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Todd Phillips explains the 'liberating' process of cutting comic book influences from Joker

By Matthew Jackson

With a little more than a week to go until its release, Joker is looking like a hit thanks to early critical buzz, acclaim at the Venice Film Festival, and box office projections that suggest a major opening weekend haul for Todd Phillips' R-rated comic book film. The anticipation is impressive not just because the film is an R-rated comic book film about a supervillain, but because Joker is coming into the comic book movie scene with no connections to per-existing cinematic universes. Yes, it's from the world of DC Comics, and everyone knows who The Joker is, but Phillips and company were granted free rein to go their own way with the character and the twisted world he lives in. In a new interview, Phillips explained just how freeing that part of the process was. 

Joker will, of course, retain certain inescapable hallmarks of the legendary Batman villain's background. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), the man who will become Joker, lives in Gotham City, and the wealthy Wayne family — including patriarch Thomas and his son, Bruce — will appear in the film in some form. He's also a struggling stand-up comedian in his pre-villain life, something borrowed from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's Batman: The Killing Joke, another origin story for the character. Other than that, though, Phillips told ComicBook that he purposefully shed much of the film's comic book connections in the editing process.

"There was probably a little more in earlier cuts, maybe," Phillips said. "There definitely was a little more everything in the earlier cuts, but it was really about how fun it is that we get to keep one foot in the comic book world and one foot in not and like you said find that balance."

Joker is a film that began its life at a time when Warner Bros. Pictures was actively looking for new cinematic avenues for its DC Comics characters, and that search allowed Phillips and company the freedom to tell a story about one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time without actually having to worry about the dreaded continuity of it all. Still, The Joker is part of a major brand at a major entertainment company, so you'd think there might be some kind of mandated number of tie-ins that Phillips and company had to hit, right? Apparently not. They just wanted a new take on Joker.

"It's hard to quantify how we found that balance, but it was, the movie is very liberating because DC, just speaking about comic books, DC as a company and Warner Bros. as a studio really just let us do whatever we wanted with it," Phillips said. "It wasn't like 'oh and you have to mention the Batmobile and you have to...' none of that. It was literally like 'yeah, were going to take this leap on this movie. Just go for it and do it.'"

And as for the crossover potential (or lack thereof) the film creates? Phillips isn't feeling the idea of his Joker battling Batman anytime soon. 

"This movie just stands on its own," he said. "I don't see that Arthur Fleck fighting anybody."

Joker is in theaters Oct. 4.