Aside from the Joker character, Todd Phillips's new film has little to do with the original comics...and that might actually be a good thing.
Mark Hamill. Jack Nicholson. Heath Ledger. Zack Galifianakis. Jared Leto. Cesar Romero. And plenty more. So many actors have put their stamp on Batman’s legendary nemesis that it probably seems like there’s nowhere left to turn for inspiration.
Well, you might be right. A new report from Empire magazine claims that Todd Phillips, director of WB’s new Joker movie, isn’t actually basing the movie on any of the comics. Instead, he’s creating a totally new origin story.
Although plenty of fanboys will have their pitchforks ready to go, this is less risky than it appears. Let’s talk about why.
One of the things that makes IP-based studio movies so hard to pull off is the delicate balancing act between fan service and mainstream appeal. When those two things are at odds, there’s always going to be some segment of the population that walks out of the movie disappointed—but who should it be? Do you risk alienating the core audience, which could decrease turnout among the ticket buyers most likely to show up? Or do you take a chance that regular Joes will find your vision too inaccessible, and therefore lower your movie’s chance of a commercial breakout?
Phillips and WB don’t have to make that choice here, because the only thing they need to base their movie on is a vague notion of “the character.” What that means is, as long as the Joker feels like the Joker, everything is cool. They can appeal to hardcore fans and casual moviegoers alike.
Mr. Pupkin, Jr.?
According to the article, Phoenix’s Joker is a failed stand-up comedian by the name of Arthur Fleck, desperate to make his mark on the world but unable to navigate it socially or emotionally. Throughout the film, he descends further and further into madness, until he eventually becomes a psychotically damaged man and the arch-villain we know today.
Sound familiar? If you’re a Martin Scorsese fan, it should. It’s been widely reported that Scorsese’s 1982 film The King of Comedy, starring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis, served as a huge inspiration for Phillips and WB’s movie. That film is about a similar subject, but it’s full of dark, quirky, and weirdly funny moments that exist somewhere between disturbing and hilarious. If Phillips’ movie is anything like Scorsese’s, then it should be a fascinating theatrical experience.
If you’re still skeptical, you’re not alone. With each interpretation of Batman and his rogues' gallery comes fresh doubt from the fans. My advice: give the movie a chance. If you don’t like it, you can always go back and watch your favorite version. But wouldn’t it be great if Todd Phillips’ Joker was someone else’s favorite version, and they fell in love with the Batman universe because of it?
Let’s not judge until the movie comes out. After all, here’s how the internet reacted to Heath Ledger’s casting as the Joker.
I grew up in the 90s, so Mark Hamill’s crazy cackle will always be the definitive Clown Prince of Crime to me. But every actor to play the iconic role has managed to put his unique stamp on it, and I’m excited to see what the combination Phillips, Phoenix, and zero accountability can put together. If nothing else, it’s a studio movie based on major IP that is willing to take a chance, and that’s something worth applauding.
What do you think? Are you excited to see yet another incarnation of the Joker? Are you unhappy that Phillips isn’t following any of the source material? Let us know in the comments below!