Sorry, Barry Keoghan, but you’re ruining the franchise.
Editor’s Note: The story below contains spoilers for The Batman. Proceed with caution.
I had hope for The Batman, you all. I really did. I was so excited when the trailers revealed that the movie’s big bad wouldn’t be the Joker, but, to quote Vulture’s Rebecca Alter, “that little sniffer monster Paul Dano.” Ultimately! A solitary Batman movie that didn’t need that ridiculous, exaggerated “he’s crazy” laugh to end every scene!
Well, now I have an egg on my face. Of course, I mostly enjoyed watching Dano’s take on Riddler, despite the distraction of his very out-of-place glasses and several people at my screening last weekend who laughed at his rendition of “Ave Maria.” But I also couldn’t stop thinking about the Joker all the time. You could have simply renamed this iteration of the Riddler “the Joker”, and nothing on The Batman would have changed. A sick sense of humor? To verify. Weird laugh? To verify. Shoehorn musicality? To verify!
I’ll be fair and say that at this point in the history of the Batman movies, it’s actively hard to avoid passing a Joker mark on to a villain. While the Riddler’s main bag was his self-titled puzzles, it’s the bare minimum to earn the right to call the Riddler, well, the Riddler. Dano’s version is basically what would happen to the Joker if he took Spanish lessons in high school and spent way too much time on Twitch. And not only is the pun-obsessed monster overly jokerified, but director Matt Reeves also gave in to the trend at the last possible second and always put the real Joker onscreen right next to the Riddler, which really shows how little difference there was between the two characters.
Citizens of the cinema, the time has come to face reality. We had Jack Nicholson in 1989, Heath Ledger in 2008, J*red L*to in 2016 and Joaquin Phoenix in 2019. Now, because Batman moviegoers will never find peace, we have Barry Keoghan doing his makeup in 2022 . . Admit it! That’s too many Jokers!
A certain collision of capitalism, culture, and many caped crusaders has created many armchair pundits with opinions on Batman. I don’t usually consider myself one of them because I barely remember the Nolan trilogy so I don’t think I have much credibility, but I know it’s true: The Joker didn’t have no need to be redone in the general public. movie after 2008. My terrible memory aside, Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance is the definitive version of the character. Combined with his death before The black KnightLedger’s Joker should have kept the guy offscreen for quite a while – at less out of respect for a job well done. But if that wasn’t going to work, surely L*to’s reviled trick suicide squad should have driven the final nail in the cackling psychopath’s coffin. Alas, the movie that was all about the Joker, you may remember; it was called Joker– made box office gangbusters, won Oscars and solved social inequality, so here we are. Doomed to Jokerity as long as we’re doomed to superhero movies.
Like most people who deceive themselves, I consider myself a realist. I won’t dedicate a ton of space to writing about the larger phenomenon of superhero or cinematic universe fatigue, but I feel it. Still, I recognize that sometimes these films can be enjoyable, so I’m still going to see at least a few of them. And I would really, really appreciate it if I didn’t have to be scared off by another version of the Clown Prince of Crime every time I give in and decide to go see the bat do his thing.
That said, the Joker is an iconic character that a lot of people love. When used effectively, it can act as a much-needed foil for Batman’s relentless brooding. Surely it must be possible to have a good mainstream, post-Black Knight Batman movie with the Joker in it that isn’t really, really boring!
Yes, dear reader, it is possible. Example : The Lego Batman Movie.
What lego batman okay is that Joker is not yet another represents how gritty, dirty, and unsalvageable Gotham is. Lego Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis, is a fun dude for whom taking over Gotham is basically a game, but not the sick, nasty kind that involves grotesque pencil tricks or leading questions about his scars. Instead, Lego Joker is all about having a good time. It causes trouble, but it skips the sadism, instead gravitating towards flashy theatrics and colorful mayhem. He even helps save Gotham from his own evil. It’s partly disfigured because it’s a children’s movie, but Joker has also done some disturbing things in children’s media – it was a conscious and very welcome choice. The movie convinced me that Joker – or any other Batman villain – is not fair must be a murderous psychopath, even if most filmmakers disagree.
Unfortunately, the current trend of Batman movies with Batman is losing color and fun in favor of realism, death, and buckets of rain. And the Joker’s current approach makes a parcel money, so there’s not much incentive to try something new.
That said, there’s still hope for breaking free from grimdark Joker’s tyrannical grip on the Batman movies. The Batman will likely get a sequel or a (ugh) trilogy, but the future isn’t written yet and Reeves hasn’t decided what he’s going to do next. There’s still time to set course and get rid of the Joker, not to mention his influence over his evil Gotham comrades. I don’t know, focus on someone like the Penguin – His Eminence Waddling was there in The Batman! Bring back Mr. Freeze and try to make this grainy and realistic; that would make me laugh a lot. Margot Robbie clearly loves being Harley Quinn; why not run it more often? Or here’s a crazy concept: invent a new villain! Gotham is a big place with lots of possible scumbags, not just the same three or four that get recycled every few years.
Matt, you can always fix this. Be brave! Bin the Joker and let someone else have their turn. (I’m glad to hear you’re working on a show starring the Penguin, for starters.) And free Barry, who probably should know better than to join a superhero movie after Eternals.