By Nick Maylor
So, it looks like we’re getting two, unrelated movies about DC’s Joker now. Wait…. What? With the disappointment of Justice League (2017), the lack of promotional material for Aquaman (2018), the un-certain nature of Ben Affleck’s status as Batman and rumours that suggest Warner Brothers plans for the Joker are either incredibly unconventional or, themselves a massive joke being played on the public, it’s very difficult to imagine exactly where the lesser-known superhero cinematic universe over at DC/Warner Brothers is headed.
It was recently announced that Jared Leto’s Joker will get a standalone movie. Makes sense, right? Perhaps it would if there wasn’t this other project about the Joker happening; one that will be directed by Todd Phillips (Old School, Due Date, The Hangover), produced by Martin Scorsese and is rumoured to star Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker. The film is said to be a stand-alone entry that will not be connected the other DC films. It’s also said to be an origin story for the character, reminiscent of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976).
As awesome as it sounds having Martin Scorsese and the other folks attached to a comic-book movie, there is more than one thing here that seems bizarre. First off, one of the main things that makes the Joker interesting is that (for the most part), he doesn’t actually have an established “origin story”. While Jack Nicholson’s incarnation of the character in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was given the name “Jack Napier” and had an origin story that took cues from Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel “The Killing Joke”, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) took the more traditional route of portraying the Joker just coming on the scene out of no where. He had no known name and no established backstory. In the film he tells multiple versions of how he got his scars. Taking influence from the earliest appearances of the character in the comics, this Joker just was. This ambiguity has served as a key aspect of the character for decades and the choice to make a cinematic origin story film (that presumably won’t feature Batman) is strange, to say the least.
So far, the DCEU has remained interconnected in the style of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and 20th Century Fox’s X-Men films (although with time-travel and Deadpool, that film series’ continuity is a gigantic mess than can’t be reasonably understood). Having this Scorsese-Phillips Joker movie would break that tradition. It could have the potential to be amazing but until further details are released, its pure speculation how (or if) that film will play out. Jared Leto’s Joker made his debut in a supporting capacity in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016). While a far cry from the genius of Heath Ledger’s Joker, Leto had an interesting approach to the character and we should be excited about seeing more of him. I had always pictured a solo Joker movie (for Leto) as a series of flashbacks relayed to the audience by the Joker while he is locked away in Arkham Asylum. If the character has a “multiple choice” backstory, why not have Leto voice-over the Joker’s own “memories” of his past in segments. Due to the deranged nature of the protagonist’s mind, this could allow multiple filmmakers or styles to populate a series of backstories told from the Joker’s perspective, allowing the room to get as surreal and bizarre as possible. Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) was an aminated feature that used this anthology-style narrative to allow multiple visual styles to be used for its various anime segments. The Joker film could tackle this approach. Why not have Jared Leto’s Joker narrate the film and have the Phillips/Scorsese/Taxi Driver “origin” story as one of the many tales the Joker tells the audience. You could still have Joaquin Phoenix (or some other actor) play the Joker in this segment. You could even have multiple actors take on the role for each individual flashback. A Taxi Driver-style Joker with Phoenix? How about a futuristic, Batman Beyond style Joker by the Wachowskis? What about a spaghetti western-style segment from Quentin Tarantino with Christoph Waltz as his Joker? That kind of film could really be interesting. The Joker is an unreliable narrator and so it would make sense that his “memories” are completely inconsistent with one another. The standalone film is scheduled to go into production later this year and recent reports suggest the continuity of Matt Reeves The Batman will depend on how DC’s upcoming slate is received. Aquaman (2018), Shazam (2019) and Wonder Woman 1984 (2019) will determine exactly in which direction(s) the studio plans to go. Gavin O’Connor is lined up to make the Suicide Squad sequel and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn has been rumoured to appear in that film, a Gotham City Sirens film starring Gotham’s most famous female villains, and a Harley Quinn solo film (any or none of the above). Who knows? Matt Reeves is scheduled to direct The Batman and whether Affleck stars as the Dark Knight is up in the air as of this writing. Andy Serkis (Reeves’ collaborator on the Planet of the Apes films) has been rumoured to play Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin. All of this sounds exciting. What we will actually get remains to be seen.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor