Opinion: ‘Joker: Folie à Deux’ Will Be The Same Old Schtick But With Harley Quinn, And That’s Not A Good Thing

Joker-First Kill
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) kills for the first time in Joker (2019), Warner Bros.

Joker: Folie à Deux will be upon us in a year, and it will be the only live-action DC cinematic release of 2024. DC has seen better days and they had a pretty bad year in 2023 with a string of flops that would have been safe bets in any other era of cinema. Presented as evidence, 2019 was a different story.

The Joker cuts a terrifying television commercial in 'Batman' (1989), Warner Bros. Pictures

The Joker (Jack Nicholson) cuts a terrifying television commercial in Batman (1989), Warner Bros. Pictures

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Joker was a billion-dollar success no matter who didn’t like it or thought the film would turn into a rallying cry for the wrong crowd — i.e., those the media anointed as such. It resonated regardless, as the unexpected hit that it was. Therefore, with good reason, Warner Bros. hopes to capture lightning in a bottle again. And they aren’t taking any chances.

They brought out the big guns, enlisting the help of Lady Gaga — truly one of the few superstars in show business today (theoretically). Through her style and sensibility, they and Todd Phillips are going to reimagine one Harley ‘Fricking’ Quinn for the silver screen, despite being done to death already.

Lady Gaga – The Edge Of Glory via Lady Gaga, YouTube

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We aren’t far removed at all from Margot Robbie’s DCEU portrayal that, though a milestone, went cold after Birds of Prey bombed and left a bitter taste everywhere with most everybody. She’s Barbie now so no worries there, but that aside, Phillips and WB are going to save face by playing to Gaga’s strengths (and her character’s when you think about it).

Joker 2 is going to be a musical of some description that retells the story of Harley’s infatuation and fantasized affair with her “Puddin’,” except this time he’s an original creation in Arthur Fleck. Gaga has some musical numbers according to video and images captured on set. One of them is a reenactment of Joaquin Phoenix’s dance down the Brooklyn steps.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey (2020), Warner Bros. Pictures

In other words, it’s going to be much the same story with the same beats. I don’t mean we’re poised to see the same old Harley-Joker story; I mean I suspect Joker: Folie à Deux will be much like the last one with a few new gimmicks. And therein lies the problem.

They say in cinema’s academic circles that an auteur — which is something Phillips might consider himself — makes the same movie over and over. In some cases, that’s not a bad thing. I prefer filmmakers who play to their strengths, and know what works, to those who take on genres and material they know nothing about; sometimes without job experience.

The Joker: Devil’s Advocate (1996), DC Comics. Words by Chuck Dixon. Art by Graham Nolan, Scott Hanna, and Pat Garrahy

But, in show business today, the cat is out of the bag and scurrying down the street because its emperor/owners who think they are royalty have no clothes. The ugliness and banality of the power brokers and creatives in entertainment have been exposed. They are out of ideas and, more importantly, running out of money.

Assuming they still care about that, and some of them do, they want to make a little and have more to spend. That is David Zaslav’s objective at Warner Bros, remember: get the cash flowing again. To achieve that, he and everybody under him will stick with what works, which entails using the exact same formula because, you know, Phase 3 is profits.

Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) tells Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) that he isn’t his father in Joker (2019), Warner Bros. Entertainment

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However, a proven formula can be a tired formula, and it often is. Moreover, Phillips is on the precipice of doing with Joker 2 what Hollywood chronically does with franchises. They replace a popular male lead in a successful, profitable film series with a female one. You can look at Ghostbusters 2016 and the M-She-U to see what I’m talking about.

No, I’m not saying Gaga’s Harley is guaranteed to become ‘the bestest evarr’ in this Elseworld universe but, let’s be realistic, the risk is there. And she is popular — or at least culturally visible — enough to warrant a marketing strategy to her fans over those who primarily like the first film and its inspirations. Ergo, Bat-fandom might take a back seat.

Joker and Laughing Fish

Joker in Batman: The Animated Series episode 34, “The Laughing Fish”; Warner Bros. Animation

Combine that with superhero fatigue and a collapsing DC brand and you have a recipe for disaster. All we can do is hope Phillips, Gaga, and Phoenix are talented chefs that can really cook a second course.

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