DC has been doing some seriously interesting things with their superhero franchises as of late, and no, I'm not talking about the Aquaman movie, which looks like an acid trip/rollercoaster ride conjured up by someone who's obsessed with sea monsters. Films like Brightburn and Joker are taking awesome "alternate" storylines from the comics and adapting them to the big screen.
One film features Superman like moviegoers have never seen him before and the other focuses on a beloved Batman villain — and judging from the trailers, it looks like Bruce Wayne doesn't even make an appearance in the film.
OK, well, Bruce Wayne does make an appearance in the movie, but not in his Batman suit. We see Joaquin Phoenix's Joker put his fingers into the mouth of a young Bruce in an eerie scene where he forces him to smile. Fans might be wondering what this whole exchange is about, but it seems to have to do with Thomas Wayne, Bruce's dad, and his attempt at running for mayor of Gotham — which looks a lot like early '80s New York.
So, is there a suited up Batman in Joker?
Nope. Todd Phillips' foray into the DC universe concentrates mostly on the origin of arguably the greatest comic book villain of all time. His transformation from an oft-bombing stand-up comic to a domestic terrorist is what this flick is all about.
Joker won't be squaring up against the man in black, instead, he's got a bone to pick with a bunch of key figures in Gotham — heck, early impressions of the movie make it sound like he's against the entire city itself at times.
The spin-off was heavily inspired by legendary comic writer Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, and while Joker doesn't follow the plot points of that graphic novel to the tee, anyone who's read it can easily see its influence.
And that influence can best be summed up in one word: dark. People have called Joker a combination of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy garnished with some characters from the DC universe, and it's an on-the-nose description.
The set designs, costumes, and Joker's descent into madness is straight out of the Robert DeNiro flick about a cabbie who's had enough.
As for The King of Comedy, well, let's just say DeNiro ends up playing the character that he once kidnapped and held hostage on the screen.
The controversy surrounding Joker (warning: potential spoilers):
There's already been some talk around the "message" that the new film conveys, or if there's even a message at all. Without giving too much away of the movie, the character study of Arthur Fleck and his transformation to the Clown Prince of Crime finally occurs after he finally fights back when he's beaten up a second time (on-camera).
It's clear from the onset of the movie that Fleck is mentally ill and fights to cope with his illness, but a brutal, savage city with an unending gas tank for heartlessness sees him abused, physically, on a couple of occasions. After a particularly bad roughing up session, he shoots and kills three finance-bro-types, which inadvertently sets off a huge "eat the rich" revolt from Gotham citizens.
The problem that some people are finding with the film, however, is that the violence is glamorized. Take Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger's Joker characters, for example. Jack was, at the end of the day, a criminal having a good time.
While he was captivating to watch, you always got the sense that the film knew Joker was bad. Same with Heath's; The Dark Knight has Gotham refuse to give into the Joker's terrorist demands, and, in the process, prove that the world really isn't that horrible of a place — that human beings can be all right sometimes.
There's none of that in Joker. Arthur is a mentally ill person who reacts to his savage world, after attempting to be nice and happy, with violence. The "common people" become rage-filled rioters the first chance they get, and the rich and powerful, Thomas Wayne and DeNiro's talk show host Murray Franklin, turn out to be massive jerkwads.
The film is depressing (as it should be), but because there are hardly any "good" characters, it's hard to know if Arthur's justified in his rage or not.
Does the movie think he's wrong? Is he an anti-hero? Or just some psychopath in clown makeup? Maybe that's ultimately left up to the audience to decide. But those glaring questions from critics probably won't affect the film's bottom line — it's arguably the most-anticipated movie of the year.