It’s been nearly two weeks since Joker debuted in theaters and the film is continuing its impressive streak of winning at the box office. The film was littered with controversy before it ever hit theaters, from its potential threats of gun violence at movie screenings to director Todd Phillips’ comments on “woke culture” and the climate of modern comedy.
But from a fan perspective, there was controversy as to where exactly this film rested itself. Is there any continuity to be had with this film? Joker has been said to have no connections to any DC films — it’s a stand-alone, at least for now. So what is it? What is its purpose?
Let me just start this by saying that the film is really well done, although it’s not perfect by any means. The greatest takeaway from it was that it’s a horror film — yes, a horror film. It might not be labeled that but I do think that could very well be what director Todd Phillips was leaning towards.
If you are a diehard comic reader, you’ll know that The Joker is often a very dark, horrifying character that is the very epitome of evil. A great example of this is in Alan Moore’s graphic novel, The Killing Joke — from which this film takes a lot of themes and ideas. The Killing Joke is one of the more brutal appearances from The Joker in all of his long history. If you look back at a lot of Batman comics, particularly those in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, horror is a fairly common theme at times where a lot of gritty and sadistic storylines are played out. So, to see this interpretation of The Joker in film really isn’t surprising — in fact, I’d say it’s rather welcomed.
You have to understand that it’s a horror film, however. No, it’s not campy, it’s not some raging gore fest of a film where a guy in a hockey mask kills hormonal teenagers. This is real horror. This is realistic. This is tragedy. It’s what horror movies should be and that’s why October is so fitting for its release. Honestly, it’s the best horror film of not only the year, but in ages.
I can see how that could be a disconnect for some. This is supposed to be a comic book film because it’s based on one of the most famous comic book characters of all-time. It’s supposed to be in that genre. But the only comic book characteristic about this film is some of the characters and setting. The plastering of the Joker name for the title is what sells this film to those that may not have otherwise paid their hard-earned money to watch some film about a struggling comedian and clown battle with his mental well-being. Is that unoriginal, even cheap? Sure, but let’s not lie and say this wouldn’t be one of those drama-type films that makes very little money at the box office if it were called something else. I know why I went to the theater and watched it.
This film comes at an incredible time in the film industry because it gives you something different. Yes, it’s dark — extremely dark — and it’s downright uncomfortable at times. It’s odd pulling for a character like Arthur Fleck/Joker — he’s a very unusual protagonist to where you’re not sure how you’re supposed to feel, as a viewer, about him. But isn’t that what horror films do? They make you, the viewer, cheer for, maybe somewhat begrudgingly, the killer. Do you go to watch Halloween for Laurie Strode or Michael Meyers? This may or may not be a film you want to watch over and over but to dismiss it because it’s not in the same vein as modern comic book films is foolish.
The comic book film genre is growing tiresome at this point, so a nice change of pace, and even tone, is welcomed. The way I see it, DC had nothing to lose with this film. They have a chance to start a new wave of comic book films, one separate from their competition. That is if fans can look past Marvel’s massive influence and success, because where things become problematic among fans is that they expect continuity, they expect longevity and connection to prior or future films. That’s a precedent set by Marvel and its Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s not DC. That’s not Joker.