The Red Hood. The Pale Man. The Clown Prince of Crime… THE JOKER. Without a doubt the best villain in comic book history and one of the best characters in all of fiction.
Batman is the best superhero in comics, so his arch nemesis should reflect his greatness. All of Batman’s villains, the best rogues gallery in superhero fiction, reflect Batman in some way, some aspect of his psyche. Harvey Dent represents Batman’s struggle with duality, Ra’s Al Ghul represents Batman’s temptation to take his mission too far and commit to a darker way of trying to save society, The Penguin represents the idea of the wealth and privilege he was born with turning into something ugly, greedy, and gluttonous, and so on…
Then, there’s The Joker. Batman’s true, broken reflection. To paraphrase better writers than me, Batman is an engine of meaning. He turns tragedy into purpose. As The Dark Knight Detective himself once famously said “My parents taught me a different lesson, dying in the gutter for not reason at all. They taught me that the world only makes sense… when you force it to.” Everything Batman does is built upon the foundation of that idea. That his actions and his mission have meaning.
That’s why The Joker is Batman’s greatest antagonist. The Joker’s point to Batman is that nothing we do has meaning. It’s all pointless. The Joker is trying to prove to Batman that his mission, his ideology, is pathetic. It’s a joke. There is no greater meaning to life. Nothing you do matters. He’s inviting Batman to abandon his beliefs, to come with him and embrace how The Joker sees the world. In doing so, he’ll become truly transcendent and immortal, but most of all, free.
Which brings me to the upcoming film JOKER starring Joaquin Phoenix….
Over the past several years DC has announced literally dozens of films. Many of which will never see the light of day. Remember that Flash movie that came out back in March 2018? Yeah, me neither, because they didn’t fucking make it. They’ve announced so many movies at this point it’s hard to take them seriously when they do. So when a stand alone film focusing on The Joker was announced I really thought it would never be made. DC seemed to be trying to build a coherent movie universe like Marvel and I didn’t see them realistically making a movie focusing on Jared Leto’s Joker, who was divisive at best.
Then I started to here that they were going in a different direction. That Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro were involved and my skepticism grew. No way was Martin Scorsese directing a DC film. Finally, it became clear that this was a stand alone movie existing OUTSIDE the established DC movie universe that Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and SHAZAM! exist in. Todd Phillips would be directing, whose credits include Road Trip, Old School, The Hangover Trilogy, and War Dogs. Martin Scorsese would produce the film, co-staring DeNiro, with Joaquin Phoenix as The Joker in an origin movie telling the story of the man who becomes The Clown Prince of Crime. This is the movie hitting theatres this October and you can check out the trailer below:
Looks pretty good, right? However, at no point have I had any interest in this project. Despite the fact that the trailer seems to show a genuinely good movie with what could be a great performance from Joaquin Phoenix, the only reaction I can have to this movie is ambivalence. The reason being that I think telling a straight up origin story for The Joker is kind of missing the point of a large part of the character. If this were “officially part of the DC movie universe”, I’d be genuinely pissed this movie is being made. However, because the movie is it’s own thing, a one off crime story that doesn’t involve Batman (even though we do see a young Bruce Wayne and Thomas Wayne is a major character) I can live with them telling their fucking Joker origin movie.
Oh, I almost forgot! Here’s a real fucking shocker the movie is drawing inspiration from comic book stories like… wait for it… THE KILLING JOKE! Brav-fucking-vo! How original!
Don’t give me wrong, the comics have hinted at possible origins for The Joker in the past. But that’s what they were: HINTS, possibilities, not a concrete origin. That was one of the reasons The Dark Knight was so brilliant, the story of how The Joker got his scars was different every time he told it, one of my favorite aspects of the film. They had no fucking idea who this guy was. He had no past, he came out of nowhere, he was like the fucking bogeyman. I’ve always said that The Joker is to the normal citizens of Gotham, what Batman is to it’s criminals: a terrifying, unexplainable nightmare.
The only reason DC is choosing to tell an origin story for The Joker is because everyone and their fucking grandmother knows who The Joker is. Even if you fucking hate comic books or comic book movies you know who The Joker is.
I think it’s kind of a shame that Joaquin Phoenix looks like he may be giving an excellent performance as The Joker. Wouldn’t it be so much more entertaining to see that performance in a real Batman film?
If he knocks it out of the park in the role, it would be kind of a shitty scenario because we always want to see Batman go up against a great Joker. As I wrote earlier in the article, Batman and The Joker have this very complex relationship that spans years. Yet we’ve only ever seen them face off against one another in one film in their different incarnations. In Tim Burton‘s Batman they killed the character off and the tragic death of Heath Ledger meant we wouldn’t see that character in Nolan’s Batman universe beyond The Dark Knight. One thing we genuinely haven’t seen from the Batman and Joker dynamic on film, is how that relationship plays out over years of twisted, violent confrontations.
Well, that’s my two cents anyway. I’m sure there’s a lot of you out there who will disagree with me and that’s fine. For now, I just needed to comment on this project, but this is not a film I’ll be rushing out to the theater to see.
JOKER hits theaters October 4th
As always thanks for reading!