Why “Joker: Folie à Deux” Just CAN’T Succeed
Can you imagine Forrest Gump in space or a sequel to No Country for Old Men and further “adventures” of Anton Chigurh? Or a continuation of the fate of Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood, where he fires up a new business… perhaps silkworm farming? I can’t imagine either.
Some roles are so flawlessly written, are such a perfectly closed whole, that adding, subtracting or changing anything in their performance without disturbing the perfectly woven structure is simply unthinkable. Casting such a character in a sequel or prequel can only strip them of their aura of mystery / awesomeness, trivialize them, grind them to dust. For the strength of these characters remains unsatisfaction, and their greatest enemy is over-saturation, such as in the case of Jack Sparrow, after his Oscar nomination, from part to part of Pirates of the Caribbean losing its momentum and turning more and more into the realm of cheap buffoonery. Interestingly, even such iconic characters as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman seem to have their place and time only (!) in the Breaking Bad series. All of their later guest or episodic appearances (Better Call Saul, El Camino) have only been moderately successful attempts to relate to their former glory. The Joker, interpreted by Joaquin Phoenix and conducted by Todd Phillips, not only falls into such “disposable” characters, but is their flagship. Phoenix’s concert performance consisting of mannerisms, tics, obsessive neurosis, fits of laughter and the success of it all as a compelling explosive whole, is a rarity in world cinema, with no chance of successful repetition.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO REPEAT THE SUCCESS OF ... AN OSCAR-WINNING ROLE?
Not only is my personal answer to the above question a definite no. It is backed up by dry facts and figures, on which we can analyze whether and why a repeat of the entertainment titled Joker: Folie à deux has a chance to be at best… a successful sequel, but without the “spark of God” that characterized the original film. Yes, there have been instances in the history of the Oscars of an actor repeating a role and winning a statuette for it only on his second or subsequent attempt (see Paul Newman and an Oscar for The Color of Money, Stallone and a nomination for Creed), or in general the upward trend of an actor from part to part (Al Pacino and his brilliant performance in The Godfather II). But in these cases, there was always still room to climb higher. Instead, in the history of the Academy Awards, we’ve had as many as 10 instances of an acting Oscar winner repeating his award-winning role, where each time it was a qualitative downward slope, both in terms of the ratings for the role (no subsequent nomination) and the sequel itself, always rated lower than the original film. Gene Hackman – Oscar winner for The French Connection – tried to replicate his memorable performance in the sequel, but unfortunately it was closer to overacting, and the film itself registered much lower ratings than its Oscar-winning predecessor. Shirley MacClane and Jack Nicholson – Oscar winners for Terms of Endearment – did not rise to their former level in the sequel either; MacClane’s character was stripped of her characterization, and Nicholson appeared in literally a few minutes episode, probably only to play a reenactment of the famous car ride on the beach.
Neither did the attention of the audience or the Academy go to Michael Douglas repeating the Oscar-winning role of stock market shark Gordon Gekko in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, nor to Jack Palance – Oscar-winner for his supporting role in City Slickers, who tried to repeat the award-winning role with very mediocre results in City Slickers II. Hannibal Lecter’s Oscar-winning character in Silence of the Lambs was perfectly butchered a decade later under the wing of Ridley Scott by Sir Anthony Hopkins himself in Hannibal. There was simply too much of his character, so that his magnetism and charisma were effectively murdered, and the “oki doki” uttered by Lecter nailed the nail in the film’s coffin. Tommy Lee Jones in U.S. Marshals attempting to reprise his Oscar-winning role as Samuel Gerard from The Fugitive, this time in the foreground, was lost with a thud in the very first minutes of the sequel, masquerading as some Big Bird-style weirdo. Kevin Kline and an Oscar for A Fish Called Wanda were supposed to be turned into a success for the sequel, Fierce Creatures, but both the film and the recurring roles were just very poor. Don Ameche, who won an Oscar for his supporting role in Ron Howard’s Cocoon (I really don’t know what even a nomination is for here), repeated his role without success in Cocoon: The Return, a film that was completely unnecessary and rated much lower than the original. Only John Wayne, who in Rooster Cogburn repeated his Oscar-winning performance from True Grit, came out of this clash with a shield, because both his role stood at a very similar high level, and the film itself was really successful, although neither one nor the other even rubbed shoulders with the Oscars. This exception, however, seems only to confirm the rule that there is no chance to rise not only above the level presented by the Oscar-winning performance, but even to match it or stand a worthy sequel.
DIRECTOR VS. SEQUEL
Todd Phillips is a filmmaker until recently associated with the rubbishy, often unsavory humor with which he filled the comedies Road Trip, the remake of Starsky & Hutch and, of course, the flagship product in the form of the iconic Hangover and its two less glorious sequels. Along the way he scored yet another sensational drama with comedy elements titled War Dogs, and the next project was to be unlike anything the director had created so far. We are, of course, talking about 2019 and the amazing Joker, already strictly a drama, a dark, gloomy film, where even if there was humor, it was extremely tart and pitch-black. After the spectacular success of Joker and the rain of awards for Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, both the director and actor strongly denied the possibility of a sequel. What’s more, Phillips even immediately cut off all online discussions about a possible director’s version, putting the matter straight: the world will never see any additional scenes or shots of the Joker. The director and Phoenix were well aware that (according to point one of this article) here there is nothing more to add, to expand, because you can only spoil the overall impression of the film and the character. As you already know, unfortunately, shooting for the sequel is underway. There is one concern here, as far as the person of the director is concerned, will Todd Phillips, who has never managed to make a sequel better than his original film (see the Hangover trilogy) be able to make something better – or at least as good – as Joker? Will he be able to maintain the masterful level of the original?
Is a duet with Lady Gaga a good idea? Will the actress, despite her Oscar nomination for A Star is Born and her lauded performance in House of Gucci, manage to keep up dramatically and acting-wise with Phoenix, one of the best and most appreciated contemporary living actors? The filmmakers will have to decide in which direction to push the character of the Joker and his friendship with Harley Quinn at all. Will both of them, in accordance with the title, share the same delusion, supporting each other in this belief, and that’s what the plot will focus on, however, offering us the same dilemma a second time (if and what really happens)? From the first leaks, it seems that the bulk of the action is to take place in the Arkham Asylum, where Arthur Fleck is staying (which speaks to the fact that there was no revolution in the Joker), and the main fiddle in the film is to be played by Lady Gaga, whose perspective (musical) is to be the perception of the world and the Joker. To sum up, for the sequel, nevertheless… I’m looking forward to it, because although it may not be outstanding anymore, I hope it will be interesting and surprising. I would like Todd Phillips to shock the world again, for Lady Gaga’s performance to be at least successful (maybe an Oscar nomination?), and for Joaquin Phoenix to get his second Golden Knight nomination for the same role, making him the first actor in history to do so.
BAR SET TOO HIGH
Joker was a depressing tale of a sick, sad, reality-broken, socially isolated man that left us questioning whether the killings and revolution happened only in his imagination, and whether it happened at all. I can’t imagine this hapless individual escaping into a delusional world in the original film, dueling with Batman in the sequels, or setting up any criminal scheme or life alongside Harley Quinn. Not only the role, but the film itself is therefore fraught with enormous risk. Expectations are gigantic, every viewer will want similarly intense experiences of the main character, similarly great acting, such iconic scenes. It is already known that the sequel is to have the character of a musical, and here I would actually see a chance to show the Joker in a new light (stage?). In conclusion, you yourselves know how it is with these sequels, we seemingly always want to see our hero again; we want a repeat of the experience of the original… but not parroting it, we want it to be the same, well, but different. If the convention of the second part changes too much from the first film, will it be what we expected? Will Joaquin Phoenix jump over the bar he suspended? I don’t think so, despite the enormous confidence I have in this extremely talented actor. Because if you start by reaching the summit – and as it is the summit, there is nothing higher – the second attempt to reach it will never be as exciting and the success as loud. And more often than not, it ends in a painful fall, and let’s hope Phoenix hurts as little as possible.