WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for director Todd Phillips' Joker, in theaters now.
Typically, all films connected to the Batman universe find some way to include the origins of the superhero himself into the narrative. This includes Joker, even with the film largely ignoring the Caped Crusader in lieu of exploring the origins of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) becoming the titular clown villain.
In the chaos caused by Arthur Fleck's actions toward the end of the movie, Thomas and Martha Wayne are murdered, leaving their son, Bruce (Dante Pereira-Olson), an orphan. But while the scene has surprising similarities to previous versions of this iconic origin, it also radically changes its context.
CRIME ALLEY REVISITED
Bruce Wayne doesn't have much of a presence in Joker, appearing more like an abstract idea of what Arthur Fleck could have had if his life had been different. Bruce appears to have a perfect young life, having the freedom to explore the massive property owned by his family. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), believing himself to potentially be an illegitimate son of Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), visits the grounds in an attempt to speak to Thomas. Seeing Bruce, Arthur ends up doing a short performance for him, albeit one that doesn't seem to have much of an impact on the young Wayne.
Bruce doesn't speak a single line in the film. Instead, his life is silently shaped by the world around him and the chaos that consumes it, even when he's shielded away behind fences and privilege. As the events of the film come to a head elsewhere in Gotham City, the story explores a common set of beats for the Batman mythos. Specifically, Bruce and his family end up going down a dark alley in downtown Gotham City, and a man appears. The man shoots both Thomas and Martha but leaves Bruce alive. The man even snaps Martha's pearl necklace, a small but iconic piece of the Batman origin for decades. The final shot of Bruce Wayne is a recreation of the famous pose where Bruce stands between the bodies of his parents, learning just how cruel the world can be sometimes for the first time.
The biggest change comes from the context around the shooting. After learning that Thomas Wayne likely isn't his father and that his mother has been lying to him for years, Arthur goes off the rails even more than before. He appears on the Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) Show, and when the conversation between the pair grows heated Fleck draws out his gun and shoots him.
Inspired by his actions, various people around Gotham wearing clown masks take to the streets. It's a direct result of Fleck's actions that turn the city against itself, which spreads around Gotham City and leads to massive damage and death around the city.
The Waynes are out catching a classic Zorro film in downtown Gotham when the riot breaks out, another nod to the standard Batman origin story. In a panic, Thomas takes Martha and Bruce down a nondescript alley. But the family is followed by a masked figure. The man then pulls a gun and ends up shooting (and killing) Thomas and Martha in front of a young Bruce. He even specifically tells Thomas that he's getting "what's coming to him," making the murder less of a random or desperate crime and more of a specific attack on a public figure, considering how Thomas Wayne has come to represent all of the wealthy and powerful who the mob have been calling out throughout the film.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
This ties the Joker to the origins of Batman, albeit indirectly. Although Fleck wasn't the man to pull the trigger himself, it was his violent acts that inspired the deaths of the Waynes.
For a young Bruce Wayne, that will likely shape how he perceives men who wear masks. It might even make this version of Bruce eventually turn into Batman in-part to response to the madness that Fleck gives into when he kills Franklin in cold blood. It ties Joker to the origins of Batman in an interesting way that not only informs the connections this film has to the source material but also leaves Bruce with the unintended consequences of cruel, purposeful actions.
Because of Fleck taking out his anger on the people that seemed to be targeting him, other people lost their loved ones. Gotham has given into full chaos, and now Bruce (and however many other children lost their parents in the bedlam that enveloped the city) will have to suffer for it instead of Fleck, who's happily dancing in a mental hospital afterward. It potentially alters the trajectory of this world's Bruce and his journey to becoming Batman.
Directed by Todd Phillips, Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Brett Cullen, coming to cinemas Friday, nationwide.