Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Ben Child

Can Joker: Folie à Deux avoid becoming like any other comic book movie?

Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn and Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker.
Shadowy corners … Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn and Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker. Photograph: BFA/Alamy

What a strange beast Todd Phillips’ Joker: Folie à Deux, the debut trailer for which was released this week, looks to be. Here we have a comic book movie that is really nothing of the sort, a sequel (and a musical one no less!) to the Oscar-winning character study of Joaquin Phoenix’s clownish and ultimately brutal underdog. This is a man who may or may not have some connection to the Batman comics that gave birth to him, but certainly seems to have a far greater link to the grimy crime films of Martin Scorsese in the late 70s and early 80s.

It is as if, 100 years after the invention of the wheel, somebody inexplicably decided to turn it into a Frisbee instead. And there is, to this date, no obvious answer as to why the original film worked at all, other than – inexplicably – it made more than $1bn at the global box office and therefore must have found its audience.

Imagine the pitch room at Warner Bros when this one first began morphing into shape like one of the BFG’s bad dreams. What’s that you say, Todd, it has nothing to do with the wider DC extended universe, features not a single obvious discernible superhero and no real action sequences? Well, bring it on!

The reality is that if Warner’s DC movies hadn’t been in a terrible mess, and if Phoenix hadn’t decided this was the perfect project for him to channel his own inner demons, the project would never have got off the ground. That it did at all is testament to the wonderful, unexpected chaos of the universe, or to give it another word, art.

And still … really? Are we honestly to believe that Phillips can deliver yet another weird and ambitiously left-field character study that barely exists within the comic book movie genre, this time with added romance and a hefty side order of Burt Bacharach and Hal David? Surely at some point this unexpectedly flighty story arc will be wrenched back down by the traditional forces of superhero flick gravity? Arthur Fleck will embark on an evil plan to poison Gotham City’s water supply with psychedelics. Bats will realign around Gotham’s heroic dark knight, as Fleck shifts almost imperceptibly into the shadowy corners of the story.

And yes, I’m aware Bruce Wayne is a mere sprog in this timeline, but the previous movie already set him on the righteous path to superhero-dom following the murder of his parents, so surely it’s only a matter of time before he’s swooping through the streets of Gotham, cleaning up the mess his dad, Thomas, helped to make.

But if this doesn’t happen, and audiences and critics lap up the left-of-centre freakishness all over again? Perhaps the future of superhero flicks isn’t in spandex and far-out space adventures after all. Maybe the next big DC bad should be Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin – they may not destroy Superman with superhuman strength, chlorokinesis or astral projection, but they could confuse the hell out of him with heightened, navel-gazing psychodrama. And never again would we have to sit through a DC movie third-act in which tediously invincible costumed titans battle each other against a fiery, CGI hellscape. Scorsese would absolutely love it.

The jury remains out on whether Phillips can repeat the trick with Joker: Folie à Deux. After all, there is likely a very good reason that nobody ever made a sequel to Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy, in the format of a musical. But even if the new film fails miserably, it is likely to give us more intriguing ideas to take the comic book movie genre forward than any number of the new episodes currently being put together by new DC boss James Gunn, brilliant (in a common-or-garden superhero flick kind of way) as these may well end up being.

After all, as made abundantly clear in the new trailer, it is very hard to put Fleck back in his Arkham Asylum-shaped box once it has become clear that another dozen Jokers will only spring up to take his place. Let the chaos begin!

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.