Pretty much all the talk about any movie before its released is advertising for that movie, which has got to be good news for Warner Brothers because people have been talking about Joker for months.
It’s been the kind of conversation that – speaking as someone who’s written his fair share of online clickbait over the years – makes for great clickbait: is Joker pandering crap that will give incels all the excuse they need to go on a murder spree, or is it a thoughtful and thought-provoking look at power dynamics in our society?
Sorry, those are the only two options you’re allowed to have – fortunately articles pushing one option are also read by people who hold the opposite view (what better way to get even more angry about something you’re already angry about), and if you happen to think that all this kerfuffle is exactly what the film is designed to provoke… well, nobody likes to be told they’ve been played for a sucker by a movie marketing department.
What actually is interesting about Joker (sorry, but if you think a movie is dangerous to show to people then your problem is with people, not movies) is the way that it’s clearly looking to be a salute-slash-sequel-slash-update of all those grim 70s and 80s movies that went around lifting the lid on a society that was pretty messed up – you know, like society is now – only it’s doing that important cultural work while also being the second movie about a murder clown out within a month.
At least Pennywise from It has supernatural powers and a fondness for murdering children via their worst nightmares: for most of his comic book career the Joker was basically a crime clown whose jokes either involved bad wordplay and props or relied heavily on murder as a punchline.
That’s not to say he wasn’t a popular bad guy (a little too popular in the comics, where overexposure has severely undercut his appeal), but he worked best as a bad guy – a foil to Batman where the two of them worked as contrasts to each other. Throw in the fact that The Joker’s most recent appearance on the big screen in Suicide Squad was a big fizzle, and… well, once again you’ve got to take your hat off to the marketing department at Warner Brothers for getting everyone talking – and taking seriously – a movie about a one-note comic book villain who’s last decent big screen appearance was well over a decade ago.
Of course, most of the online talk has been focused on what the movie is about and not whether it’s any good or not, but increasingly what a movie is about is seen (online at least) as a signpost to whether it’s any good or not; a serious movie that takes the right view on important issues is good, a silly movie that makes fun of the values many hold dear is bad. Trouble is, out in the real world people often enjoy “bad” movies and steer clear of the “good” ones; whether that’s going to be the case with Joker remains to be seen.
At least the marketing team can relax; if only all superhero movies were this easy to sell.