When Warner Brothers and DC Films announced they would be making a Joker film back in 2017, the reactions from fans were… mixed. Did we really need another film treatment exploring the origins of Batman’s clown-faced nemesis? But now the first trailer for has dropped, and it goes a long way toward putting our doubts to rest.
is intended as a standalone film, with no sequels planned—part of DC Films’ decision to move away from the shared-universe approach of their prior franchise films (aka, the Marvel model). So it has no relation to the films that came before. That freed Director Todd Phillips to create his own darker, gritty version of this iconic character, with a much smaller budget of $55 million.
Star Joaquin Phoenix was initially reluctant to take on the role, for various reasons. (Seriously, who wants to go up against Heath Ledger‘s legendary performance in Christopher Nolan’s ? Plus, Jared Leto was already playing the Joker in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). But he ultimately decided that Phillips’ interpretation was sufficiently unique that he signed on. (It helped that it was for a standalone film; in the past, Phoenix has resisted committing to superhero films that would require him to play the same role in multiple films.) And we’re very glad he did, because Phoenix succeeds in breathing new life into this iconic role.
In this version of the Joker’s origin story, Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is a struggling aspiring stand-up comedian in Gotham City in 1981, taking care of his ailing mother, Penny (Frances Conroy). Since the trailer opens with Arthur talking to a therapist, we’re guessing something tragic happens to Mom. We learn that she always told him to “Smile and put on a happy face,” and assured him he had a purpose. She thinks it’s to “bring laughter and joy to the world.” But life has not been kind to Arthur: “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?”
Stand-up comedy comes with constant rejection and, hence, is not for the faint of heart or frail of ego. Arthur’s side gig as a street clown holding an advertising sign is, shall we say, lacking in dignity—although he gives it his all. Alas, it gets him beat up by random hooligans. He also gets mocked and beaten up on the subway, and the young single mother he’s smitten with (Zazie Beetz) probably only sees him as a friend. So really, it’s ‘s fault that Arthur turns to the dark madness within.
The Wayne family is present here in the form of billionaire philanthropist Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), father to the future Batman and currently running for mayor of Gotham City. But it’s a far less sympathetic portrayal than we’ve seen before. I’m still not sure how I feel about this latest incarnation of the Joker, but I’m now genuinely intrigued to see the film. That’s the power of a good trailer.
is slated for release on October 4, 2019.