DC is launching what could be its most ambitious project yet and far more challenging than any of its crossover films: a Joker origins movie. While the Joker is my favorite villain of all time, I have my doubts about this film.
One of the most important parts about the Joker is that he is presented as only the Joker, with no other identity. Most Batman villains have an alter-ego. Harvey Dent (Two-Face), for instance, was a popular district attorney who went mad after he became disfigured. Mr. Freeze was an accomplished scientist who tried to cure his ill wife with cryonics (and failed).
The Joker, on the other hand, lacked any other identity, which helped him gain legendary notoriety. Let’s take The Dark Knight, for example. When Bruce Wayne tries to use facial recognization software on the Joker, he can’t seem to find any civilian identity or match for him. Throughout the film, the Joker gives multiple backstories about how he got his scars, but the audience is not expected to believe them as 1.) he’s crazy and 2.) he’s creating fear in his victim by drawing his or her eyes to his scars. By the film’s conclusion, Bruce never discovers the Joker’s real name and none of the backstories are revealed to be the truth.
Most Batman comics follow this idea that the Joker is simply the Joker. This lack of alter-ego is why the Joker is such an iconic villain. With no backstory, the audience can never truly understand his motives, making him even more compelling as a villain.
That’s why I have hesitations about a Joker origin movie. I feel like any backstory would have to involve the Joker suffering from severe mental illness or becoming traumatized by tragedies. This would lead to the Joker being portrayed as a victim. Any sympathy the audience would have for the Joker would diminish him as a villain, taking the fear and allure away from this decades-old character.
This does not mean Joker origin stories have not been successful. One of the most famous Batman comics of all time is The Killing Joke, which has been rumored to be the inspiration behind the origins movie. It details the Joker’s past as a comedian while still keep his true name a secret.
Despite my doubts, I hope the Joker movie is a success. The cast is packed with acting talent, with Academy Award-nominated Joaquin Phoenix as the lead. Robert DeNiro is also in the film and is rumored to be playing a talk show host that is a major player in the Joker’s journey to madness. Zazie Beetz, best known for playing Domino in Deadpool 2, is to star as a single mother.
The origins movie has also excited many fans who are eager to see the backstory of the notorious villain unfold. They recently expressed approval of Joaquin Phoenix beginning to “transform” into the Joker.
— Geek Vibes Nation🖖 (@GeekVibesNation) September 5, 2018
— Comicbook.com (@ComicBook) September 12, 2018
The rumors surrounding the plot seem interesting, and the actors are experienced in exceeding expectations. But I feel like any backstory will humanize the Joker and undermine his character. Hopefully, director Todd Phillips will find a way to look into the character’s past but still maintain his legacy.
Photo via NME from Warner Bros.