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  • Writer's pictureZack Kulm

DC’s Gamble Pays Off, ‘Joker’ Redefines Comic Book Genre

Joaquin Phoenix's Joker Running
“Put on a happy face.”

Joker is out and its obvious success already has the DCU laughing all the way to the bank. It is officially the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time — and guess what? It’s numbers are still climbing.

From script to direction to an all-star cast, all the check-boxes were marked to spark the perfect synergy needed to make a film that has arguably redefined the brand since The Dark Knight. And what did it take, a bunch of genre outsiders? Well, that, and a few not-so-new ideas.

Helmed by Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Todd Phillips, Joker’s parallels to previous films of legendary director, Martin Scorsese, are hard to miss. Feeling more like a continuation of classics like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, even going so far as to cast Robert DeNiro as pompous late-show personality, Murray Franklin (and channeling his inner Jerry Lewis), the film traded in flash for substance and it payed off.

Initially, Scorsese himself was to join Joker as an executive producer but had to back out due to back-to-back filming of his latest epic, The Irishman. Instead, Scorsese took on more of an unofficial role where he was able to impart some advice on a thrilled Phillips, while also securing Scorsese’s longtime producer, Emma Tillinger.

Leave it to a director who truly understands comedy and knows how to pull the right strings to distort humor into something so tragic and depraved. Though, in recent weeks, it would seem Phillips has decided to part ways from comedy altogether. In a Vanity Fair profile, Phillips didn’t mince words when sharing his views on the state of comedy.

“There were articles written about why comedies don’t work anymore — I’ll tell you why, because all the f***ing funny guys are like, “F*** this sh**, because I don’t want to offend you.” It’s hard to argue with 30 million people on Twitter. You just can’t do it, right? So you just go, “I’m out.”

With Joker’s good reviews and huge ticket sales, there has also been much controversy around the film, its message, and the filmmaker’s response to all of the above. Though, no matter how you slice or dice it, DC has come out on top with this one and we can be sure it will effect its content moving forward.

In a recent story covered by the Los Angeles Times, when asked if a sequel is in store for Joker, Phoenix initially avoids the idea as he has never acted in a sequel of any of his previous roles. When pressed, Phoenix says, “I wouldn’t just do a sequel just because the first movie is successful. That’s ridiculous.”

Phoenix then relents, admitting that he and Phillips have tossed around the idea. One thing is certain, Phoenix and Phillips don’t want it to be just about ‘The Clown Prince of Crime,’ rather the film would have to have a thematic resonance close to its predecessor to keep their interest. That said, the duo believe there is more they can explore from the character, and with the ambiguity of reality and fiction, along with the true nature of Arthur Fleck’s past and general psyche, there’s a deep well they can pull from.

On another note, one of the questions of our age that Joker must endure is — how does Joaquin Phoenix stack up against Heath Ledger? And, frankly, it’s the wrong question. A better question would be — how does Phoenix stack up against DeNiro’s Travis Bickle? — reason being, Heath Ledger, like a Rubik’s Cube, played a Joker with an ever-changing past (and most likely a military background), whereas Phoenix’s Joker was the making of something else entirely. He is the powder before the spark. And let’s be honest, each iteration is their own thing, and we should be glad of that…

Just remember, Jared Leto’s iteration from Suicide Squad is very, very far away — and we have Joker to thank for that.

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