The trailer for the long-awaited* Joker movie dropped yesterday, and I have a few thoughts.
The first thought being, of course, who asked for this movie?
Let’s establish a few bonafides. As bad guys go, the Joker is an A-list character, as recognizable as DC’s big heroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman). The director and co-writer Todd Phillips has a track record of delivering successful movies.** And DC really needs to be experimenting with the mid-budget, stand-alone movie rather than chasing Marvel’s model which they don’t seem to understand enough to pursue in good faith. And I’ll admit, I watched the trailer. It looks pretty. It’s a stylishly cut trailer and I suspect the movie could be well made. I wouldn’t rule that out.
But let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
First off, do we even need a Joker stand alone movie? I mean, in so much as we need any movie, that is, it’s not like we’re starved for Joker interpretations on screen. If you count the animated series (which I do because Mark Hamill was a fantastic Joker), and the original series with Caesar Romero, this mark’s the 7th person to portray the Clown Prince of Crime. And while there’s room for every actor’s interpretation of the character, why?
Why does DC studios insist on pushing A-list characters again and again while neglecting the huge catalog of IP available to them? While there is hope on the horizon that they’re taking a few chances (the upcoming Shazam! looks like it hits the mark, and all the early word on Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is super promising, the studio’s overall strategy suggests they don’t have a lot of faith in their fans and little understanding of their properties.
Second, the Joker’s deep backstory is, at best vague and not particularly cannon. I don’t want to go all cannon-wonk. I really don’t. I love when films take inspiration from cannon and put their own spin on things. It allows room for surprise and reinvention. But some fans get really uptight about that. In the comics, Scott Snyder’s recent run on Batman has gone so far as to suggest that there might actually be 3 different Jokers. And in fact there’s no real definitive origin story for who he was before he became the Joker (though Alan Moore’s Killing Joke is the most likely contender, it’s also been backtracked as a possible backstory).
I’m going to side-track right now to gripe that the Joker is defined by his relationship with Batman. Why are we making a Joker film that has zero Batman?
And here’s the answer: white dudes, which a certain segment of the world tends to think of as comic book’s core demographic and who felt slighted by superhero movies not about other white dudes.
Do we really need a mid-budget*** art film about a mediocre white guy who fails at life and gets beaten so many times he goes crazy and kills a lot of people? Why for the love of all that’s holy do we need to hear that story? Who benefits from it? Who does a glossy film empathizing with a murderous madman serve? Honestly, the whole thing sounds like masturbatory material for broody edgelords.
And that’s fine. Whatever. DC is going to make the movies DC is going to make. And like previously stated, they’re trying some new stuff, and I’d rather support the stuff I like than piss in someone else’s cornflakes.
But it’s difficult not to think about lost opportunities. What other things could be done with that $55 million budget? DC has a huge stable of characters to pull from. Even just looking at the ones they’ve touched on already. Building off the momentum from Suicide Squad and Harley Quinn getting another outing (and I can’t overstate how excited I am for that Birds of Prey movie. I really can’t), why not a Katana movie with Karen Fukuhara? Heck, why not a Deadshot solo movie? He’s way more compelling and sympathetic than the Joker.
Now, it’s true they have taken chances and failed before. Jonah Hex comes to mind. And Catwoman. And Jonah Hex star Josh Brolin has spoken publicly about why Hex failed, just as John Rodgers, one of the many writers on Catwoman weighed in on that film. And look, Marvel flirted with disaster early on, too. After a few initial successes, the studio started to meddle in the day-to-day to such a degree that we ended up with Thor: Dark World and Iron Man 2****. But Marvel corrected course, and, for the most part learned to trust directors with their vision.
But come on. There are literally dozens of quality characters from DC comics who should have had movie deals before the Joker got a solo feature. The CW has shown that Green Arrow can perform and people kind of know who he is, now (and I suspect the latest season’s arc with Ollie in prison incorporated elements of the un-produced but greatly talked-up Supermax movie that was about him in a prison with a bunch of C-list criminals and having to break out.)
A short top-ten list of other characters who should have been given a shot and would have thrived with that budget (beyond those already mentioned above.)
- The Question
- Nightwing (though in theory this is happening)
- Blue Beetle
- Dr. Fate
- Starman (the Jack Knight version)
- Black Orchid
- Lois mutherfucking Lane
So, enjoy Joker, those of you who will go see it. It might make the studio a lot of money. It might not. Who knows? I doubt it will get my dollars, because I’m tired of that story–frustrated white dude picks up gun and strikes back. I see that story, minus the clown makeup, with painful regularity on the news. I don’t want to give a studio my $15 to sit through a romanticized version of it.
In the meantime, DC, feel free to hit me up for the best Zatanna+Deadman team-up movie you’ll ever get.
* but was it?
** almost exclusively comedies such as Road Trip, Starsky & Hutch, and the Hangover franchise.
*** sad to think that $55 million is mid-budget.
**** seriously, the production of Iron Man 2 was so toxic for Jon Favreau that he made the excellent film Chef as a bit of a metaphor for being true to your artistic voice.