A bit of news that came out of the blue yesterday: Warner Bros. and DC Comics are reportedly actively working on a solo Joker movie that would focus on his origin. The movie is said to be directed by Todd Phillips, he of The Hangover and Old School, and Martin Scorsese might be interested in producing. The story says it will be released under a new banner that seems to mark it as what amounts to Elseworlds to the main DC/WB Justice League universe, allowing for original stories that don’t need to tie into the main cinematic continuity.
OK…that’s a lot to digest. So let’s try to break it down into a few points that I can more specifically disagree with.
This one just doesn’t track for me. The director has shown no indications or inclinations toward being interested in comic book properties before so producing on a movie that seems as inessential as this just makes almost no sense in my head. I don’t have a problem with this, it’s just the most incomprehensible of the many incomprehensible elements of this story.
I’ve liked some of the director’s movies, but he’s not exactly a great one at action sequences, something a Joker movie would almost certainly have plenty of. He has a long history with Warner Bros., which is likely why he got the call when this project came in, but he’s not my first choice.
The Elseworlds Banner
This makes the most sense to some extent, but it also bucks what DC/WB publicly tried to in the wake of Man of Steel, which is create a unified cinematic universe. While this strategy makes a lot of sense with comics, where creators can come in and tell one-off stories that don’t impact the core universe at all, the stakes for films are a bit higher. What happens if this movie is successful? Will there be a sequel? What about spin-offs? How far will things go before there are competing cinematic universes?
The Origins of The Joker
Here’s where I have some very real issues, where things move from “chin-scratching” to “oh heck no.”
I realize that The Joker’s origin has been told in various ways at various times and in various media. “Batman: Year One” included the early days of the low-level criminal that would go on to become Joker. 1989’s Batman gave him a name and showed how Batman himself was responsible for his creating his enemy. Other comics have at other times provided hints and clues as to his origin. But in the last 20 years at least the edict seems to be to keep the real story (if there is one) under wraps.
That’s most clearly shown in 2008’s The Dark Knight, with Heath Ledger as Joker. On two separate occasions he tells the people he’s terrorizing what terrible events of his past lead to him breaking down and taking up a life of crime. But those two retellings are contradictory and it’s likely an aborted third attempt late in the movie would have contained a wholly different version. The very point, one of the key parts of the movie that made the character so dangerous and compelling, was that he was sowing confusion for its own sake. Did he even know the truth? Did it matter?
Inevitably a story that purports to give The Joker’s true origin story is going to do two things: 1) It’s going to be more dark than fun, focusing on the psychosis of the character, 2) It’s going to explain away or rationalize his violence and sociopathy. It’s that last point that I’m most concerned about. We don’t need an Explaining Hitler for The Joker. It’s OK for the bad guy to be the bad guy without casting him as a sympathetic, misunderstood character who’s just doing what *he* feels is right.
I’m sure whatever the final product here looks like it will be fine. This isn’t me flying into a nerd rage and announcing a boycott of the movie. I just think this is the least essential that could be told. It’s indicative, though, of how DC/WB defaults back to the Batman universe whenever possible, even after Wonder Woman was such a critical hit as well as box-office powerhouse.