“Joker” is apparently getting a sequel. But after all the controversy, missteps and successes for the first film, a follow-up piece is the last thing we need.
Unnamed sources told The Hollywood Reporter this week that Todd Phillips is slated to direct a “Joker” sequel with Scott Silver, who wrote the original, picked to write the follow-up film as well.
And Warner Bros. apparently has some sequel options attached to Joaquin Phoenix, meaning the highly-celebrated actor would return for the sequel, too.
Regardless of what happens, the film’s early controversies — from the potential for gun violence and the way it missed the mark when talking about mental health — suggest the simple fact that a sequel isn’t necessary.
On its surface, a sequel to “Joker” makes sense. It is the fourth DC Comics title to surpass $1 billion at the box office, reaching numbers that only “Aquaman,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” hit. The film only had a $60 million budget, too, which means the movie had a profit of more than $500 million. Phillips should receive $100 million for his efforts, denying himself an upfront salary so he could rake in gross.
The film was well-made and certainly deserves Oscar buzz from a cinematography and acting perspective. Adding a sequel could thin out the story, and it could lessen the impact of the original film. Why create a sequel when the original’s artistic choices were so strong? Do we really need to know more about the Joker character than we already learned?
But fom a money perspective, it makes sense to bring back a profitable film. “Joker” is succeeding across the board at the box office. Making a sequel based on profits alone is a good idea.
As I wrote for the Deseret News, the original “Joker” film wasn’t the right film for 2019. The film centered around the character Arthur Fleck, a mentally-ill white man who ignited a wave of violence through Gotham City. The film dropped just weeks after mass shootings in Gilroy, California, El Paso and Odessa, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Victims from the Aurora, Colorado, shooting in 2012 expressed concern about the movie since the horrific shooting they survived happened during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” The U.S. military expressed concern about possible attacks and mass violence. Hysteria broke out about potential violence. Warner Bros even apologized about the violence, too.
“There is no easy way to tell the story of the Joker and avoid its motivating backstory — a character who has bathed in mass violence and hysteria since his inception. He isn’t one to play by the rules. He isn’t one to teach moral values. There is never a good time, nor a bad time, to release a ‘Joker’ film,” I wrote at the time. “His darkness, his thirst for chaos, corruption and craze, are too much to handle. And the film, which will tell his origin story from a realistic and grounded point of view, could inspire violence.”
“Once you start getting into the head of, you know, the sociopath, the anti-social person, the revolutionary, that’s when we suddenly think that this image of violence can be inspiring to the wrong kind of people,” Kendall Phillips, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University, told the Deseret News at the time.
After seeing the film, I still agreed with those sentiments that “Joker” was too violent for modern culture. The surge of gun violence didn’t couple well with the movie.
And there was another issue for the film — it missed the mark when talking about mental health. As I wrote in a review of the film, “Joker” explores mental health in interesting ways. Fleck is called a freak. He’s ridiculed and maligned, all because of his mental health issues.
But the film fell short of diving into the mental health questions it raised because it focused too much on Fleck’s descent into madness without giving any lessons about what it meant.
“What could have made ‘Joker’ a good film for 2019 would have been a better focus on the mental health issues it only briefly explores,” I wrote at the time. “If the film had made that final speech about society and mental health a big moment without the tension of impending death, then the message might have come across stronger.”
As I wrote, the movie was film had “a lot to say about mental illness, mental health and how society doesn’t care for those caught in the system. But there’s too much blood-splattering violence for the film to appropriately teach us anything significant.”
We can only hope that the sequel will correct the mistakes made by its predecessor.