In theory, I am the ideal target audience for this new Joker trailer because I am the kind of broad-minded jackass who would shell out $12 for anything Joker-related, and because I’m one of five people who won’t openly recoil at the idea of a gritty PG-13 Joker origin story shot exclusively as an homage to old Scorsese movies. I would also gladly watch Joaquin Phoenix read the nutrition facts off a cereal box. Even though DC is cranking out another iteration of a Joker movie because they know they can wring eternal profits from the character, I was kinda looking forward to this. Like so many other people, I remain in thrall of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the character in The Dark Knight. I say his lines to myself at random times because I’m a sheep. Therefore, I’m game to witness any attempt to recapture that same magic with a different actor, provided that actor is NOT Jared Leto.
So it’s depressing, and not in a sad clown way, to watch the Joker trailer and see that director Todd Phillips is going ahead and filming the pitiable Joker origin story that Ledger and TDK director Christopher Nolan steadfastly endeavored to ignore. In the The Dark Knight, the Joker shows up in Gotham City sui generis. His past is as much of a fucking joke to him as anything else. But this trailer makes it clear that we’re gonna have to watch Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck get bullied and traumatized until he snaps, likely past an hour into the running time, before he finally does some of the cool crime shit we paid to see. Right now, the movie basically looks like Falling Down but with a clown, and with a predictable tagline (“Put on a happy face”) to boot.
I don’t want a Maleficent version of The Joker’s story. I like not knowing anything about the Joker. The more I know about who he is as a person, the less fascinating he becomes. All I want The Joker to do is fuck with Batman. Barring a gratuitous fan service cameo from Bruce Wayne that makes the whole theater clap like seals, this promises to be yet another film/TV property that tries to get away with merely being Batman-adjacent.
I hope I’m wrong, and Lord knows my movie predictions are as lousy as my political predictions. But it’s discouraging to watch this trailer and know that nearly the only way to make some mid-level character drama in Hollywood now is to process it through a tentpole format. This Joker movie is clearly aimed at older fanboys who are like, “It would be cool if Batman movies had hardcore sex scenes in them.” If it sucks, it’s gonna chip away at the once-impregnable mythos that Ledger built around this character, and it won’t be the last movie to do so. There are now umpteen different Joker projects in the Hollywood pipeline, including the return of Leto’s nü-metal version of the character. We’re gonna reach a saturation point where you cannot make any movie unless the Joker is in it somehow. He’s gonna show up in Fast & Furious 12 and be like, “Now this is what I call a FUNNY CAR.”
This is how it works now. No story is ever allowed to end. No character is ever allowed to be retired. Studios just bring them back and drop them into whatever recycled trope they didn’t use last, because they know it’ll sell anyway. They think they’re keeping characters alive, but what they’re really doing is killing them with a thousand smash cuts.