The weekend success of the Todd Phillips movie Joker has Warner Bros. and Hollywood thinking that more movies based on villains could be the way to go. In fact, it might just be the thing that saves Warner Bros. and DC’s otherwise disastrous run on comic book movies.
Other than the success of Wonder Woman and (to a much lesser extent) Aquaman, DC’s comic book movie universe just hasn’t been stellar. Joker proved that there is still cinematic interest in their properties, but a shared universe in the style of Marvel’s might not be the path for them.
Along with Phillips’ own talk of a possible sequel to the story of Arthur Fleck and his transformation into The Joker, a report popped up on Wednesday suggesting that a movie about another Batman villain, Two-Face, is being considered.
— Bounding Into Comics (@BoundingComics) October 9, 2019
Two-Face has been on the big screen twice already – once by Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever and once by Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight – so it wouldn’t be an entirely new premise to see him in a movie. However, Two-Face and Batman are so woven together that any movie centered on him as the main character wouldn’t be as Batman-free as Joker was (and even then, a not-so-small part of Joker very much had to involve Batman in the form of young Bruce Wayne).
It would be possible, mind you, but you’d need to invent a reason for Batman to not be there, and you’d also have to make sure you’re not writing another Catwoman – arguably the worst comic book movie of all time.
What is interesting about all this, however, is that many of the villains in DC – especially Batman’s rogue’s gallery – are just as compelling as (if not more than) the heroes. What draws people to The Joker is the fact that he is Chaos personified. It isn’t just the insanity, but how it manifests. It’s a trainwreck we can’t look away from and becomes more horrifying as time goes on.
Two-Face is another example of this. He was a force for good until his face was disfigured and drew out a split personality. He is constantly at war with himself over right and wrong, and leaves the final decision up to fate – all at the extreme end of choices we have to make every day.
Deadpool, though not quite a villain (yet certainly not a hero), is fascinating because he is a parody of the genre, yet not at the same time. Venom compelled us because we all recognize Spider-Man and see just how quickly those powers can shift from one end of the moral spectrum to the other.
Harley Quinn, featured in Suicide Squad and the upcoming Birds of Prey, is another example of the fascination we have with the dark side. She wasn’t even created in the comics, but was so popular in the ’90s animated Batman series that the comics quickly added her into their stories as well. People were drawn to the former psychiatrist drawn into the insane world of The Joker because we all know what it’s like to be close to the edge, and many of us know what it’s like to be drawn to the wrong crowd.
There is something very human, though admittedly very extreme in their flaws, about these villains, and the way their stories could be told on the big screen could draw us further into identifying with those flaws. It’s not worship of the violence or insanity, as many in the media have tried to explain the success of Joker by claiming, but rather an introspective look at ourselves and seeing ourselves in these flawed individuals and (sometimes) just how close we are to relating to their plight.
I would welcome more villains on-screen getting their stories told… though, given DC’s and the Warner Bros. studio’s records, we’re gonna have to make sure they are written by people who actually know comics.
Joe Cunningham is a Senior Editor at RedState. You can find more of his writings here and his commentary on Louisiana issues at The Hayride. You can also follow him on Twitter at @JoePCunningham and Like his page on Facebook.