Joker director Todd Phillips has stated that he likes all the previous cinematic incarnations of Batman’s nemesis. The film had its world premiere on August 31 at the 76th Venice International Film Festival to an enthusiastic reception (with some exceptions), and won the Golden Lion, the festival’s highest accolade and one of the film industry’s most prestigious awards, with particular praise being heaped upon Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the eponymous comedian descending into madness.
Numerous actors have portrayed the Joker in live action over the years, beginning with Caesar Romero in the highly camp Batman TV series in the ‘60s, the movie of which was the character’s first cinematic appearance. He then appeared in Tim Burton’s 1989 movie Batman, played by Jack Nicolson; The Dark Knight, where he was played by Heath Ledger; and Suicide Squad, where he was played by Jared Leto. A version of the character was sporadically developed in Gotham via twin brothers Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska, from whom something akin to the Joker eventually emerged. As well as being a featured character, he has also made numerous cameo appearances such as in the pilot episodes of both the short-lived Birds of Prey TV series in 2002 and DC sitcom Powerless, as well as the hallucinatory finale of season 1 of Titans.
The statement came via an interview Variety conducted with Phillips at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film screened yesterday, in which he was asked if he had any reluctance in revisiting the ground previously trodden with cinematic adaptations of the Joker, in particular Ledger’s acclaimed and posthumously Oscar-winning performance. He responded with a simple “No” and elaborated by stating he loved the interpretations of the character that preceded and followed Ledger, specifically those of Nicolson and Leto.
Phillips went on to compare adaptations of comic book to those of Shakespeare plays, in that there are many versions of The Bard’s works that all stem from the same source material and are equally valid, yet can often have wildly different approaches to adapting it that result in a myriad of different experiences that share the same DNA with the inspiration.
Many people would strongly disagree with Phillips over liking Jared Leto in Suicide Squad, but his viewpoint in variations of the same character has some merit. In the ‘60s TV series and movie the Joker is a chaotic clown in line with the camp tone of that setting; in Tim Burton’s movie he is a gangster instigating a crime wave to draw attention away from Batman and onto himself; in The Dark Knight he is an anarchist wielding game theory as a weapon; in Suicide Squad he a madman indulging in mayhem for the sake of it; and in Joker itself he is a nihilist driven to insanity by the society’s disregard of him. While each is a different character in their own right, they are all recognizable to some degree as the iconic comics menace who has remained a permanent staple of the cultural landscape for almost 80 years.