Send in the Clowns: Joker 2 and how studios like to make the same movie over and over and over again
When Joker was first announced I was cautious and not a little pessimistic about the entire prospect. It's no secret that I'm kind of frustrated with the current cinematic landscape - and by that I mean films that are getting mainstream cinema releases - and the studios who seem hellbent out churning the same exhausted big-budget. CGI laden, action blockbusters. Joker, to me, seemed to be just another one of those, but wrapped up in an "edgy" package.
When I finally saw the movie I was pleasantly surprised. DC have had a problem with their recent, non-Nolan movies (and, let's be honest, The Dark Knight Rises wasn't much to write home about either), in that they have tried too much to mimic the Marvel brand. Admittedly not with tone, but in their set-up, complete with crossovers before they'd even established characters, and sequel bait coming out the wazoo. But Joker was something different.
I mean, sure, it's just a rip-off of two Scorsese movies, both of which are far more focused, and as a result far better, but it wasn't a world ending, overblown mess. And, regardless of the controversy around it (which was kind of stupid, really) and the director's idiotic statements about "WOKE" culture, it seemed to get people taking. More importantly, it seemed to get people talking about movies.
Whether or not you think it's yet just a further example of how woeful and dumbed down mainstream cinema has become that something has derivative and unfocused as Joker actually meant conversations about themes, performance, subtext and the like were finally becoming part of the wider discussion is irrelevant for now, the point is that it did.
Suddenly, for the briefest of moments, there was hope. It may not be new, and it may not be unique, but it was something, and I praised DC big. If this was the direction they were going to be taking these properties in, then finally we might have something with celebrating.
Studio backed, but creative led, movies, utilising the properties available to them via DC's back-catalogue to tell interesting stories is a great idea. It's what Disney should have been doing with Star Wars. It's exactly the kind of thing that will stop these characters from going stale. After all, we're not fed up with Spider-Man because of Spider-Man, just look what happens when someone comes along and does something new with that character, you get Into the Spider-Verse. But those Andrew Garfield movies failed because they offered up more of the same. Meanwhile, Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster have both never left the public consciousness, and a big portion of that is down to the fact that lots of different creatives have been able to use those characters to tell their own stories.
Granted the Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster examples aren't perfect parallels, since copyright has allowed people to have free reign of them, but they work for purpose (and also there's an argument to be made that copyright laws are part of the problem here - I'm looking at you Disney! - but that's a different post for a different day).
Moving back to Joker, one of the key things that made this such a tantalising prospect was the insistence from everyone involved - from Phillips to Phoenix to the freaking studio - that this was a one and done deal. This wasn't the start of some Joker-centric franchise; Arthur Fleck wasn't going to pop up in Matt Reeves' Robert Pattinson starring The Batman, this was literally just the work of a filmmaker and an actor, utilising an existing property to tell an standalone story.
And that aspect of it was part of was excited me so much. Did this mean, then, that DC were actually going to go down the route of handing over their other characters for similar treatment? What fascinating movies were we going to get here, then? If Joker is a drama, then does that mean we might start getting other genres explored through other characters? A horror focused on The Riddler? A crime thriller about The Penguin? Courtroom dramas about Harvey Dent? Who knows, anything is a possibility. And it would still be a franchise, but an entirely different kind of franchise.
Except, actually, it turns out none of that is the case, because all DC and Warner Bros. are doing instead is making a sequel to Joker and giving Todd Phillips another villain to rip Scorsese off with.
How disappointing, then, that after all the hype it was all for nothing. A Joker 2 is hardly a film I find myself crying out for, and I can hardly imagine many others do either. Surely a Joker 2 is just... y'know, a Batman movie... and God knows we've got enough of them. The film was pretty finite in terms of telling an origin, I'm not all that interested in seeing where the character goes next because, well, I kind of already know! Wasn't that part of the point of the film in the first place?
All this news does, in truth, is set me back to where I was pre-Joker, only now with even more jaded and cynical views on the current state of the cinematic landscape. Yet another fantastic opportunity to create new and interesting ideas gone to the dogs. It seems to lesson studio execs learned from Joker's success wasn't that people are willing to latch on to something that dares be a little different and little more interesting, but rather that people just want Scorsese movies made by the guy who did The Hangover.
Out with the possibilities of a rom-com about Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (they hate each other by day, but lust after each other by night, and neither of them know it! Hilarity ensues) and in with Joker 2: Jokerer...er, and Luthor, about a bald billionaire who struggles to make ends meat, lives with his mum, and inadvertently kick-starts a revolution where people shave their heads after he guns down some Wall Street yuppies in a subway station.
I mean, seriously! Why does every success have to lead to... repetition of that success. How hard is it to understand that these movies do well because they aren't the same as every other thing on offer?
Look, I'm sure these movies will have the merits. Most movies do. But I'm so damn tired of this constant need from major studios to flood cinemas with the same thing over and over and over again. Forgive me if I struggle to get enthused about yet another opportunity wasted, and act cautious and not a little pessimistic. It's just... didn't we already do this? More than once?