The gritty origin story of the DC Comics supervillian raked in more than $1 billion at the box office last year and earned a best actor Oscar for star Joaquin Phoenix, but the film was met with fierce criticism upon its arrival.
Many knocked the “Joker” for what they considered a sympathetic portrayal of a disaffected white man’s descent into domestic terrorism. Others believed its exploration of the infamous character as a troubled loner reinforced the perception that the mentally ill are somehow more prone to violence.
Fincher scorched the Todd Phillips-directed blockbuster as an uninspired mashup that stood on the shoulders of more audacious films, speaking in an interview with The Telegraph posted on Saturday.
“I don’t think anyone would have looked at that material and thought, ’Yeah, let’s take [‘Taxi Driver’’s] Travis Bickle and [‘The King of Comedy’’s] Rupert Pupkin and conflate them, then trap him in a betrayal of the mentally ill and trot it out for a billion dollars,” he told the newspaper.
Without the success of precursor films in the same universe, “nobody would have thought they had a shot at a giant hit with ‘Joker’ had ‘The Dark Knight’ not been as massive as it was,” Fincher added.
Fincher went on to lament the current state of the entertainment industry, in which studios “don’t want to make anything that can’t make them a billion dollars.”
“None of them want to be in the medium-priced challenging-content business. And that cleaves off exactly the kind of movies I make,” he said. “What the streamers are doing is providing a platform for the kind of cinema that actually reflects our culture and wrestles with big ideas: Where things are, what people are anxious and unsure about. Those are the kinds of movies that would have been dead on arrival five years ago.”
The director even cited his 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel “Gone Girl” as emblematic of how complex storytelling often stands in opposition to studio demands.
“It would have been impossible to get a movie with that discordant, evaporating ending made if we hadn’t been able to point to the book’s place on The New York Times bestseller list,” he said.
Fincher has since found a home at Netflix, where he’s developed series such as “House of Cards,” “Love, Death & Robots” and “Mindhunter,” as well as his upcoming film “Mank,” a period piece about the making of “Citizen Kane,” which arrives on the streaming service Dec. 4.
As for what’s next for the director, he teased in the Telegraph interview that he’s considering making a new series for Netflix about the perils of cancel culture.
“At its heart it’s about how we in modern society measure an apology,” Fincher said. “If you give a truly heartfelt apology, and no one believes it, did you even apologise at all? It’s a troubling idea. But we live in troubling times.”