Over the past week, Warner Bros. has made a variety of announcements about their ever-growing roster of planned DC films. While there is a lot of news overall, this article will focus on perhaps the most fascinating announcement that the studio made. This is the revelation that Warner Bros. is developing a standalone Joker origin movie produced by Martin Scorsese.

Joker origins movie
Joker in BATMAN #1 in 1940. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

The fact that Warner Bros. would greenlight a Joker origin film is odd for many reasons. Most obviously, Joker is one of the most despicable and ruthless comic book characters ever put to page. It will be interesting to see how DC aims to have their audience follow such an unlikable protagonist. Then there is the fact that this movie is totally separate from the Jared Leto DCEU incarnation of the Joker. This means that we will have two actors currently playing the Joker at the same time in different movies. To say the least, the director and writer of this film, Todd Phillips, is going to have a difficult time adapting this fan favorite character. Here are some ways he should try to pull this balancing act off.

Exploring the Origins

No villain in comics has had more origins than the Joker. In DETECTIVE COMICS #168 Joker was originally the villain the Red Hood. In THE KILLING JOKE, he was a bad comedian who took a job raiding a chemical plant. Then in BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE, Paul Dini writes that Joker is a mobster that pretends to be mad. So many writers have explored the Joker’s origins because it is so fascinating to think how one man could become such a diabolical, insane character. However, no single origin story can totally satisfy the imagination of fans. That is why this Joker origin movie should have multiple origin stories.

Joker origins movie
The Joker in FINAL CRISIS #31 with his many origins. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

Imagine a film where each act tells a different potential origin of the Joker. Each time the details change about how this man became the Clown Prince of Crime. This is fitting since Joker has expressed multiple times that he does not even remember what happened to him. The film could use the Rashomon effect, but instead of three different people remembering events differently, it could be one person remembering his own life in a variety of ways.

READ: Speaking of three different people, DC Rebirth has three Jokers running around. Check out one of them in our review of DARK DAYS: THE CASTING #1

The point of a Joker origin isn’t about knowing what were the exact events that created him. All you have to understand is that something horrible happened to Joker, something that irreversibly altered his face and that there is a part of him that blames Batman for what happened to him. The rest of the story is totally up to the storyteller. If Todd Phillips films multiple possible origins for the Joker not only would this honor the villain’s character by maintaining his mystery, it could also make the Joker origin movie an extremely special and unique comic book film.

One Bad Day

Joker origins movie
Joker becoming insane in THE KILLING JOKE pg. 38 . Image Courtesy of DC Comics

One idea that this Joker origin film has the opportunity to discuss is the concept introduced in THE KILLING JOKE of “one bad day”. Basically, Joker argues in that comic that it only takes “one bad day” to turn a sane man crazy. Joker’s whole goal is to prove that everybody, in the end, is just as crazy as he is given the right circumstances. The “one bad day” philosophy explains Joker’s motivation for some of his most reprehensible crimes. He has targeted the loved ones of Superman and Commissioner Gordon in attempts to drive these moral men insane. The centerpiece of Heath Ledger’s Joker’s plan in THE DARK KNIGHT is to drive Harvey Dent insane by killing his girlfriend Rachel. As Batman says in that film, “He wanted to prove that even someone as good as [Harvey] could fall”.

READ: Not familiar with Joker’s defining comic? Here’s our retrospective on Alan Moore’s famous comic, THE KILLING JOKE!

Todd Phillips’ movie could analyze how Joker gained the “one bad day” philosophy. If Joker is depicted as a completely sane, everyday man who cracks after a something horrendous happens to him, this would be extremely shocking and emotionally gripping. It could make audiences question whether Joker is a villain or simply a victim.

Taxi Driver

The announcement that Martin Scorsese would produce this Joker origin movie instantly gave the movie credibility. Martin Scorsese’s earlier films are said to serve as the chief inspiration for Todd Phillips’ film. The movie will take place in a Gotham City reminiscent of 1980s New York, the city where many of Scorsese’s early films took place. The choice of setting is brilliant since the crime-infested New York of the 70s and 80s influenced modern depictions of Gotham.

Joker origins movie
Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER. Image Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

For those who want to know what this Joker origin movie will be like, take a look at Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, TAXI DRIVER. TAXI DRIVER stars Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, who drives taxis around crime-riddled locations in New York. For much of the film, Travis passively watches as criminals murder and sell sex right on the streets. Over time, Travis gains some violent urges based on his disgust at the state of his city. It soon becomes clear that Travis is ticking bomb ready to explode into a frenzy. However, it is unclear who he will target with his bloodshed.

READ: Discover our thoughts on other classic films with this Retrospective on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope!

Imagine a film where Travis’ violent urges lead him down a path of endless brutality against innocents. In this film, he would become even worse than the criminals who disgusted him. This could be the story that Todd Phillips and Martin Scorsese want to tell. Here the corrupt and cruel world of Gotham City leads Joker down a dark path where he becomes an unrecognizable person on a rampage which he cannot stop. This is an interesting take which no writer has taken yet with the Joker.

Batman Parallels

Another important thing to consider when setting up a Joker origin movie is how it should parallel Batman’s own origin. Batman and Joker are mirrors of one another and so what inspired each of them to become who they are should have some similarities. Joker needs to have a defining act that triggers his turn into a monstrous villain. We have seen the death of Batman’s parents many times on film. Now we need to see what event created the Joker.

Joker origin movie
Joker reminiscences about his wife in THE KILLING JOKE pg. 15. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

I think it would be interesting if Phillip’s film resembles BATMAN BEGINS. In BATMAN BEGINS, we see Bruce Wayne suffer from severe grief after the death of his parents. He then takes that grief and forges it into a weapon as the Batman. Batman proceeds to take down the Gotham mob and any person who would hurt people in his city.

The Joker film could show what would happen if a person like Bruce succumbed to his grief and grew insane. Instead of becoming a hero, this person goes on a crusade in Gotham to prove his own form of senseless nihilism. This Joker movie could serve as a “What If” story in which someone similar to Bruce Wayne chooses a different path. It could show that Batman and the Joker aren’t so different.

Final Thoughts about Joker Origin Movie

There are some things that DC needs to avoid when making this Joker film. Firstly, they shouldn’t try to make Joker an antihero. While Joker could fight mobsters who are nearly as bad as he is, we shouldn’t come out of this film rooting for the Joker. Don’t make the mistake that SUICIDE SQUAD did and try to hide Joker’s cruelty. By the end of this film, we should see Joker as the monster that he is.

Joker origin movie
The Joker as the Clown Prince of Crime. Image Courtesy of DC Comics

Secondly, the film needs to be careful how they deal with Batman. Traditionally Batman is a part of the Joker’s origin. Joker always says that he wouldn’t exist without Batman. However, Batman runs the risk of pulling the audience’s attention away from Joker. That’s why Batman should appear as a background character in this film. He can be mentioned and his silhouette can appear on screen but otherwise, he should only seem like a mysterious presence that nobody truly understands.

Those are the ways that DC should go about making this Joker film. If Todd Phillips follows at least a few of these proposals with his Joker origin movie, there is a good chance that this could be an exceptional comic book film. If successful, this could open up the flood gates for new and unusual types of superhero movies that could enrich the genre.

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