It’s the laugh-out-loud movie of the year, lit up by the star’s mile-wide grin. But before
you skip down to your local Odeon to see Joker on 4 October, perhaps we’d better
explain. The laughter is a chilling cackle in the dark.
The grin is a ghoulish, lipstick-smeared slash. And the star is Joaquin Phoenix’s psychotic Clown Prince of Crime, returned to his roots for a character study of cinema’s ultimate supervillain. Here’s everything we know so far about Joker.
Joker exists outside of the DC universe
Rather than run with the backstory established by movies like Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), writer-director Todd Phillips cuts his movie free from the existing DC universe. “We didn’t follow anything from the comic books, which people are gonna be mad about,” he told 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.”
Joaquin Phoenix was born for the role of Joker
Some of cinema’s biggest beasts have worn the white makeup, amongst them Jack Nicholson, Jared Leto and the much-missed Heath Ledger. But most tantalising of all is Joaquin Phoenix: the three-time-Oscar-nominated legend who was angling to play the role as early as 2014. Turns out, the feeling was mutual. “I think Joaquin is the greatest actor,” says Phillips. “We had a photo of him above our computer while we were writing. We constantly thought, ‘God, imagine if Joaquin actually does this…’”
It introduces a whole new Joker
Back in Tim Burton’s movie, the Joker character began as Jack Napier, a mobster deformed and deranged by a tumble into a vat of chemicals. But with Joker, Phillips introduces us to Arthur Fleck: a poverty-stricken, mentally ill stand-up comic who creates the persona as his life unravels. Rather than a snapshot of a super-villain, this is a deep psychological character study, focused on the internal conflict of an average joe who is gradually but inexorably consumed by the darkness.
Gotham City has never looked so nightmarish
Check out the Joker trailer and you’ll recognise that Phillips’ stylistic approach couldn’t be further from the garish DC comic books. As befits the character-study vibe, the director draws us into a gritty urban jungle that we recognise all too well, with the story playing out against a cold, hard Gotham City plucked straight from the reels of Martin Scorsese classics like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull (this latest movie also features Scorsese regular Robert De Niro as a ruthless talk-show host). It all makes Joker feel real, raw and all the more disturbing for it.
Joker goes deeper than capes and spandex
Don’t dismiss Joker as just another superhero movie. Like the villain himself, this movie has a serious identity crisis that will keep you on your toes until the credits roll. “I wouldn’t quite classify this as any genre, I wouldn’t say it’s a superhero movie, or a studio movie,” Phoenix told Collider in a recent interview. “It feels unique, it is its own world in some ways.”