‘Joker’: Why Joaquin Phoenix Should Play Both Joker and Batman in the Sequel

During its development, Warner Bros. had little faith in Joker. Director Todd Phillips was best known for comedies like The Hangover trilogy. And the mid-budget, ultraviolent character study went against everything other superhero movies have been doing. But perhaps that’s exactly why the film worked.

In the end, Joker earned more than $1 billion worldwide, winning Joaquin Phoenix his first Oscar. But as talk of a sequel continues, we have an idea — inspired by ScreenCrush editor Matt Singer — for how Joker 2 could push the envelope even further. Why not have Phoenix play a dual role as both Joker and Batman?

Joaquin Phoenix at the Vanity Fair Oscar party
Joaquin Phoenix at the Vanity Fair Oscar party | Toni Anne Barson/WireImage

Joaquin Phoenix nearly played Batman on the big screen

It sounds like a radical notion — and, in many ways, it is — but Phoenix actually came close to playing the Dark Knight once before. Director Darren Aronofsky recently revealed he hoped to cast the actor as the lead in Batman: Year One.

Before Christopher Nolan got ahold of the franchise, Aronfosky almost rebooted it himself in the early 2000s. Alas, the studio wanted to go a different route and hoped to cast Freddie Prinze Jr. as Batman. Ultimately, Aronofsky left the project altogether.

Phoenix notably also came close to playing Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But this deal too fell through. The actor is famously disinterested in franchise movies. So in order to get him onboard for a sequel to Joker, the project will need to try something that has never been done before.

Phoenix and director Todd Phillips want a fresh approach for ‘Joker 2’

Since Joker‘s phenomenal box office run, a sequel has felt inevitable. But Phoenix and Phillips don’t want to rush into anything. After all, the first film connected with audiences because it was the antithesis of everything they expected from a comic book movie. But casting Phoenix as hero and villain would be a great opportunity to shake things up.

Phillips has said he wouldn’t want a Joker sequel to lose what made it distinctive. Jumping ahead to a Gotham City with a full-functioning Batman would allow Joker 2 to skip past the title character’s continuing origin. Although Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) has discovered who he is by Joker‘s end, he’s far from the criminal mastermind he’s traditionally thought to be.

Without a significant time jump, Phillips and Phoenix could be chained to a sort of Joker Begins template. Neither the creative team behind the first film nor its fans likely want to see a traditional continuation of Arthur’s story. And giving Phoenix the added challenge of playing his own antagonist would fulfill his chance to play Batman in a thought-provoking way.

The sequel could explore the complex dynamic between the two

In Joker, Arthur suspects at one point he is Thomas Wayne’s illegitimate son. While the movie leaves that somewhat open to interpretation, the truth ultimately doesn’t matter. The purpose of this plot point is to highlight how different Arthur and Bruce Wayne turned out, given the latter’s privileged lifestyle. Having Phoenix play both roles would drive this home even more.

Never before has the same actor played hero and villain in a superhero movie. Yet, myths and fables have turned to this kind of parallel casting in the past. Think of The Wizard of Oz or some productions of Peter Pan which draw clear connections between characters with multiple roles for each actor. Joker similarly intends to be an allegory of class warfare.

If Phoenix were to play Batman and Joker, this would become clearer than ever. The actor certainly has the range to pull it off. While we’d prefer the resemblance between the two isn’t acknowledged on-screen, this too would cast further doubt on whether they are indeed related. Joker created something unique to the superhero genre. Let its sequel do the same.