OPINION: “Joker” is an exercise in Hollywood ineptitude


headshot_Alex Cala

Alex Cala

For years, Hollywood’s lack of risk-taking has been apparent in its tendency to eschew bold, original films for trite, worn-out stories.

Sequels to long-dormant franchises such as “Terminator,” gender-swapped reboots, and live-action adaptations of video games such as “Sonic the Hedgehog” are all the evidence necessary to realize that while originality certainly hasn’t left Hollywood, it is definitely not in vogue.

Case in point: “Joker,” a film whose first teaser trailer dropped on Wednesday amid a wave of hype on social media.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the titular character and directed by Todd Phillips (the director of “The Hangover” trilogy), this movie seeks to somehow put an original spin on Joker’s origin story, a tale that has been told, twisted, and retconned again and again on film, television and the comics.

The trailer attempts to give off a vibe of originality and mystery, showing clips that showcase Phillips’ supposedly ultra-fresh take on Joker as a stand-up comedian driven mad by the world around him.

There’s even a shot of Arkham Asylum, a nod to a very prevalent location in many Batman-related stories.

However, no matter how much this trailer attempted to grab my attention, I simply do not think this is a story worth telling again.

As I mentioned before, Joker’s origin has been told many times, changing depending on who was in charge.

The most well-accepted story is that the character got his signature look after falling in a vat of chemicals, but his origin has changed so much that it is almost a moot point, with 2008’s “The Dark Knight” giving him several possible beginnings.

This underlines perhaps the most important thing about Joker: His origin is really not that important.

He has always been a mysterious character, one whose unique look and colorful one-liners have captivated audiences since his live-action debut in the “Batman” TV series in the 1960s.

Giving him a definitive origin story ruins that mystique and paints him as just another evildoer in search of vengeance against the cruel world around him, a blasphemous measure for such an iconic villain.

It’s as if Phoenix and Phillips learned nothing from the fact that one of the qualities that made Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the character in “The Dark Knight” so powerful was this mystery and novelty.

In this film, not knowing how Joker became such a lunatic made his unpredictable actions that much more impactful; imagine seeing Joker blow up Gotham General Hospital and realizing he did this because his wife died there, not because he is crazy.

If you think like I do, this would strip away the impact of this scene by giving Joker a rational motivation for his actions, a lack of which has allowed him to become such an iconic character over the years.

Now imagine a two-hour version of this, in which every single one of Joker’s punchlines and behaviors is detailed and shown at their inceptions.

It sounds awful, doesn’t it?

This film is a clear sign that not only is Hollywood losing ideas, but is tone-deaf to the demands of its audience.

In my eyes, there was no real demand for “Joker,” and the fact that it is a standalone piece not connected to the DC cinematic universe will make it a hard sell to viewers accustomed to interconnectedness in comic-book movies.

However, as evidenced by the 2018 film “Venom,” another standalone supervillain origin story, which grossed $855 million worldwide, audiences will pack theatres in droves for anything comic-book related, with “Joker” unlikely to break this trend.

This is discouraging, and will only encourage the regurgitation of similar needless and unoriginal films. Hopefully, this doesn’t spread to television, but given that “American Idol” somehow got rebooted on ABC, I think it’s far too late.

Alex is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected]