The recent conflicting news reports swaying between whether Todd Phillips is or isn’t directing a Joker sequel have left fans of the box office hit scratching their heads in confusion.
While The Hollywood Reporter claimed to have an exclusive that the director would be helming a sequel, alongside eyeing up other DC origin stories, Deadline seemingly debunked the story – going as far to call it clickbait.
But let’s say Phillips is bringing Joaquin Phoenix’s deranged villain back to the big screen – where should it go?
While Phillips’ Joker saw Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck swan dive into his warped fantasy of becoming a famous comedian, while also exacting revenge on those who’ve wronged him – the sequel should begin to address the seductive power of the Joker.
It’s something the 2019 film has already touched on, with the protesters in Gotham quickly adopting the Joker’s image as a revolutionary symbol against the upper class.
But one constant element in the DC universe is that the Joker is always able to seduce troubled individuals into his criminally chaotic whirlpool – with Harley Quinn being the most obvious example.
However since Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is seemingly taking back her own agency by force in Birds of Prey, it would seem narrow-minded to force Harleen Quinzel into the same narrative as Arthur Fleck.
It’s at this point that the comicbook influences would start to creep in, with the first being Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo.
It follows a henchman named Jonny Frost tasked with picking the villain up from Arkham, and how long it takes for him to fall under the Joker’s spell, becoming warped by the end of the book.
It’s a truly despicable vision of the Joker, with the villain dishing out brutal killings as the tools of his trade. While this horrific vicious streak might fit into the narrative for Phoenix’s Joker, even this may be a step too far.
But the framing narrative could be something to work from. Instead of witnessing the film through Arthur’s eyes and automatically following from a sympathetic point-of-view, a Joker sequel should follow a side-character as the Joker unknowingly foils their plans for happiness at every turn with mayhem, mischief and murder.
That’s one of the elements of the villain that many fans find fascinating; the way he can flip between taunting mischief, while also being a truly sadistic killer.
A Joker sequel could be a sprawling trip through Gotham, reminding fans of some incredible villains in Batman’s rogues gallery, but it would work better as a self-contained horror thriller as an orderly in Arkham Asylum tries to make it out alive.
This is mixing elements of the gorgeously horrifying Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth, together with Azzarello’s Joker.
A Serious House On Serious Earth sees Batman try make it through the institution to uncover a mystery, while also briefly going head-to-head against some of his most iconic villains.
While Matt Reeves’ The Batman is reportedly doing something similar, it would be fascinating to see Joker try and manipulate his way through the Asylum just by negotiating with some classic villains.
After all, if Phoenix returns to the role, why wouldn’t you want to see him go head-to-head with other patients in the Asylum – it’s a tantalising thought.
Since the 2019 film saw Phoenix’s Joker imprisoned in Arkham, it would make sense for a sequel to pick up where it left off.
While an orderly is the one escorting the Joker back into imprisonment after another night of mischievous mayhem, the pair work their way through the Asylum as they come across several of Batman’s most iconic villains like Two-Face, Scarecrow and Clayface. But before too long the orderly begins to succumb to the freeing power of being party to the Joker’s mentality.
Let’s face it, the first film was divisive enough with it’s tough-to-tackle themes of capitalism, mental health and the failure of the system. If Phillips wants to carry on playing with these themes, it would be relatively easy to show the other side of this.
What kind of person sees a serial killer and thinks ‘that looks like fun’, before slowly becoming the very thing they’ve been hired to protect? It would be a metaphorical descent into hell.
And yes, just to address the obvious, it would be great to do all of this without the incessant need to shoehorn Batman into every single piece of media.
The 2019 film proved that Joker can be as popular and as captivating as any other Batman character, so our pick for the Joker follow up would be to forgo the Caped Crusader completely during our Joker/Arkham Asylum mash-up.
He doesn’t need Bruce Wayne to be interesting, instead another exploration into Phoenix’s Joker can simply be explained as a splintered element of Arthur Fleck’s personality. This time developing the mischievous element of the serial killer that comic book fans have always been familiar with.
Sure, it may not go as far as campy plots of laughing gas and balloon bombs, but even something as simple as helping him find his ‘killer’ punch line and playing brutal pranks on his inmates would delve further into the deranged clown prince of crime.
Even in the most basic way of establishing a cinematic universe, Arkham Asylum is the perfect narrative device to explore more DC origin stories – if the rumours of Phillips’ meetings at Warner Bros are to be believed, of course.
The Joker and the orderly he’s coerced into his employ could simply spring hordes of inmates loose on Gotham City, allowing other filmmakers to tap into the rich wealth of DC Comics and bring other villains to life on the big screen.
And if they really wanted to (although they really shouldn’t), it could be quite easy to introduce Robert Pattinson’s Batman in this timeframe…
So Todd Phillips – give us a call.