want to play a version of The Joker that’s more like the Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger version. The character’s natural evolution is to get more “comic book-y” and it seems, based on multiple interviews that I’ve seen and articles that I’ve read, the aspects of JOKER that were connected to the comic book were the things he was always least interested in.
One might counter with the point, So, Paul what’s wrong with that? Couldn’t they just continue to tell the story of Arthur Fleck becoming The Joker? Well, if you continue this character’s story when you don’t want comic book elements to be a significant part of the story, the problem becomes, he’s just some lunatic guy. He’s not The Joker. If the character is nothing like The Joker, then what’s the point in doing the movie? The biggest flaw of JOKER was how derivative the story was. It was very reminiscent of other films about men being broken by society, like Falling Down, Taxi Driver, or Fight Club. What made JOKER great was Joaquin Phoenix and his mesmerizing performance as the man who would become The Joker, not necessarily the film itself. If we ever see a JOKER 2, we want to see The goddamn Joker.
If they want to move forward with a sequel, Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips have to really understand what kind of movie they want to make. At the end of the day, you have an extremely successful comic book film that was designed to be a standalone story, with a star who has absolutely no interest in anything from the DC Universe becoming a part of the story he’s acting in. I think the best thing for Warner Bros and the movie going public, would be to get another visionary filmmaker, to tell another small budget story from the DC Universe. Re-create the success of JOKER by giving the audience what they really responded to in their first place, a unique movie going experience, not another financially driven sequel.
As alway, thanks for reading!