In just a few short months, Todd Phillips’ highly anticipated Joker movie will be released. The movie stars Joaquin Phoenix as the Clown Prince of Crime and promises to give an origin story to one of the most iconic comic book villains of all time.
Martin Scorsese was initially attached as an executive producer before dropping out, but his influence can still be felt in all of the movie’s trailers and promotional material. Suffice to say, this will not be an average comic book movie. Here are 5 Reasons We’re Excited About Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker (And 5 Why We’re Worried).
10 Excited: Joaquin Phoenix is an incredible actor
Joaquin Phoenix is one of the greatest actors today, and he’s particularly skilled at playing dark and disturbed characters – just look at his shocking turn as a veteran who moonlights as a gun-for-hire in Lynne Ramsay’s existential 2018 crime thriller You Were Never Really Here – so we’re in safe hands.
Phoenix has been nominated for three Academy Awards (two for Best Actor and one for Best Supporting Actor), and although he hasn’t won any, that’s still pretty impressive. Based on his performances in Gladiator, Walk the Line, and countless other modern classics, there’s no doubt that he’ll give us a truly mesmerizing turn as the Joker.
9 Worried: We already had the definitive big-screen version of the Joker
A new big-screen version of the Joker is great and everything, but we’ve already been treated to the definitive cinematic portrayal of that character, courtesy of Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Ledger played the Clown Prince of Crime perfectly as the flip-side of Batman, an agent of chaos who revels in destroying the order that gives people comfort in their lives.
Any subsequent portrayal of the Joker on the silver screen will inevitably be compared to Ledger’s astounding Oscar-winning performance, and that’s an argument you just can’t win – look at the disaster of Jared Leto’s Joker from Suicide Squad.
8 Excited: It’s the first ever Joker movie
The Joker has been the focus of his own stories in the comics – most notably in the critically acclaimed graphic novel The Killing Joke (which is more than worth a read for any Joker fan) – but he’s never had his own movie before.
Any Joker we’ve seen at the movies before now has been an enemy of Batman or part of a larger supervillain team; he’s never been the star of a solo movie. So, Joaquin Phoenix’s new film is an exciting prospect if only because it’s the very first movie of its kind. Depending on how it goes, it might also be the last.
7 Worried: There’s no Batman
Some would argue that there’s really no point in telling a story involving the Joker that has nothing to do with Batman. The Joker wasn’t conceived to be the protagonist of his own story; he was conceived to be Batman’s arch nemesis, and that’s what makes his character work so well.
He is the exact opposite of Batman, and yet there are also parallels between the two – in a hauntingly beautiful way, they’re two broken people who complete each other. What makes the Joker interesting is his relationship with Batman, so if there’s no Batman in this Joker movie, then what’s the point?
6 Excited: It’s rated R
The upcoming Joker movie was recently assigned the dreaded R rating by the MPAA, for “strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language, and brief sexual images.”
It’s not often that comic book movies get rated R, and when they do – Logan, Watchmen, the Deadpool movies – there are signs that the studios gave the filmmakers more creative control to allow for a darker, deeper, more daring film, which is a promising sign for Joker. From the wording of those reasons (“strong bloody violence,” “disturbing behavior”), it sounds as though Warner Bros. have pretty much given Todd Phillips free rein with this movie.
5 Worried: Villain movies usually don’t work out
There’s a reason why most stories have a hero and a villain. It’s because all of our conceptions about story structure have been built around the dichotomy of the hero and the villain. Not every story has to follow these guidelines, and it’s actually better to subvert them in this age of postmodernism, but it makes sense for stories as black-and-white as comic books to follow them pretty closely.
That’s why there are so few good supervillain movies, if any: Venom, Suicide Squad, even Brightburn – these aren’t terrible movies, but none of them are great, either. It’s because something’s missing: a hero.
4 Excited: It looks like a Scorsese movie
Any movie about the Joker would naturally strive to be a sympathetic portrait of a mentally disabled criminal. No one is better at those than Martin Scorsese, who has given this treatment to countless real-world crime lords.
Scorsese was initially attached to Joker as an executive producer, and while he may have departed the project, the influence of his movies – particularly Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy – can be heard loud and clear in the visual style, voiceover narration, and narrative framing of the Joker trailers. This will be a Scorsese-flavored comic book movie and that alone is exciting.
3 Worried: It’s not using any comics as source material
Todd Phillips has said that his Joker movie isn’t using any previous comic book storylines or graphic novels as a basis for the plot of the characterization. While this certainly suits its promise to be a comic book movie like we’ve never seen before, it also means that it won’t really feel like a comic book movie.
Fans get very protective about canon. In the comics, Superman and Batman don’t kill people, so when Zack Snyder turned them both into murderers, fans were furious. Ignoring the comics could lead to issues like this with Phillips’ depiction of the Joker character.
2 Excited: It looks like no comic book movie we’ve seen before
The trailers and marketing materials for Joker strongly suggest a comic book movie unlike any we’ve seen before, and in an age where dozens of comic book movies get released every year and most of them follow the same rigid, time-tested formula, that’s refreshing.
Steven Spielberg has compared the superhero movie craze to the western craze, and when the western had been around for a couple of decades and audiences were familiar with the genre’s motifs and conventions, filmmakers started toying around with those conventions. It might be a stretch, but Joker could be the beginning of the next generation of comic book movies.
1 Worried: The Joker works better without an origin story
The great thing about the Joker is how mysterious he is. We don’t know who this guy is, where he came from, what drove him crazy, or even what his real name is – and that makes him much scarier and more interesting.
Jack Nicholson played a great Joker in 1989’s Batman, but we learned everything about him, including why he dresses like a clown, and that lessened the character’s impact. In The Dark Knight, however, apart from a few vague anecdotes about child abuse, we know absolutely nothing about the Joker, and it makes him so much more effective. The new Joker movie will give him an origin story, which could be a mistake.