Having repeatedly appeared in comic book, movie, and TV iterations of the Batman canon, the Joker is one of the most beloved and iconic villains of all time. So it feels a little sad to not be getting excited over the news that Warner Bros. and DC reportedly have an origin movie about the Joker in the works. Sure, on paper, it sounds like a satisfying enough premise. But in practice, it feels unnecessary. The truth is, we don't need a Joker origin story, and the idea of one happening feels like overkill.
Admittedly, the basic outline of the proposed Joker origin story sounds somewhat intriguing. As reported by Deadline on Wednesday, the movie is said to be launching a new iteration of the character, with him played by a new and possibly younger actor who hasn't taken on the role before. The movie is also described in the report as being a gritty, hard-boiled crime film set in the currently oh-so-trendy era of the early '80s.
According to the article, the origin story "isn't meant to feel like a DC movie," but more along the lines of "Scorsese’s films from that era, like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull or The King Of Comedy." All of which sounds like it could be a perfect fit for exploring the dark past of the character. However, it also just feels like too much to be wrapping around a villain who possesses the sort of unnerving, almost unnatural mystique that makes him feel like a real threat. The Joker is pure chaos, and chaos doesn't need a background to be terrifying.
Of course, there's also the fact that the exploration of the Joker's backstory isn't anything new, and has already been explored in several comic books. There was Alan Moore's phenomenal The Killing Joke, in which flashback sequences painted the character as a tragic, struggling comedian, forced to work with the mob after the death of his wife and unborn child. And Detective Comics' The Man Behind The Red Hood, which introduces the Joker as a petty criminal who escapes Batman and Robin by jumping into a vat of chemicals.
However, these origin stories work because they aren't an entire narrative built solely around the identity and background of the Joker. Instead, they provide harrowing details that give the character depth, and highlight just all of the insanity, suffering, and erratic behavior in the Joker's past that prove just how many layers of crazy Batman, Robin, and Gotham are up against.
This is where the Joker excels as a character — as a villainous foil to Batman's heroics, providing a warped mirror image of Batman's altruism. While he's obviously fascinating as a standalone character, most of that intrigue stems from the dynamics that he shares with Batman, and how their respective past traumas have pushed them in radically different directions.
And this is where a Joker origin movie just doesn't sound great. To know too much about the Joker's past and the traumas that pushed him to become the terrorizing clown of Gotham is to remove a great deal of his power as a villain. Seeing simple glimpses of his life prior to being the Joker is all that the character needs to feel fully developed, but still absolutely chilling.
To have a whole movie dedicated to that story would take away from that aspect. It'd be as preposterous as a movie dedicated solely to exploring Bruce Wayne as a child and his relationship with his parents. Fans don't need to sit through an entire movie about Wayne's childhood to understand that the traumatic and painful death of his parents is what led to his eventual life as the caped crusader. And it's the same deal with the Joker. He's chaos incarnate and a personification of pure anarchy. He's a mercurial, violent clown with a dark wit. There's little else to tell, and there's no need for an entire movie to try to do so.