The Splash Page: What you need to know before you see “Joker”


Photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

Samuel G. Reece | @_samreece, Contributing Writer

Oscar buzz, festival awards and projections for a huge opening are all in store for the upcoming comic book movie “Joker.”  It is, of course, based on the famous Clown Prince of Crime who so often menaces Batman. But it is not really based on any comic book story and tells the story of a character who has never really had a concrete or definite origin. So, as always when movies about complicated characters set in their own complicated cinematic universes come out, we’re left asking: what do you need to know before you see “Joker?” 

Question: Is this a Batman prequel? 

Answer: Kind of.  There’s been no real indication that we’ll get much, if any, Batman in this movie, and the studio insists that this Joker won’t come up against Robert Pattinson’s new version of Batman in any future films. Though this movie is set in the 1980s, it isn’t set before any version of Batman. It’s more a standalone feature than anything else, digging into what makes the Joker tick. Take your pick of Batman flicks to follow this up, because none of them are going to fit with it. (You might as well watch “The Lego Batman Movie” as the intended follow up.) A young Bruce Wayne will appear, however, and we’re going to get to see Thomas Wayne, famous for being murdered in an alleyway. In this case, it will be a version of the character based at least in part on Donald Trump. (Alec Baldwin seems to have left the movie after being afraid he was  being typecast in the role after his turn as the President in the last few seasons of Saturday Night Live.) 

Question: So … It isn’t a superhero movie? 

Answer: It sure doesn’t look like it. Supposedly, it is more of a remake of the classic 1970s films “Taxi Driver” and “The Comedian” than anything else. DC and Warner Brothers are seemingly letting Director Todd Phillips and producer Martin Scorsese do whatever they want. This is less about comics and more about the cultural figure of the Joker. I wouldn’t bet on seeing anybody wearing a cape. 

Question: So what’s the Joker’s deal, anyway? 

Answer: This origin story for the character is inherently inaccurate by comic standards because every origin for the Joker is different. This movie will likely be at least a little based on “The Killing Joke,” a classic graphic novel where a stand-up comedian has “one bad day” that transforms him into the Joker. Other versions, of course, have been that the Joker is the man who murdered Bruce Wayne’s parents, that he’s an immortal trickster shaped by multiversal metals from beyond the Source Wall, that he re-invents his own personality every day from scratch, or that he’s a gangster with the word “damaged” tattooed on his forehead. This version of the Joker will be a comedian named Arthur Fleck played by Joaquin Phoenix. Beyond that, we don’t know very much about him. In some ways, that’s what makes the Joker one of the most interesting villains in comic book and movie history, because, like Batman, he can be changed and adapted to tell pretty much any story you want to tell. 

The Joker is more popular now than he’s ever been, it seems. In an era where Batman seems to fade into the background, we’re fascinated with the Clown Prince of Crime and his associated acts – here’s looking at you, “Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn,” due out early next year. Maybe that says something about the kind of chaotic figures audiences are drawn to, or maybe it’s a desire to push back against those figures. Either way, as “Joker” starts to premiere across the country, it will surely be a conversation starter.