Some movies not only don’t need sequels, but they also shouldn’t have sequels.
2019’s Joker, while ostensibly part of the Batman/DC universe, felt like a stand-alone, singular movie. A story about a mentally disturbed individual’s transformation from disaffected to diabolical that could have easily been entirely separate from any pre-existing mythology. It sort of seemed like director Todd Phillips just wanted to do a story about a loner who breaks bad in a broken society and needed to say “oh yeah, also, he becomes the Joker” to get the money to make it in a superhero dominated Hollywood.
The few details that linked Joker to the Batman story – his mother’s relationship with the elder Wayne, his encounters with young Bruce – felt forced and grafted on. Besides, are we supposed to believe that a 35-year-old Joker (that’s being generous with the actually 44-at-the-time Joaquin Phoenix) and a 10-year-old Batman are going to be arch-nemeses in 15-20 years when Batman is 25-30 and Joker is now approaching 60?
I guess we’ll find out because they’re making another one. The movie was too successful – both in terms of money and acclaim, with Phoenix winning the Best Actor Oscar – to let sleeping clowns lie. So we’re getting Joker 2, and Todd Philips is coming back to write it. A story in the Hollywood Reporter mentioned that “Todd Phillips struck a deal to co-write the next Joker installment.”
No word yet, but rumor has it he may direct it as well. Will Phoenix come back too? He doesn’t seem like a sequel kind of guy, but he didn’t seem like a superhero movie kind of guy either, so stranger things have happened.
The first movie left off with a bit of a cliffhanger. Joker kills Robert DeNiro’s talk show host on live TV, the city erupts in a riot targeting the wealthy, and one of the newly inspired criminals murders Bruce Wayne’s parents. The Joker himself, aka Arthur Fleck, apparently gets nabbed and committed to Arkham Asylum, where we see him being interviewed by a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum before it’s implied that he’s killed her and is fleeing the premises.
Some fans wonder if that ending is meant to frame the entire preceding story as one spun by the insane Fleck, but a sequel would have to confirm that it did actually happen, and the events of the next movie would need to progress from there, otherwise it would just be a retread. But what happens next? Does the story remain focused on Joker’s exploits as he sinks deeper into supervillainy? Does the movie dive into the Batman universe and fully embrace the superhero aspects of the story? Is Batman involved? Bruce Wayne is now an orphan, but he’s still a child. Do we get a time jump? If so, is Joker in a wheelchair now since he’s so old?!
Obviously, we have no idea. Todd Phillips may not either! But he’s left himself an escape clause, especially if Joaquin doesn’t return. Speaking to the LA Times around the original movie’s release, Phillips neither confirmed nor denied fan theories about what actually happened, and he left the door open for another Joker origin story that doesn’t involve Fleck at all.
“Maybe Joaquin’s character inspired the Joker,” Phillips said. “You don’t really know. His last line in the movie is, ‘You wouldn’t get it.’ There’s a lot going on in there that’s interesting.”
Sounds like we’ll find out eventually, with or without Joaquin Phoenix.