Any time movie producers decide to create yet another Batman film, DC fans speculate over who will play the next rendition of the Joker, and whether it’s necessary to once again drag the character out like you would an ageing relative at a family gathering.
Despite already playing a key role as Vulko in 2018’s Aquaman – which itself is part of the current mess that is the DC Cinematic Universe (or DC Extended Universe) – Willem Dafoe has been tied to the role in Matt Reeve’s The Batman, set for release next year.
Hollywood’s creepiest asset
There’s plenty to be said about Willem Dafoe, but it’s hard to go far into a description of the versatile actor without quoting his sheer peculiarity.
In making a case for him as the next Joker, it’s a coincidence that the biggest argument for it becoming a reality is his portrayal of Norman Osborn / The Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man back in 2002.
This dates back to a time where superhero movies weren’t constantly reappearing like a bad smell, but the ones that were released tended to be poorly made and almost comical. By re-watching Spider-Man, you may feel that this film falls into the same category, but compared to Batman and Robin, Daredevil and many others, it’s a sheer masterpiece. Critique aside, it’s certainly a memorable film that many hold dear, and Willem Dafoe’s performance plays a large part of that feeling, especially as the character of The Green Goblin was a key part of the Spider-Man comic series that Dafoe pulled off with ease.
Since the long-awaited release of a live action Spider-Man film in 2002, there were two sequels, a reboot of the series in The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2, and another two Spider-Man films released recently to thread the character into the carefully orchestrated Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Amazing Spider-Man was dreary and frankly upsetting, and the MCU Spider-Man ticks all the right boxes, but there’s always a feeling of closeness to the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, especially if you fall into the age bracket that was previously dazzled by its original release in 2002.
The opportunity to involve Dafoe in another comic book movie since Spider-Man has popped up several times. Solid performances in a vast range of different films and genres presented his worth for a role as prestigious as the Joker, but would it work in Reeves’ The Batman, would it be unlikely after he already featured in the current DCCU, and is there any need for yet another Joker appearance after Joaquin Phoenix’s show-stopping performance last year?
The Joker should be anything but mundane
Anyone who’s seen Willem Dafoe in, well, pretty much anything will surely imagine a unique portrayal of the character if he were to get his chance any time soon, but you do wonder how many times we can see different versions of the character before it becomes uninteresting.
Heath Ledger took the character to new depths in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight back in 2008, but we saw how badly a different version of the clown prince of crime could pan out through Jared Lego’s abysmal portrayal in forgettable abomination Suicide Squad eight years later.
Matt Reeves could already be burning the candle at both ends by including Catwoman, The Penguin and The Riddler in his upcoming film, but it could be pure saturation to also add in a character as encompassing as the Joker. It was proven through Todd Phillips’ Joker in 2019 that there’s enough source material for a standalone film. The awards that followed such a film also only put more pressure on Reeves’ shoulders if he were to consider competing with it.
Dafoe is deserving of centre stage
Often appearing as the underrated supporting actor or a cameo appearance that everyone wanted to see more of, Willem Dafoe is blatantly deserving of a time in the spotlight. It was already proven back in 2002 during his portrayal of a The Green Goblin, but it’s only become more evident in The Fantastic Mr Fox, John Wick and The Lighthouse, as well as several others.
The only issue with him playing this specific role is that saturation for the Joker is becoming a genuine problem, not too dissimilar to Spider-Man reboots, reality shows, YouTubers, and Manchester City winning every possible accolade aside from the UEFA Champions League.
As an alternative to yet another version of the Joker, it would be advisable for Dafoe to play another central character. He’s such a good actor that even Martha Wayne could be something Reeves may consider if Lauren Cohan no longer wants the role. It’s not saying she doesn’t, but if it were true, it’d be hard to turn down the chance to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan cosying up to Willem Dafoe in drag as they’re – yet again – murdered outside a theatre during the iconic ‘mugging-gone-wrong’ scene we’re constantly reminded of through regular reinventions that ironically look identical.
In all seriousness, the best course of action would be for Willem Dafoe to appear as a lesser-known character that has been written in as the main villain in a separate film. Many big actors who previously had roles in comic book movies have done this before. For example, everyone wanted to see Michael Keaton again after he expertly played Bruce Wayne in Batman and Batman Returns, so he appeared as The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Willem Dafoe could appear in a DC or Marvel film in a similar role, which would be a nice touch if he were included in the third of the current set of Spider-Man films.
The Green Goblin character has only gone through one recreation since his portrayal, so he could even return as the character. It sounds unlikely, but J.K. Simmons did the same, starring as J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man trilogy, only to play the role again in the post-credits sequence of Spider-Man: Far From Home.