Late on Monday night, Joker, the curveball-iest comic book film ever made, threw another unexpected pitch: writer-director Todd Phillips is in talks with Lady Gaga to play the Joker’s right-hand lady, Harley Quinn, in the upcoming sequel Joker: Folie a Deux. What’s more, the film will be a musical, taking advantage of Gaga’s talents.
This is a huge shock for fans of the original Joker, which took a firm Taxi-Driver-meets-King-of-Comedy Scorsese tribute. But before you write off this movie, here’s why making Joker 2 a musical is actually the best thing the movie can do — and why it actually makes perfect sense as a sequel to 2019’s Joker.
Why Joker 2 should be a musical
After Phillips used Batman’s most famous enemy to create a tribute to the works of Martin Scorcese, many fans assumed any Joker sequel would pivot to another classic director like Stanley Kubrick or Francis Ford Coppola. Instead, Joker 2 could reveal that the franchise has been focused on broader movie tropes all along.
For Joker, it was the ‘70s outcast thriller that takes a guy down on his luck and thrusts him on a revenge-soaked adventure against a world that hates him. The movie also featured plenty of departures from reality and suspension of disbelief, whether it was Joaquim Phoenix hallucinating a date with his neighbor or him literally dancing in the street to imaginary music. So with a sequel, it only makes sense to lean into the absurd qualities of the original even more.
The movie musical has an illustrious history of larger-than-life set pieces and sequences that fit right in with Joker’s almost surreal visuals. The character of the Joker has always been about delusion, fantasy, and theatricality. Those words describe musicals perfectly.
This also wouldn’t be the first time a Joker-adjacent movie paid its dues to the movie musical. In Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn has a hallucination that directly references the Marilyn Monroe “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” scene in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
What kind of musical should Joker 2 be?
Just like how there are countless ways to make a comic book movie, there are countless kinds of movie musicals. Some are more subtle, like Bob Fosse’s Cabaret. Others are fully bombastic, like Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. In recent years, the very definition of “musical” has widened to include movies like 8 Mile. There are truly no limits.
However, we can use the thematic clues of Joker to take an educated guess. Joker focused on one man’s fantasies of stardom and the truly horrific and criminal lengths he would go to reach that status. If there’s one musical that captures this, it’s 2002’s Chicago, which, like Joker, managed to steal a few Oscars.
Chicago took a unique approach to its musical numbers by showing the characters in a nightclub that existed entirely in their collective imaginations. Instead of speaking their thoughts to the audience, they would sing them. This would work well for Joker, as Arthur Dent has never been great at expressing his emotions. Maybe all he needs is the right stage.
Imagine “Cell Block Tango,” but with the rogue’s gallery instead of female inmates.
Chicago is also set within a prison, which would slot perfectly if Joker 2 decides to focus its action on Arkham Asylum. Joker ended with Dent in some sort of mental asylum, and everyone knows that Harley Quinn first meets Mr. J while she was still a psychiatrist enlisted to treat him at Arkham.
If there’s one other movie musical that’s likely to influence this film, it’s last year’s surreal Annette. Featuring music from acclaimed art-pop duo Sparks, this movie contained barely any dialogue, instead focusing on music (and a toddler puppet) to carry the story. It’s very unlikely Joker 2 will be entirely through, but pop music may feature heavily, especially with Lady Gaga on board.
Will a Joker 2 musical be good?
There are no two ways about it — musicals are divisive. Joker itself was a divisive movie, so adding singing and (more) dancing may be enough to scare viewers away. However, there’s nothing detailing how much of a musical this movie will be. Maybe it will contain huge staged numbers like West Side Story or In the Heights, or maybe we’ll just get a few nightclub scenes or dream sequences. So if you’re musical-averse, don’t immediately reject this sequel.
Considering the star power Lady Gaga holds especially, within the music movie genre, whatever musical numbers Joker 2 does feature won’t merely be show tunes. They may just top the charts and bring an entirely new subsection of fans to the strange animal that is the Todd Phillips take on the Joker.
Even if Folie a Deux isn’t the stellar “we live in a society” take so many fans found with Joker, it may still do something entirely new. Joker already rewrote the “villain origin story” formula. So is it any surprise that Joker 2 could push the superhero genre even further?