Movies Review

If ‘The King of Comedy’ Inspired ‘Joker,’ Is This Other Scorsese Movie Inspiring the Sequel?

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The Big Picture

  • Joker: Folie à Deux
    will be a musical sequel directed by Todd Philips, diverging from comic book movie expectations.
  • The film seems to draw inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s
    New York, New York
    , merging dark themes with the musical genre.
  • The sequel promises a unique, bold take on the Joker narrative, showcasing the characters’ shared passion for performance.

The release of the trailer for Joker: Folie à Deux was met with great anticipation and fanfare. Todd Philips‘ sequel to the provocative DC Comics adaptation in 2019 has been clouded in mystery. All audiences knew for sure was that Joaquin Phoenix would be reprising his role as Arthur Fleck, and he would be teamed up with the Joker’s twisted sidekick, Harley Quinn, played by Lady Gaga. Word had circulated that the Joker sequel would, once again, divert from the banal expectations of comic book movies by operating as a musical. Observant cinephiles caught on to a pattern. If Joker was inspired by Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, would Folie à Deux be an homage toNew York, New York, another film by Philips’ idol, Martin Scorsese?

New York New York Film Poster
New York, New York

Set just after World War II, the film tracks the volatile romance between a jazz saxophonist and an aspiring singer. As they navigate the ups and downs of their careers in the bustling music scene of New York City, their personal ambitions and conflicts reflect the rhythm and mood of the era.

Release Date
June 21, 1977

Director
Martin Scorsese

Cast
Liza Minnelli , Robert De Niro , Lionel Stander , Barry Primus , Mary Kay Place , Dick Miller

Runtime
155 Minutes

Main Genre
Drama

Writers
Earl Mac Rauch , Mardik Martin

‘New York, New York’ Was Very Ambitious for Martin Scorsese

Joker, a billion-dollar grosser that received 11 Academy Award nominations (including a win for Best Actor for Phoenix), was a clear homage to the work of Martin Scorsese. Perhaps too much of an homage. Many critics and viewers derided Phillips for unabashedly mimicking Scorsese’s themes and visual language, especially when the allusions were treated as watered-down, karaoke versions of the cinematic master’s films. Structurally and tonally, Joker is indebted to Taxi Driver‘s nightmarish depiction of a disillusioned loner driven to violent outbursts. Arthur Fleck is enamored with a late-night talk show host, Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, in another obvious homage), and an unhealthy desire for public validation. This was the basis for The King of Comedy, the prescient satire on celebrity obsession and the glorification of viral figures.

Scorsese, who once considered directing Joker, appears to occupy creative real estate inside Todd Phillips’ head. Even after the financial success and divisive discourse surrounding the film, he can’t let go of Scorsese for his sequel. Phillips’ follow-up to his Taxi Driver-inspired film will be a subversive take on the classic genre of the musical. In the 1970s, Scorsese followed up Taxi Driver with a subversive take on the classic genre of the musical with New York, New York. The 1977 film is a deep cut in the Scorsese catalog, as most casual fans would be remiss that he ever directed a musical. Starring Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli as two ambitious musicians who become fateful lovers, New York, New York was a bold experiment by Scorsese. He combined his admiration for classic MGM musicals with New Hollywood sensibilities. While its production design and narrative scope evoke the work of Gene Kelly and Vincente Minnelli, the film possesses the same cynical tone and outlook on society as Taxi Driver.

This artistic collision manifested varying results. The film is a sluggish viewing experience, which is a rarity for a Scorsese film. Throughout its lengthy runtime, the deliberate artificiality of the film’s set juxtaposed with the downbeat relationship between Jimmy Doyle (De Niro) and Francine Evans (Minnelli) was jarring to the senses. New York, New York is less of an artistic achievement and more of a fascinating text to analyze due to its imperfections. For as glaring as the imperfections are, they emerged out of sheer ambition on Scorsese’s part. It was the kind of impressive creative swing that was commonplace during the 1970s. New York, New York, a commercial and critical flop, quickly became synonymous with the bloated excess and megalomania of New Hollywood, which spiraled out of control by the end of the decade, subsequently ushering in the commercialized blockbuster era of the 1980s.

‘Joker: Folie à Deux’ Puts a Dark Twist on the Musical Genre

If Scorsese sought to make an anti-musical, then Phillips is on the path to making an anti-sequel. Franchise filmmaking, particularly of the comic book variety, ostensibly prides itself on being commodified assets. To the chagrin of passionate cinephiles, sequels to comic book films generally resemble a factory-line product. Putting aside any thematic gripes, Joker excelled at separating itself from the glut of IP cinema thanks to its ’70s-inspired visual aesthetic and an unflinching portrait of a psychotic anti-hero that resembled someone closer to our real world than a fantastical comic book universe. Despite the franchise backing of Joker, if there was any doubt over Phillips’ creative freedom, look no further than the concept of his sequel. The film industry, as of late, has had a taboo relationship with the musical genre. At the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, three studio musicals were released in theaters: Wonka, The Color Purple, and Mean Girls. Each of their respective marketing campaigns concealed their musical DNA.

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Based on its inaugural trailer, it appears that Joker: Folie à Deux will wear its musical badge on its sleeve. Arthur Fleck and Harley Quinn first lock eyes while she is in a chorus class. The two are shown dancing on an MGM-like soundstage, a ballroom theater, and the gritty streets of Gotham. “We use music to make us whole,” an undisclosed character states in voiceover. This sentiment of lonely, fractured people converging for the love of performing arts is the core of many of the most beloved musicals in history. It is also a thread shared by Scorsese’s “revisionist” musical, New York, New York. “I’m nobody,” Harley says. “I haven’t done anything with my life like you have,” she admits to Arthur. Devoid of plot mechanics and expressed solely through emotions, Folie à Deux teases a perverse romance about two nefarious outcasts coming together for their mutual passion for performance. By some miracle, a trailer for a new Joker movie shares more artistic and thematic traits with An American in Paris than its previous DC predecessors.

How Will Gotham City Be Impacted by Joker and Harley Quinn?

Lady Gaga as Harley in Joker: Folie à Deux
Image via Warner Bros

In New York, New York, Jimmy and Francine, two dedicated artists, could never romantically coexist without compromising their music careers. Arthur Fleck and Harley Quinn’s bond may be a match made in heaven, but the decaying society of Gotham City will suffer as a result. Keeping in the spirit of Martin Scorsese, it’s safe to expect that Joker: Folie à Deux will be a dark and tormented remix of a genre associated with a jovial spirit. The duo of Arthur Fleck and Harley Quinn is no Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

We won’t know for certain until the film’s release in October, but all signs indicate that Todd Phillips is continuing to carry the mantle as Scorsese’s proverbial tribute band in the stand-alone DC universe. While it’s fair to criticize Phillips for his blatant acts of homage, he deserves credit for pushing the envelope. He could have easily coasted off the billion-dollar success of the first film and made something derivative. Instead, the director is crafting a bold expression of genre manipulation for a mass audience.

New York, New York is available to purchase on Amazon.

Buy on Amazon

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