Warner Bros. Joker has earned over 1 billion dollars worldwide (even without the film being released in China). Joaquin Phoenix gave a potential award-winning performance as the Clown Prince of Crime. The film had a fantastic script and director Todd Phillips made it on a budget of $55-70 million. The film, adored by audiences and critics all over has now achieved its place in pop-culture history, but does it deserve a sequel?
The answer should be yes if you are a movie executive looking to squeeze money out of it. The Hollywood Reporter recently reported that talks for a sequel with director Todd Phillips were going on with Warner Bros. Fortunately (yes, fortunately) on the same day, Deadline reported that the THR news was a rumour. And it was as if God had listened to my WB-related prayers for a change.
Joker is a movie that does not deserve a sequel. At all. Why? Let’s take a look at DC’s CW TV universe and Marvel’s Netflix Daredevil for the reason.
SIZE DOES MATTER
What does the Joker have to do with Daredevil and DC CW shows like Arrow and Flash? Well other than having comic books as its base material, it does have to do with story-telling formats. Why is Daredevil generally better…let’s just say more respected than Arrow? Not that the DCCW shows don’t have their fans, but what’s the main reason for Daredevil being arguably the better show? Is it the tone? Yes, a more mature and serious tone is a contributing factor. Daredevil’s mature tone makes more people take it more seriously than Arrow. But that can be attributed to the often grim source material for it. Daredevil is a darker character than let’s say Flash. So it’s not just the tone.
Is it the production values? DCCW shows are notorious for using cheap VFX. DCCW shows also appear to be shot with lower quality cameras and have an overall soap-opera level aesthetic at times. But Daredevil (and its related shows like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Punisher etc.) does not have any real heavy VFX as well. Also, this technical difference can be attributed to the CW and Netflix budgets. Netflix is known to give its creators better budgets to maintain and increase its subscriber base. Network TV does not afford those kinds of benefits.
Believe it or not, the real x-factor that divides these two serialized comic universes is the size (hehe). I was a big fan of Arrow when it started, l had loved Flash season 1. The real reason I stopped watching them as well…they are just too long. Most of the DC CW show seasons are about 23 episodes long. Except for Black Lightning (which is more watchable). All of the Marvel Netflix shows were (RIP) 13 episodes long. Story length matters. The longer a goes on, the more it seems like things don’t matter. This is the difference between soap operas and actual dramas.
This is also what separates run of the mill comics from a fascinating mini-series. A shorter format allows by default for more intensity. Anything beyond a certain fixed story looks like its being milked for no reason than capitalizing on the success of the original. It’s the same reason why LoTR movies are more far better than The Hobbit movies. More of the same is not always good. There many many examples of this – Harry Potter movies and Fantastic Beasts movies, Star Wars original trilogy and the prequels ( I know the prequels have their fans now but still) etc. This is also why you might have heard people complain about superhero fatigue- which brings us to the MCU. It seems to be like it just going on and on that the consequences don’t matter. Its tone is goofier. But imagine if the MCU instead of 20 plus movies were like 7-8 movie story of the Avengers and their eventual encounter with Thanos. (What more or less the original DCEU was intended to be). Wouldn’t it be infinitely more rewatchable? Suddenly all filler like Antman 2 or Guardians of Galaxy 2 is out of the window. Everything is meat. Everything matters. What has all this got to do with Joker though?
THE PERFECT ANTI-MCU FILM
Just like its titular character Joker is the most anti-establishment and rebellious mainstream movie in recent times. Just a few months ago in April Avengers: Endgame became the highest-grossing movie ever. It took a massive budget, ten years of build-up, a star-studded cast, viral often aggressive marketing by Disney (also their efforts to crush the competition) and all kinds of critics bowing at its feet to achieve this feat. While no small achievement it still required all that to achieve that kind of success that it did.
Nobody had asked for a solo Joker film. Not even ardent DC fans. Especially after the Justice League fiasco and its ensuing #ReleasetheSnydercut movement, not even hardcore supporters of WB/DC were particularly interested in a Joker movie. It was a low-budget, R-rated character drama in the vein of Martin Scorsese to be directed by the guy who had made the Hangover movies. It was not going to connect to any universe nor was it gonna have Batman in any capacity to face-off against the Joker. Its only point of interest was that a high-calibre actor like Joaquin Phoenix was involved. Critics in America were heavily against the movie screaming about fears of it inciting lone shooter incidents and generally behaving as though it would bring about the Purge in the USA. Due to protests in Hong Kong, the movie was deemed to be too controversial to be released in China.
But after its eventual release, audiences loved the movie. So did most critics. With a budget at 30% of most VFX filled, mega comic book movies, Joker showed what a good script and complete creative control to its director can do. Joker is the complete antithesis of an MCU film. With little to no humour, zero action sequences and no build-up. It’s an imaginative layered deconstruction of existing comic book mythos that is almost art-house in its execution. It does not give you any easy answers and makes you think long after you have left the theatre.
THE THEATER OF THE MIND
There will never be another Joker movie. Not that the director and actor aren’t capable of it, just that rarity is what makes something special. Joker lends itself to many interpretations. Not since Inception that people have had so much fun deconstructing a movie, positing various fan-theories none and all of which can be true, it’s a fascinating puzzle that demands repeat viewings. This brings me to my final point. One can spend years thinking about how much of Arthur’s Fleck story was a lie…Was (redacted) Arthur’s father? Did Arthur kill (Yup redacted)? Etc. Imagine if Todd Phillips pulls off a J.K. Rowling and started providing answers to all this? Wouldn’t it make thinking about so boring? In an age of shared creative universes, the best universes are often created in the mind. It is why books and podcasts still exist as a medium. Sometimes we want things that last in our mind, that we can ponder about and make our own stories out of. Works of art which inspire such a big bang don’t need to be explained in too much detail. What happens outside of the film should sometimes be left in the mind of the viewer, not bombarded with a post-credit scene or a sequel/prequel.
Also, what more can you do with the Joker? Sure as hell can’t pit him against Batman neither can you pair him up with other Gotham rogues. No other story would fit in that real, gritty world that Phillips and Phoenix created. Leaving Arthur Fleck’ Joker as some sort of ghost story haunting the deepest recesses of Gotham’s collective consciousness is the perfect ending to him. We do not need its corpse reanimated into a soul-less Frankenstein. Joker is far too good a movie to be turned into a franchise. Nothing encapsulates this feeling more than this line from the movie Troy-
“The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”