2019 will probably always be remembered as the year Avengers: Endgame took the world by storm. After all, the film was such a rousing crowdpleaser during its theatrical release. In fact, by contrast, it’s wild to think Joker also earned more than $1 billion worldwide. While the film itself doesn’t feature Batman, it does offer a playful nod to the Dark Knight’s campy TV past.
‘Joker’ is the darkest big-screen vision yet of the DC Comics villain
Batman’s history with the Joker goes way back. In fact, the villain debuted in the comics way back in 1940 in Batman #1. So naturally, when director Tim Burton brought the Caped Crusader to life on the big screen in 1989, Joker (Jack Nicholson) tagged along. Back then, fans considered Nicholson’s performance fairly dark for a comic book movie. How times have changed.
In hindsight, Burton’s original Batman movie is quaint compared to what came later. Heath Ledger’s iconic — and legitimately chilling — performance in The Dark Knight won the actor a posthumous Oscar. While Jared Leto’s take proved divisive, it didn’t shy away from the Joker’s extreme nature. But Joaquin Phoenix took him in a far more disturbing direction.
The first R rated movie featuring the character, Joker is a bleak, hopeless thriller. In fact, the movie lacks levity so completely that some found it off-putting. Of course, the film offers a dark social commentary. And whether or not that works for viewers, it’s hard to argue against Phoenix’s performance. For his turn as Arthur Fleck, the actor won his first Oscar.
Director Todd Phillips still paid tribute to the campy ‘Batman’ show
Director Todd Phillips clearly drew from Martin Scorsese films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy far more than comic books. In fact, Joker’s harshest critics accuse the filmmaker of simply repackaging Scorsese’s works under the guise of a DC Comics adaptation. Regardless of how one feels about Joker, its darkness is in stark contrast to the first live-action version.
Cesar Romero played the Clown Prince of Crime in the 1960s Batman TV series. Although that series — which starred Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, respectively — didn’t inform Phillips’ work, he did admit a connection to the show. In the Blu-ray release of Joker (via CinemaBlend), Phillips admits he included a deliberate callback to the 1960s show.
“I get asked a lot if that’s an Easter egg. And I just don’t like that term ‘Easter egg.’ But little Bruce there when he slides down the pole, was that an Easter egg to the Batman television series? And yes, in fact, it was. It was something we spoke about and thought ‘Oh yeah, why not do it’ without being too cute. We don’t like to do a ton of that stuff, but it felt appropriate.”
The moment in question sees young Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson) rush out of his clubhouse to greet Arthur at the Wayne Manor gate. In doing so, he slides down a firehouse-style pole. In the TV series, West and Ward frequently slid down the “Batpoles” to enter the Batcave from Wayne Manor. It’s a subtle nod that, to Phillips’ credit, only some will recognize.
Warner Bros. has yet to announce any official plans for ‘Joker 2’
DC Comics, more than most brands, has a long-standing history of reimagining its characters. So fans usually appreciate it when a new project taps into what’s come before. Even in something like Joker, that tradition remains intact. But the real question haunting fans of Phillips’ film is whether Arthur’s story will continue.
After all, Joker’s success is undeniable. And with such a hefty box office gross, it’s surprising Warner Bros. hasn’t made a sequel official just yet. Of course, Phillips and Phoenix have expressed their hesitation to return to that world unless the right story comes along. So it might be a while yet before Joker 2 happens. Still, it does feel inevitable, doesn’t it?