Comic book fans may want to put their expectations in check when it comes to this fall’s Joker. While the Warner Bros. film is ostensibly about the origins of the titular DC Comics villain, an iconic foe of the famed Dark Knight, co-writer and director Todd Phillips says they pulled absolutely nothing from the source material to craft this story.
Indeed, the film originated when Phillips—the filmmaker behind the Hangover trilogy and most recently War Dogs—went to Warner Bros. with the idea of making a movie about The Joker in the vein of Taxi Driver. The pitch was to set it in early 80s New York City, craft a gritty, R-rated origin story, and cast a great actor in the lead role. No expectations. No franchise setup. Just a unique twist on an iconic character.
That’s what Joker is, as the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a man named Arthur Fleck and chronicles the character’s journey from failed stand-up comedian to frightening legend. Speaking with Empire, Phillips was blunt about the fact that he and co-writer Scott Silver ignored the comics when writing the story:
“We didn’t follow anything from the comic-books, which people are gonna be mad about. We just wrote our own version of where a guy like Joker might come from. That’s what was interesting to me. We’re not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker. It’s about this man.”
That likely means that fans can forget about a Batman cameo or significant nods to other aspects of the comics, as it sounds like Phillips really just wanted to make a gritty crime thriller using recognizable IP.
And you know what? I’m pretty cool with it. At this point, we’ve seen a lot of different variations on The Joker in film, television, and video games, all of which pulled from the source material. So in order to bring something fresh to the table—especially in the wake of Heath Ledger’s iconic performance in The Dark Knight—why not start from scratch and just take the basic nugget of the idea: what spurs a man to put on clown makeup and terrorize an entire city?
If executed well, this could even be the start of a new trend at Warner Bros., in which the studio allows filmmakers with a unique take on a comics character (accurate to the comics or not) to go wild and create something truly fresh. Granted, Joker may not pull from the comic books but it appears to draw heavily from 70s cinema and the films of Martin Scorsese (specifically The King of Comedy), but still that’s an interesting twist on this kind of character.
It’ll be interesting to see how DC and comics fans react to Joker, especially if it’s unrecognizable from the well-established lore of the character from the comics.