Movies · News

Martin Scorsese’s Joker Movie Will Pay Homage to Martin Scorsese

New plot details reveal ‘The King of Comedy’ as another inspiration for the DC villain’s backstory. 
By  · Published on March 8th, 2018

New plot details reveal ‘The King of Comedy’ as another inspiration for the DC villain’s backstory.

We’re so wrapped up in nostalgia and homage culture that filmmakers are now paying tribute to themselves. Steven Spielberg signed on to direct Ready Player One in spite of the book being so referential to and reverential of his own work. The upcoming adaptation even embraces some of those allusions so it’s made the movie in part a self-tribute. Now his fellow movie brat Martin Scorsese seems to be doing something similar with his Joker film.

According to The Wrap, new plot details about the standalone DC comic book villain origin movie suggest it’s not just taking inspiration from Scorsese classics like Taxi Driver and Mean Streets but also 1982’s The King of Comedy. Apparently the Joker, who might be portrayed this time by Joaquin Phoenix, is going to be a failed comedian who turns to a life of crime after bombing with audiences. Fans of the character will be quick to point out that this is just taken from the 1988 comic “The Killing Joke.” Yes, but The Wrap also claims the movie will include nods to the Scorsese film, which stars Robert De Niro as a wannabe star of stand-up.

Maybe he’ll also be a pool shark and a boxer and at some point get trapped inside of plaster of Paris. Can so much pastiche paying homage to a filmmaker work? Yes, as we’ve seen in the perfectly Coenesque Fargo series, of which the Coens are technically producers (albeit the hands-off executive variety). And unlike Spielberg with Ready Player One, at least Scorsese isn’t directing this thing, only producing while Todd Phillips takes the helm. It has to be hard when you’re a veteran filmmaker of a certain age associated with a certain kind of movie not to pay tribute to your own work. It’s why Scorsese can’t make a Casino or a The Departed without it being compared to Goodfellas.

When this Joker movie was announced last summer, with so many perplexing factors, one of the quotes describing the thing stated that it’d be a gritty, ’80s-set crime film in the vein of Scorsese’s early work. And Scorsese wasn’t locked in as a producer yet because he wanted to see the script first. Is he still involved? More involved? What does he think of the script’s allusions to not just a type of film he’s associated with but a specific title — one that doesn’t really get lumped in with the gritty crime film grouping of his work?

Regardless of the inspiration or how heavily it’s played on screen, there’s no denying that scenes with Phoenix doing a presumably deranged stand-up routine is going to be something to watch. Thanks to that whole hoax-for-a-documentary career change where he quit acting to become a rapper, he has experience with making a fool out of himself on stage. There’s no picturing the actor portraying a fun or goofy stand-up performer at all. We can, however, easily see him saying offensive things or being a prop comic who plays with knives.

Per The Wrap, the Joker movie is supposed to start filming midyear but rewrites by Phillips and Scott Silver (8 Mile, The Fighter) may delay the production. Perhaps if they wait long enough, they can throw in some nods to The Irishman in there, as well.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.