I just watched the trailer for The Joker (2019), starring Joaquin Phoenix. I’m yawning.
Admittedly, I was trepidatious about the film from the moment it was announced. DC films have been hit or miss. The only thing that gave me hope was that Phoenix is such a phenomenal actor. I’m sure he’ll give a riveting performance, but I will probably never see it.
Why not? Well, because a trailer is supposed to whet my appetite and this one left me ambivalent at best.
The first problem I see is the subject. It’s not about the Joker. It’s about the man who becomes him. Actor Marc Maron, who plays Ted Marco in the film, said:
“The approach that Todd Phillips has taken is more of an origin story and a character study of a mentally ill person that becomes The Joker. It’s more of an intimate and gritty movie with a very specific scope. It’s going to be really interesting to see how it comes out.”
Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, the man who eventually becomes Batman’s number one enemy. But in this movie, he’s just a guy slipping into madness.
For the record, the brand new Arthur Fleck persona is a novel take on Joker’s origins, although the element of being a failed stand-up comedian was also present in The Killing Joke, the groundbreaking 1988 graphics novel written by Alan Moore.
I’m also turned off by the fact that it possesses the very same grimdark tone that has characterized the DCEU’s misses rather than its hits. It may be an independent film divorced from the continuity of yhe DCEU, if that even means anything anymore, but it still carries a torch for Zack Snyder’s vision for DC films ala The Watchmen. Grimdark DC films have consistently failed at the Box Office. Not enough fans want that style of superhero movie. You’d think DC would’ve learned that lesson by now.
An ironic Joker quote comes to mind: “Why so serious?”
And it doesn’t seem to involve Batman. Oh, young Bruce Wayne is there, but he’s too young to take up costumed vigilantism. The preview shows Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne, who has worn the cape and cowl in other versions of Gotham, but it’s doubtful Batman will actually factor into the film that much. In all likelihood, Thomas will serve as the obligate sacrificial lamb/inciting event that begins his son’s transformation into the Dark Knight. Batman may not factor into the film at all. This is the same problem I had with Tom Hardy’s Venom. If Spider-man doesn’t really factor into a movie about one of the members of his rogues gallery – and it doesn’t seem like it ever will – why should I care? The Nolanverse at least made sense of the emergence of the Joker as escalation of Gotham’s criminal element in reaction to the introduction of a costumed vigilante called the Batman.
Logically, this movie would be something of a Big Buildup to a Batman film featuring this version of the Joker, but it seems to be a one off. So again, what is the point of this story? And why should I care?
Coming back around to my original objection, this really isn’t the origins tale I prefer. I would prefer no origins tale at all! Joker has had several origin stories in the comics, movies and TV, but all of them can be summed up in the last sentence of Graeme McMillan’s article on the subject:
“Sometimes, the final destination is more important than the journey, after all.”
What’s important is that the Joker exists as a force of nature and in opposition to everything Batman stands for. How he came to be really isn’t as important and actually dettacts from his menace and mystique. The Joker is dangerous precisely because he is unpredictable and unknowable.
An origin story strips him down to something manageable and comprehensible. Better to leave his origins as it was established in The Killing Joke, where the Joker himself admitted,
“Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”
Alas! The Joker becomes a film we don’t need about a man who eventually becomes the thing we care about, written in a tone demonstrated to fail at the Box Office. I think I’ll pass.