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In the latest edition of its Heat Vision newsletter, the Hollywood Reporter dropped a little news item saying that Warner Bros. Pictures recently test-screened two different versions of director Matt Reeves’ The Batman — one featuring a particular actor, and one without him. Although the Reporter would not say who the actor was, or what role he played, it was heavily implied that it was Irish actor Barry Keoghan, and the part in question was the Joker.
Keoghan is in fact listed in the cast of the movie, as Gotham police officer Stanley Merkel (who, in the comics, was James Gordon’s partner when he started on the force). But last month, his brother Eric posted on social media that Barry had been cast as the Joker in a post that was swiftly deleted soon after it first surfaced. Did Eric have bad intel, was he just trying to rile up the internet, or did he accidentally post a major spoiler from the movie?
We’re not going to know the answer to this for sure until The Batman begins officially screening for press sometime in (our guess) late February 2022. But the possibility does bring up a question which we’ve been pondering ever since hearing the news: are there too many Jokers in the DC film universe?
Before we get into that, we want to make it clear that if Keoghan is in fact playing a man who becomes the Clown Prince of Crime, we’re all for it from a casting level. Keoghan is a compelling performer with a weird, sinister charisma all his own, and his career so far has consisted of an interesting mix of tormented or unsettling characters.
He was one of the highlights of Eternals as the imperious, arrogant Druig, but if you want to see him at his creepiest, watch The Killing of a Sacred Deer (in which he appears opposite our new Penguin, Colin Farrell). You can easily make the jump from his performance in that movie to seeing him as a scarred, psychopathic supervillain — in fact, arguably the greatest comic book supervillain of them all.
But here’s the thing: there are currently two other Jokers circulating in the DC movie universe. There is the Oscar-winning Joaquin Phoenix version who we met in the 2019 movie Joker, and there’s the notorious Jared Leto edition, who made his debut in 2016’s Suicide Squad and popped up earlier this year in the bonus “Knightmare” sequence of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Is there such a paucity of imagination within the DC moviemaking factory that their Batman movies always default to the Joker, just as the Superman movies, by and large, focused on either Lex Luthor or General Zod as the villains?
On one hand, we get it: Matt Reeves is reinventing several of the Caped Crusader’s heavy hitters in The Batman. Not counting TV shows or animated films, this will be the first time we’ve seen the Penguin and the Riddler (Paul Dano) on the screen since 1992 and 1995, respectively. By the time the movie comes out and gives us Zoe Kravitz’s take on Catwoman, it’ll be nearly a decade since Anne Hathaway portrayed her in The Dark Knight Rises. We’re especially glad to see Oswald Cobblepot and Eddie Nygma/Nashton return to theaters.
We’re sure that Reeves would like to try his own interpretation of the Joker as well. The character is too rich, dangerous, and electrifying to ignore. But the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery is often cited as one of the two best in the biz (along with Spider-Man’s), and since we’ve seen the Joker several times already in the last few years, why go back to that well again right away?
Scarecrow, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze — they’ve all been done in the movies before, but we wouldn’t mind seeing new versions of any of them (especially Ivy and Freeze). Same with Black Mask (we didn’t care much for the Ewan McGregor edition in Birds of Prey). Meanwhile, there are bad guys like Hugo Strange, Hush, Clayface, and even the Mad Hatter (granted, he’d need a substantial makeover) who have yet to show up in a Batman movie.
And yes, we know: there are also multiple Batmen soon to show up on the big screen as well, with Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck reprising the role for the multiverse-embracing The Flash in 2023. But that’s different, and we suspect it’s more of a one-off plot point than an ongoing scenario. If all goes well, The Batman’s Robert Pattinson is likely to be our official Caped Crusader for several years and movies to come. Why have him fight a nemesis who we’ve seen the Batman square off against over and over?
In the end, we suspect that the lure of the Joker is too much to resist for the studio and any filmmaker it hires. And we also are pretty sure that we’ll enjoy the hell out of Keoghan’s interpretation in this movie and any future ones in which he dons the white greasepaint and frozen grin. But we can’t help wondering if — with such a large canon of enemies to choose from — the joke’s going to be on us.
The Batman is out in theaters March 4, 2022.