'Joker 2'? Why a sequel would mean cinematic universe apocalypse

The director insists a sequel isn't in the works but that isn't stopping fans from speculating.

In this era of nonstop reboots and sequels, it’s a little refreshing to see a director of a superhero movie that could function as a franchise tentpole shut down any and all speculation of a sequel to their movie. Todd Phillips, director of the upcoming supervillain origin film Joker, recently addressed the subject of a continuation of the story set up in his film with an unusual finality.

“We have no plans for a sequel,” Phillips said at a Q&A after a screening of the film, according to IGN, “The movie’s not set up to [have] a sequel. We always pitched it as one movie. That’s it.”

This comes after months of fan speculation as to the future of Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the character and the ways in which the film might connect to the wider DC Extended Universe — this despite the fact that Phillips and co. have said from the beginning that Joker would be a standalone film separate from that cinematic universe.

It’s interesting to see the extent to which fans took these comments (or promises, you could say) with a grain of salt. The number of headlines and fan theories over the last few months speculating as to whether or not Phoenix’s Joker would ever come face to face with Robert Pattinson’s upcoming take on Batman, or if we’d see more of the character in the future is massive.

In a cinematic landscape built on wider continuities, spin-offs, and the inevitability of a sequel lest your movie fails to meet financial expectations, it’s understandable. A standalone origin movie about the most famous supervillain of all time starring one of the most electric actors working in Hollywood? How could it not lead to more films and more appearances from Phoenix as the Clown Prince of Crime?

Joker Joaquin Phoenix Trailer
Joaquin Phoenix stars in 'Joker,' directed by Todd Phillips.

Quite easily, actually. If Avengers: Endgame (an ironic point of reference considering the extent to which that movie is fully entrenched in franchise lore) proved anything, it’s that there’s one thing superhero movies can do that superhero comics can’t: end. By nature, film provides the unique opportunity to tell finite stories. Superhero comics are forever beholden to the next issue, the next relaunch, and the next crossover. There’s plenty they can do that superhero movies can’t, but a superhero movie can provide a definitive beginning and end to an incarnation of a character while comics will always have to set up next month’s issue. Marvel may be gearing up for Phase Four, but we’re pretty sure Tony Stark is gone for good.

“We made this movie, I pitched it to Warner Bros. as one movie. It exists in its own world. That’s it.” Phillips said, “It’s not about world-building, it’s not about other versions. It’s like, here’s our version of the origin story. That’s it. That’s what I meant.”

It’s easy to mistake his directness for standoffishness until you remember the extent to which superhero movie fans have been conditioned to never believe directors when it comes to these matters. The likes of J.J. Abrams and the Russo Brothers (all due respect to both) have spent years teaching fans to comb every interview, behind-the-scenes feature, and trailer for hints as to where the film in question may be headed and what future films it may set up or tease. They’ve also made a habit of playing it coy (or outright lying) when asked about film details or speculation, creating a sense of Don’t Trust The Director amongst die-hard fans.

While it’s certainly fun (and at times a valid exercise), Phillips taking such an adamant stance here feels loaded with intent. There are no friendly teases or winking references to wider lore. He’s stating with absolute certainty that there are not currently plans to expand Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the Joker into further films.

'Joker' reviews
'Joker'

Reviews seem to confirm as much. There’s clearly quite a bit to say about Joker if its journey through the film festival circuit is any indication. Reception to the movie has been polarizing, but no critic or filmgoer has mentioned staying through the credits for a stinger scene, an easter egg to keep your eye out for, or anything else we’ve come to expect from modern superhero movies.

This seems to be one of the most interesting challenges Joker will face when it hits theaters in October. Here is a movie totally singular and completely unconcerned with the world outside of its narrative’s runtime. Here is a director who has confidently and definitively stated that he has no plans to develop further stories set in this world — or bring it over to that of the DCEU. The question is, will fans believe him? Even after the film has hit theaters, it’s hard to imagine speculation as to the future of this take on the character won’t run rampant despite the director’s insistence.

The idea of a standalone, self-contained film is so foreign at this point that Joker feels all the more unique a movie event for that very reason. It’s an anomaly in the current landscape of blockbuster filmmaking, and one that feels it could be easily stripped of that status. Should the money be right and the demand be there it’s entirely plausible that Warner Bros. would find a way to continue the story with or without Phillips and Phoenix involved. And should that be the case, the Cinematic Universe Apocalypse may truly be upon us.


Joker hits theaters on October 4.

Media via Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner