There have been a lot of reviews for the Joker that range from extolling the virtues of every moment of the film to bland confusion as to whether the Joker really is a DC comics movie at all.
For the longest time director Todd Phillips attempted to quiet rumours of a potential sequel by saying it’s a standalone story but recently spoke to the LA Times not only about the potential for a sequel but how he would envision it.
“It couldn’t just be this wild and crazy movie about the ‘Clown Prince of Crime,’” he told the newspaper. “It would have to have some thematic resonance in a similar way that this does. Because I think that’s ultimately why the movie connected, it’s what’s going on underneath.
“So many movies are about the spark, and this is about the powder. If you could capture that again in a real way, that would be interesting.”
With those words, and the knowledge that lead actor Joaquin Phoenix has long been hesitant to commit, but has also hinted that he may be willing to reprise to the titular role, I want to take the opportunity to suggest loudly and clearly that I would absolutely buy a ticket for another few hours in that world.
On CBR.com Justin Render makes a strong case for why he would not want to see a follow-up story, and equates Joker with an Elseworlds tale that he says, “in comic form, would almost certainly have been published under the more adult DC Black Label imprint, which seems to be establishing a standalone DC universe with titles like Batman: Damned and Harleen”.
I, however, have exactly the opposite idea. The traditional tale set out in many story arcs of the Batman comic books, and indeed films, is that Gotham is a city that is ravaged by crime – bad crime sure, but the usual sort of crime. Then rich billionaire Bruce Wayne dons the Bat-suit and starts kicking butt and taking names. The sheer act of dressing up as the Batman, however, inspires numerous villains to start wearing suits of their own and crawl out of the shadows to wreak havoc with the city.
This is specifically spoken about at the end of Batman Begins when Gordon speaks to Batman about the escalation of crime.
This plotline is subverted by Joker wherein we clearly see the Joker take central stage in Gotham while Bruce is still a child. Perhaps through the events, he inspired the Joker was even directly responsible for the death of Bruce’s parents? Imagine a world where no one has the capacity to deal with Joker for Bruce’s entire childhood? Where for near twenty years that psychotic madness of the Joker goes unchecked in Gotham – just how dark a place would it be then?
In this world of Joker, Batman is not the accidental cause of this escalated chaos, he is responding to it. The Batman mythos isn’t simply created by Bruce as a way to hide his appearance and respond to petty crime. It is instead a response to a lifetime living under the whims of one of DCs most evil characters and enduring Joker level atrocities.
In the world where Batman comes first, he is an innocent symbol of good against evil, but in the one inspired by the Joker, he could be nothing less than a severely malevolent force of retribution filled with rage, and a sense of injustice built by watching his whole city fall apart for the entirety of his childhood. What kind of person dons a suit to take on a society that profoundly distorted? Who must Batman be inside his head to dress up and face that kind of evil?
The more harsh, and chaotic world of Joker would need a far more harsh and chaotic Batman. This is not a man of naive privilege potentially over his head who joined the fight then had to adapt to rapidly changing events, it’s a man who knows what he is going up against from the get-go, who has been preparing his whole life for it, who is ready for it, and who relishes it, going up against a city where arch-villain level criminality is entrenched and seemingly undefeatable. As I said before, sign me up.