The era of award-winning comic book movies is about to begin. Well, being again, anyway.
Warner Bros. Pictures upcoming Joker made a splash at the Venice Film Festival over the weekend; winning the coveted Golden Bear award. The film sees Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a beaten-down man in 1980s Gotham City who finally loses it all and becomes the Crown Prince of Crime. The win puts Joker in the frame for Oscar contention. To those who survived the comics market of the 1990s, legitimate critical attention and acclaim were always the end-goals. Readers desperately wanted mainstream perception like this. It seemingly received it when the late Heath Ledger won a posthumous Academy Award for his portrayal of the Joker in 2009, but a decade of crowd-pleasing Marvel Studios films and Warner Bros.’ own mismanagement of the DC Comics characters spiraled the perception of the superhero genre back a good 15 years. Outliers like Black Panther may have appeared over the past decade, but a festival win is something wholly new and different.
Of course, Joker is also fanning the flames of unrest on social media as it seems to legitimatize or at least sympathize with a particular take on the character and a rather egregious philosophy brewing in online spaces. As we have not seen the film — nor read the reviews coming out of Venice — we cannot say what the film’s ultimate aim really is. We want to make up our own minds about it. But succeeding in a film festival known for praising artier material suggest the film may be a rare breed of studio product, to say nothing of what it might mean for superhero or comic book inspired films.
Nonetheless, expect the film to be as divisive as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Some will never want this version of the Joker while others will note Warner Bros. is just more comfortable making grittier movies like this than big, bright pictures like Shazam!. This may be the real reason The Flash feature film is stuck in development hell — there’s no real way to grit up Barry Allen.
In the meantime, Joker may inspire another wave of dark DC films. But we’ll have to wait until October 8th to know for sure.