UPDATED: Alec Baldwin has now fled from the Joker standalone. As he told the USA Today, there are at least 25 other actors who could accomplish the task. His Donald Trump will not exist within Thomas Wayne. Still, for a fleeting moment, the thought was intriguing.
Let me state, for the record, that I have NOT been hired to play a role in Todd Phillips’ JOKER as some Donald Trump manque.
That is not happening.
— AlecBaldwin(HABF) (@AlecBaldwin) August 29, 2018
Who made the Batman? Since his creation at the hands of Bill Finger and Bob Kane in 1939, the character’s dark origins in the alleys of Gotham City have been revisited a countless number of times in comics, TV, and film. Lil’ Bruce Wayne had a lot of help on his way to becoming the Dark Knight crusader, and for some, the desire to plunge deep into such a broken psyche is too intense to dismiss.
Christopher Nolan certainly had more interest in rooting around Bruce’s cranium than fleshing out the Batman Rogue’s Gallery. Even the brilliance of Heath Ledger’s Joker was brought on board to test the naivete of Bruce Wayne’s noble mission to rid Gotham’s streets of crime. As Commissioner Gordan exclaimed, resistance to their good deeds would come from inevitable and destructive escalation. What motivates a man to put on the cape and cowl and punch clowns in the face is an obvious, easy dangling thread to tug on.
Originally, it appeared that the Joker standalone film directed by Todd Phillips would separate itself from the origins of the Dark Knight detective. While there is little doubt that Joaquin Phoenix leads the show here, a new bit of Joker casting news throws a shadow over his spotlight. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Alec Baldwin is set to fill the shoes of Thomas Wayne, father of Bruce. Not only that, his version of the patriarch will closely resemble the intensely tanned businessman iteration of Donald Trump of the 1980s.
Huh. Cue the outrage. Since the announcement, Twitter has erupted in eye-roll emojis and abject disgust. My favorite response coming from NPR commentator and Batman specialist Glen Weldon.
UNIVERSE: Joker movie!
UNIVERSE: With Joaquin Phoenix!
ME: No thanks
UNIVERSE: Bruce Wayne’s Dad’s In it!
ME: I already said no
UNIVERSE: Played by Alec Baldwin!
ME: Uch god
UNIVERSE: He’s gonna do his Trump impressiaaaaaaaagh
ME: Wow so much blood but I’d do it again
— Glen Weldon (@ghweldon) August 28, 2018
I get it. I was not screaming for a Joker origin story. Although, for me, casting Phoenix makes the film a must-see curiosity. Then you hear Thomas Wayne is set to appear, and my resistance to another peek behind the curtain of Batman’s beginnings is triggered. What further insight could there possibly be to gain? Have we not already hit rock bottom on that mine?
Before you can even process the appearance of Thomas Wayne alongside the clown prince of crime, we’re immediately slammed with the information that Baldwin will be the one to guide his family down the wrong dark alley. Not only that, Baldwin will find inspiration for the character from the President of the United States? A man he has been lampooning for years on Saturday Night Live.
We see enough of Trump on a daily business. Do we really need to see his likeness lording over Gotham? A wincing response is only natural.
Then I think about the most lauded graphic novel in history. Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” was a savage takedown of Ronald Reagan’s America. Dutch himself appears in the book, acting as the master of Superman’s junkyard attack dog. There is nothing subtle about the rage Miller is exploring in that book, and we hail him for skewering the politics of the day.
“The Dark Knight Returns” does not need more love thrown its way. The series has infected every incarnation of the character since its release. If anything, the franchise is too obsessed with that book, and Zack Snyder probably took its morose tone as far as he could in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Still, in an era hungry for social commentary from its pop entertainment, hearing that the Batman universe might retackle American ills like it once did in “The Dark Knight Returns” is appealing.
The Thomas Wayne of the comics was never a megalomaniacal businessman. If anything, he was portrayed there as a white knight battling the crushing tide of economic decay. He was a billionaire running from his privilege and playing doctor to a community on the verge of a coronary. That Thomas Wayne provided a shining example for Bruce to live up to, and a beacon of decency to challenge his fiery vengeance.
Transforming Thomas Wayne into a Donald Trump real estate tycoon is a major retcon for the canon. As such, it elicits anger and frustration from the fandom. Such a change alters the course of how Batman became Batman.
Rumors suggest that Phillips is pulling inspiration for his Joker from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s “The Killing Joke” as well as Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. Now, with the casting of Baldwin as Trump, we get an even better idea of the hell Phoenix’s Joker will be navigating. Our first foray into this psychopath’s worldview is going to be ugly, angry, and painful. This Joker will end up being the manifestation of our country’s chaotic dismay.
If Phillips and Phoenix live up to the influences and realities they’re excavating, we could be in for a film worthy of the American insanity that bred both the Joker and the Batman. The Gotham City universe cannot stagnate due to its own fictional history. A character does not survive 75 years by remaining the same. That must also apply to his supporting cast.
So, I will resist my initial negative response. A Batman story without Batman is peculiar, but there is room for Phillips and company to play around in. There is no doubt that this Joker’s kingdom will be different from the one we routinely visit.