It’s really happening – Joaquin Phoenix is playing the Joker in a new film.
Batman’s arch nemesis has a long, storied history in film, most notably Heath Ledger’s remarkable incarnation in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, for which he won a post-humous Academy Award (Ledger tragically passed away not long after the film was completed).
Phoenix, best known for his roles as Johnny Cash in Walk The Line and Commodus in Gladiator, leads the movie as Arthur Fleck, a failed stand-up comedian in 1980s Gotham City who is driven to insanity and turns into a criminal mastermind.
He is joined by Atlanta’s Zazie Beets, who will play his love interest, a cynical single mother called Sophie Dumond, and Robert De Niro as a talk show host named Murray Franklin. Marc Maron, Brian Tyree Henry, Bill Camp and Shea Whigham will also feature.
At one point, Alec Baldwin was attached to the movie playing Batman’s father, Thomas Wayne (now portrayed by Brett Cullen) but dropped out. He cited “scheduling issues” but days before had taken to Twitter to dispel rumours he would seek inspiration from Donald Trump – who he impersonates on SNL – to play the character:
“Let me state, for the record, that I have NOT been hired to play a role in Todd Phillips’ Joker as some Donald Trump manque,” he wrote. “That is not happening. Not. Happening.”
Douglas Hodge will play the Waynes’ butler Alfred Pennyworth, with Dante Pereira-Olson cast as a young Bruce Wayne.
What is Joker about? (Plot spoilers!)
The film will track Arthur Fleck’s transformation from down-and-out comedian to Gotham City supervillain.
Joker director Todd Phillips has said that it was “a year-long process” convincing the studio to take a risk on his offbeat script (via the Los Angeles Times).
“We didn’t follow anything from the comic-books, which people are gonna be mad about,” Phillips said to Empire. “We just wrote our own version of where a guy like Joker might come from. That’s what was interesting to me. We’re not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker. It’s about this man.”
In an interview with IndieWire, Marc Maron also suggested that the film is going to be unlike any comic book film before it.
Joaquin Phoenix as The Joker (Warner Bros)
“I think it’s a very interesting approach to this world,” he said. “The approach that Todd Phillips has taken is more of an origin story and a character study of a mentally ill person that becomes The Joker. It’s more of an intimate and gritty movie with a very specific scope. It’s going to be really interesting to see how it comes out.”
It’s a view backed up by producer Michael E Uslan who drew comparisons to Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool during a recent appearance at fan event CCXP Cologne.
“I thought Guardians of the Galaxy was different and unique when it came out. I thought Deadpool was different and unique when it came out,” Uslan explained, as reported by Comicbook.com. “This Joker movie is different and unique and it’s unlike any comic book movie you’ve ever seen.”
And it’s a sentiment also echoed by fans who saw the trailer first at CinemaCon.
“First teaser for Joker is super dark and disturbing – the downfall of a man, dragged and beaten down until he turns and beats up on a world turned against him,” he said. We knew there was a good reason Joaquin took on the role…
“I used to think my life was a tragedy, but now I realize it’s a comedy.” Wow, first teaser for #Joker is super dark and disturbing – the downfall of a man, dragged and beaten down until he turns and beats up on a world turned against him. #CinemaConpic.twitter.com/SDD8DGDd5o
Joker could also be the first chapter in a series. “One thing I will tell you: I would do anything with Joaquin, any day of the week,” Phillips told Total Film. “There’s nobody like him. If he was willing to do it, and if people show up to this movie, and Warners came to us and said, ‘You know what? If you guys could think of something…’ Well, I have a feeling that he and I could think of something pretty cool.”
However, Phillips later walked back these comments, describing reports of a possible Joker sequel as “annoying”.
“We have no plan for a sequel,” he told press after a screening.
“The quote was, ‘I will do anything Joaquin wants to do.’ And I would. But the movie’s not set up to [have] a sequel. We always pitched it as one movie, and that’s it.”
Phoenix himself, however, appears to believe a follow-up could still be possible.
“You know, I wouldn’t have thought about this as my dream role. But now, honestly, I can’t stop thinking about it,” he said in a recent interview.
“I talked to Todd [Phillips, the director] a lot about what else we might be able to do, in general, just to work together, but also specifically, if there’s something else we can do with Joker that might be interesting.
“So, it ended up being a dream role. It’s nothing that I really wanted to do prior to working on this movie.”
“I don’t know that there is [more to do],” he continued.
“Me and Todd would still be shooting now if we could, right? Because it seemed endless, the possibilities of where we can go with the character.”
But don’t expect to see Phoenix’s Joker ever cross paths with Robert Pattinson’s Batman, whatever happens – Phillips has insisted that the two exist in different fictional universes and will never meet.
“We made this movie, I pitched it to Warner Bros. as one movie. It exists in its own world. That’s it,” he said.
Is Joker getting good reviews?
Early buzz out of the Toronto International Film Festival was positive – the festival’s artistic director Cameron Bailey told Toronto Sun: “It’s a really original take on comic book movies and on the Joker character in particular.
“It’s set in the late ’70s/early ’80s and it feels like it was made then. It’s gritty in its look. It has references to Martin Scorsese’s filmmaking and it feels like a cinematic achievement on a high level. Although it’s working with very populist material, it has great ambition.”
Later critical reaction to the movie was also largely positive, with praise for Phoenix’s performance and the film’s dark tone, with comparisons made to two Martin Scorsese classics: Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy (which shares a star with Joker in Robert De Niro). The premiere also received an 8-minute long standing ovation after the credits rolled.
Phoenix is the latest in a long line of actors to portray the Joker across film and TV. Of course, Heath Ledger’s version in The Dark Knight is considered by many to be the greatest embodiment of the character.
In honor of April Fools Day. Who was a better Joker?
Leto was the most recent actor to put their spin on the role, but is not expected to return for James Gunn’s Suicide Squad sequel. And while DC presses forward with Phoenix’s take, it’s not looking like Leto will reprise the role anytime soon.
Other favourites to have portrayed the Joker include Mark Hamill’s version from Batman: The Animated Series and several video games and Zach Galifianakis’ portrayal in The Lego Batman Movie.
Joker will be released in UK cinemas on 4th October 2019