Why I’m worried about ‘Joker’ (and it’s probably not the reason you think)

I’ve wanted to talk about the upcoming Joker movie just about since it’s been announced, but I always wait a little bit too long, and the conversation stops, and it seems like it’s not the time anymore.

With the full trailer released just a couple of days ago, though, the opportunity seems to have risen again to make me comments while the conversation is still going on. So here we go.

First off let me say, I am somewhat looking forward to this film. Joaquin Phoenix is a great actor, and the film looks fantastic, with some stellar direction and cinematography.

Having said that, I don’t know if I get this film. Which is to say, I’m not sure why it exists.

The short answer, of course, is that it’s a origin story for the character of the Joker from the Batman comics, which most people are seeing as a bold an exciting move, because the Joker has traditionally never had a concrete origin. Even in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke which is about the closest we’ve come to canon on the matter, the Joker admits that some days he remembers it one say, some days he remembers it a different one, so it’s likely that the origin told in those pages might not even be the real thing.

So the idea of creating a set-in-stone origin for the character should at least be interesting, in theory.

But, if you ask me, an origin story is only interesting in how it relates to the rest of what we know about the character. And this origin story is or a version of the Joker that … well, doesn’t exist anywhere else.

It’s not an origin for Heath Ledger’s version of Jered Leto’s version. It’s an origin for Joaquin Phoenix’s version which, at least as far as I can tell, exists outside of the rest of the DCEU continuity and who might not ever appear in anything again.

So, what does this origin matter?

Think of it like this. Imagine that Disney had made Solo: A Star Wars Story except it was entirely out of canon, all the things it revealed about the character only existed in a separate, alternate universe that had no connection to the rest of the Star Wars films. What would be the point?

(I mean, you can already argue that Solo was pointless, but that’s a whole other matter).

The Joker is a character that is defined by his relationship to Batman. This is such a central point to the character that it’s been stated explicitly in many of his stories (“You complete me,” Ledger memorably says in The Dark Knight). I’m not saying that you can’t tell a Joker story that doesn’t have Batman, but I think you have to try really hard to not create something that’s essentially pointless.

So that’s it. That’s my problem. I don’t get what this film is meant to be.

I mean do, I guess. It looks like a kind-of re-imagining of Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, with a coat of super-hero paint on it to make it stand out in the 2019 landscape.

But then it’s not really a Joker movie, is it? It’s just a movie that happens to have the Joker in it. And what’s the point of that?

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Aquaman, 2018 – ★★★★

Aquaman is a bit like the Guardians of the Galaxy of the DC Universe, in that when it was announced I was like, “Whut? Why would they do that?” but then after I watched it I was pretty impressed. No raccoons in this though, in case you were wondering.

Admittedly the DC Universe films have a pretty low bar to hit to be comparatively good, but this is definitely one of the better releases. Not quite as good as Wonder Woman in my opinion, but a pretty close second.

Design was stellar, loved the look of all the underwater stuff, and it definitely leaned into over-the-top nature of Aquaman. Also James Wan killed it behind the camera (there’s some really, really great shots in here) though his go-to move for fight photography seems to be to just spin the camera in a circle around the two guys fighting. It’s a 3.5 star movie that gets elevated to 4 because the design and director. IMHO.

Vía Letterboxd – Todd Sullivan

Cam, 2018 – ★★★½

There was a lot to like in Cam, not the least of which was the fact that it was telling the story of a sexually empowered female lead which I think Hollywood could certainly spend a bit more time doing. It’s not the story of someone who goes down the dark path of the camgirl and becomes terrorized. No, instead this is about a woman who becomes terrorized by the fact that she loses control of that one empowering aspect of her life.

Unfortunately the resolution didn’t entirely satisfy me, and the attempts to explain (on at least some level) how our lead’s cam account had been taken over just didn’t really click.

Tip of the hat to Medeline Brewer who manages to navigate the complexities of her character and bring to the screen a very believable performance whether she’s playing the sultry, on-camera Lola, or the slowly freaking-out Alice.

Vía Letterboxd – Todd Sullivan

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 2018 – ★★★★½

When I first heard that Sony was planning an animated Spider-Man film, my response was a fairly epic eye-roll. The first trailer gave me hope, and every bit I saw of it after just pumped me up even more.

But here’s the thing. This movie is even better than any of those previews could have possibly made you think. This is maybe the best Spider-Man film we’ve ever had, and maybe the best comic-book movie yet to come out. It’s that good.

And somehow, we end up getting five or six different origin stories that don’t bog the movie down and also manage to acknowledge how tired we all are of origin spiders, especially for Spider-Man.

Between this and Teen Titans Go, it seems like the best way to get over comic book-movie fatigue is to go animated.

And also, apparently, hire Nic Cage to voice act. Who’d have thought?

Vía Letterboxd – Todd Sullivan

Unfriended: Dark Web, 2018 – ½

Well holy crap was this movie a giant steaming pile of turds.

Worst part? I was in it at the start. The setup was pretty great. Dude steals a computer, ends up finding out the computer was being used for some weird dark web kinda shit. Tension starts building.

And then they just shit all over the premise and decided to make this stunning crapfest of a movie instead. So disappointing.

Bad movies are bad enough to begin with. It’s so much worse when they initially show promise.

Vía Letterboxd – Todd Sullivan

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, 2018 – ★★★★½

‘Teen Titans Go! To The Movies’ is the perfect antidote for superhero movie fatigue. It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s basically a musical, it pokes fun at all those annoying superhero movie tropes, has a number of jokes about Superman’s mustache, has a Stan Lee cameo (yes, you read that right), and features a dolphin playing the drums, which is one of the bet things I’ve seen this year.

In other words, you really need to see this movie.

Vía Letterboxd – Todd Sullivan