Ankler Preview: Joke 'Em If You've Got 'Em

So what the hell was all that about?

In four weeks Joker went from being the most celebrated festival circuit darling of the year to public menace and pariah to massive hit.

Do any of those things have anything to do with each other? Or are the festival/awards circuit world and the social commentary Twitter world and the broad general public all just separate buckets with little to no spillover?

What’s clear is that when your film finds itself in the barrel, with finger-pointers identifying dots (without quite connecting them) about how past releases and incidents burden this one, with declarations that a studio is inciting violence and being reckless and irresponsible, then there’s not a whole lot the studio can do beyond ride it out. 

Pointing out that the Joker connection is based on an erroneous, long-since-corrected report, or that the film division of a very conservative telco giant is unlikely to be the firestarter on a violent uprising might as well be tossing confetti at a hurricane. When social media and our national think-piece reserve corps are in full dudgeon, no one wants to hear it.

And what was this about? I can name about 50 more violent films that have come out in the past couple years, including ones that play around with the current headlines and cultural anxieties far more directly than Joker does.

The good news is that riding it out apparently works just fine. All the outrage, all the harrumphs of a social media in full boil add up to . . . well there might have been a couple dozen media professionals who were on the fence about whether to see it who stormed off in a huff. But beyond that . . . .

If you think that the controversy is what created the interest in the film and drove people to it, then I guess you’ve got some explanation for what’s fueled the audiences for every other slightly different and interesting looking superhero movie of the past decade, which didn’t have a media frenzy swirling around its launch. A fresh and intense take on the superhero genre got people to the theaters . . . what exactly is the mystery there?

We can all breathe a sigh of relief that something didn’t happen, but if it had, whose fault would that have been? Warners for making a dark and intense film that allowed the media to conflate it with a bunch of other trends and declare that it “could be,” you never know, a magnet for mass violence?

Anyway, the result for Warners has got to be the most profitable superhero movie of the modern era. Is there another one so stripped down and devoid of VFX that still performs at superhero levels?

As far as profitability goes, the cause is helped by the fact that 15 years after Chuck Roven was brought on to help out with Christopher Nolan’s first Batman movie, Warners managed to make a DC film in which they didn’t have to pay him a producing fee big enough to buy a new jet with. ($20 million is the number I hear.) 

When the rubble clears away from the great streaming wars, it’s hard to see how ten-figure fees for producers for hire coming aboard to help out on someone else’s property are going to survive.

On the flip side: Whatever the success, Bron and Village Roadshow own half of it. Which begs the question: AT&T goes to all the trouble to buy a studio, yet don’t have faith enough in what they are doing to want to keep the superhero movies for themselves? AT&T needs outside money to help them make a superhero movie?

This isn’t like bringing in some partners on The Goldfinch. A superhero movie is, in this day and age, the closest thing to a sure bet you’ve got in all of media, and you want to reduce the risk on that? So why are you in this business again?

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