Joker has been a big success commercially and for the most part critically, but what does this Joker mean for the DCEU?
Warning – major spoilers for Joker below
Not A Superhero Film
Joker is many things. In my opinion, it is a great film, an intense film, a controversial film but it’s hardly a superhero film at all. There is very little of the comic book about it – no superpowers, no gadgets and absolutely no heroes. Joker has far more in common with Taxi Driver than The Dark Knight and that film is evoked often. The titular character is Arthur Fleck, a man who is struggling to survive in Gotham City. He lives with his mother who is in poor health, he works a poorly-paid job where his colleagues laugh at him when he rarely tries to reach out to anyone it does not go well. Arthur also has very serious mental health problems for which he sees a court-appointed therapist as well as taking lots of medication. At the beginning of the film, Arthur seems to be trying to stay on a positive path but that is proving increasingly difficult.
The “origins” of Joker are the grim, horrible circumstances of what such a person, in reality, might have. While still cinematic Gotham is a seedy, dirty, city, a million miles from the Gotham of the Bale or Affleck films. If we were still in the Affleck-Batman world there could be no way of integrating these two characters or these two universes (the same would be true of the Nolan films). Not a successful way of doing it anyway, but they may well have tried. And while the Robert Pattison Batman is an unknown quality it would be hard to imagine a Batman that would work with this Joker. The instant the batmobile made an appearance would cause some terrible schism of the comic book universe where such a vehicle could happen and the brutal and dirty universe where such a thing is plainly ridiculous and impossible.
Too Many Jokers
But some of you might say well we have a perfectly good Joker right here…well, a Joker anyway, in the shape of Jared Leto from Suicide Squad. I was quite forgiving of this incarnation of the Joker, yes, it was bad, but trying to follow the iconic performances of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger was going to be damn-near impossible. Leto’s IMDb page still has an Untitled Joker film in the works but such was the rancour directed at his portrayal I doubt we’ll see him reprise the role. I have heard some people suggest that Joaquin Phoenix’s character is not the Joker but rather perhaps an inspiration for him, with that being said could both Leto and Phoenix’s Joker appear in the same film? I can’t see how this would work, already comparisons between the two different portrayals have not been kind to Leto and putting him in scenes with Phoenix would only make it worse.
A Billionaire Playboy
An interesting facet of Joker that I had not at all anticipated was the anti-wealth aspect. When Fleck kills three stockbrokers many of the citizens of Gotham see someone striking back against the greedy upper class. Thomas Wayne is shown as an unsympathetic character, harbouring his own prejudices against the poor and his murder was motivated less for material gain than as a political killing. What type of figure would Bruce Wayne be in this world? There has been a meme going around for years that said if Bruce Wayne really wanted to help Gotham he would use his vast wealth in more orthodox ways. Would we get a Batman who delighted in attacking the less fortunate who had resorted to crime because of their circumstances rather than criminal insanity? Those denied essential services, with no opportunities to improve their lot, that would hardly seem heroic.
I still think of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as the pinnacle of superhero films, a genius director, a fantastic cast and the money to make it happen. For me, and many people, Batman Vs Superman was an outright disaster and I was so disillusioned I didn’t even bother with Justice League, but undeniably it has a different feel to Nolan’s films. So coming up with a whole new distinct world might be difficult, especially so as I hope Joker is quarantined and kept safe from any other DC films. Joker is a brilliant film and should be allowed to be that and not just the first part of another story.
The Next Villain
As we now know Robert Pattison is taking over the role of Batman and very recent news seems to suggest the villain will be The Riddler (played by Paul Dano) so it may be that the DCEU lets the character of the Joker rest a little while. However, I’m sure they will return to the character, after all, he is best-known and most iconic Batman villain.