Watch This Before You Go See Joker

Considering how singular Joaquin Phoenix’s interpretation
of the Joker promises to be, it’s probably a good idea to know a little bit about the
character’s long history to fully appreciate what’s different about his depiction. Here’s everything you need to know before
watching 2019’s Joker. Since his debut in 1940 ‘s Batman #1, the
Joker has been Batman’s most popular and enduring arch-nemesis. As a result, he’s appeared opposite every
big-screen version of the Caped Crusader’s adventures since 1966’s Batman: The Movie. While the character’s popularity has remained
consistent, the different cinematic Jokers have taken a very different approach to the
tone of the character. The version played by Cesar Romero was a perfect
fit for the campy, relatively lighthearted world imagined by the TV show. He was portrayed as more of a giggling, over
the top bank robber than anything else. When the Joker returned to theaters in Tim
Burton’s 1989 Batman film with Jack Nicholson under the makeup, he was played as something
a little more like a murderous performance artist. He was a hitman for the mob with a thing for
playing cards right from the beginning of the film – and even killed Bruce Wayne’s parents
in that version of Batman’s origin story – but his dip into the acid gave him a whole new
perspective. He not only took over Gotham City’s crime
families for himself, he also plotted to kill everyone in the city, dosing them with poisonous
gas as his masterpiece. Batman: The Animated Series hit television
screens in 1992, and the following year saw the theatrical release of an animated movie,
Mask of the Phantasm. In both the show and the film, the Joker was
played by Mark Hamill, who might be best known from his starring role as Luke Skywalker in
a little-known independent film called Star Wars. Hamill’s version of the character was beloved
by fans, and he kept the role in various animated shows and video games through today, despite
flirting with retirement from the part after Batman: Arkham City. 2008 brought us The Dark Knight, and Heath
Ledger’s unforgettable, Academy Award-winning performance. This time, unlike Burton and Nicholson’s take,
the Joker had no origin story, and even told conflicting versions of his history to different
characters throughout the film. “My father was a drinker.” He billed himself as an “agent of chaos,”
with intricate, clockwork plans that were designed to destroy any sense of morality
that Batman had returned to his city. With the launch of DC’s movie universe, we
got another version of the Joker in Suicide Squad, which saw Jared Leto apparently going
full method actor in order to embrace the Joker’s sinister personality. In this take, he was a heavily tattooed, unpredictable
crime boss with a gift for manipulating people like his sidekick, Harley Quinn, a character
who had originally appeared in the animated series and rose to incredible popularity in
the decades since. With that many different portrayals – not
to mention all of the different interpretations of the Joker that have appeared in comic books
over the past 80 years – the idea that any single actor could be the only “true” Joker
is as insane as the character himself. Even with that in mind, though, Joaquin Phoenix’s
portrayal in the Joker’s first-ever solo film promises to be a pretty big departure from
what we’ve seen before. One of the first questions fans were asking
when Warner Bros. announced that Phoenix had been cast as the Joker was: what happened
to Jared Leto? At one point there were no fewer than six
Joker-related films in development with Leto still attached for some of them. Were the filmmakers just replacing Leto and
being coy about it? The answer: Leto’s Joker and Phoenix’s Joker
aren’t the same guy. The Joker of 2019 will not be part of the
DC’s movie universe – it’s a standalone film and has nothing to do with Suicide Squad,
2017’s Justice League, 2021’s The Batman, or any other DC films. That actually may have something to do with
why Phoenix accepted the lead in Joker. He came close to playing Doctor Strange, turned
down the role of Superman’s nemesis Lex Luthor, and auditioned for the part of the Red Skull
in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, but never wound up appearing in any of those
movies. The major difference between those roles and
the role of Joker is that signing up for Lex or Strange would have obligated Phoenix to
appear in other movies. With the new Joker film being billed as a
stand-alone, character-driven drama rather than a franchise blockbuster, Phoenix can
play the character without signing on for a sprawling series of superhero movies. One of the things that makes this Joker distinct
from most other versions is that we’re actually learning the name he was born with – Arthur
Fleck. It isn’t the first time a writer has given
the Clown Prince of Crime a proper first and last name. In the Gotham TV series, the Joker is Jeremiah
Valeska. In Tim Burton’s Batman, Joker is known as
Jack Napier, a suitably comic booky pun on “jackanapes,” another word for a fool. “You are my number one guy.” In most other versions, including the comics
canon and the award-winning version in The Dark Knight, however, the Joker goes unnamed. Even in Batman: The Killing Joke – a 1988
graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland that includes a Joker origin story – in all
of the flashbacks to Joker’s past we never learn so much as his first name. “You are my number one guy.” We all know Joaquin Phoenix will be Joker’s
lead, though some fans theorize we’ll eventually learn that this particular clown isn’t the
“real” Joker. He won’t be on the screen alone, though, and
there are plenty of other interesting names as part of the cast. Appearing as Thomas Wayne is Brett Cullen,
a distinguished character actor with a long career in Hollywood beginning in the ’80s. What’s interesting about his appearance here
is that Joker will be Cullen’s second Batman-related film – he plays a congressman in 2012’s Dark
Knight Rises. Frances Conroy plays Fleck’s ailing mother
Penny. She’s perhaps best remembered for her role
as Ruth Fisher in HBO’s Six Feet Under, but she also has a surprising Bat-related film
connection: she played the small but crucial part of Ophelia in 2004’s legendarily bad
Catwoman. We also see Zazie Beetz briefly in the Joker
trailer. Fans will likely remember Beetz’s performance
as Domino in 2018’s Deadpool 2, but in Joker she plays Sophie Dumond – a single mother
and Fleck’s love interest. One of the most interesting casting choices
is that of Robert De Niro as talk show host Murray Franklin. Fans and critics are speculating Joker will
in many ways be strongly influenced by Martin Scorsese’s 1982 darkly satirical The King
of Comedy. De Niro plays a struggling, mentally ill comic
in that film, just as Phoenix plays one in Joker. The young Bruce Wayne we see Fleck forcing
to smile with his fingers in the trailer is played by Dante Pereira-Olson, and it won’t
be the first time he’s worked with Phoenix. Pereira-Olson was in You Were Never Really
Here, where he played the younger version of Phoenix’s character – another mentally
ill man living with his elderly mother. From what we’ve seen in the trailer, Joker
doesn’t seem like an adaptation of any single comic book story. However, there are glimmers of inspiration
from specific comics, and at least one aspect of Joker is similar to one of the most influential
Joker stories of all time. Written by Alan Moore – famous for Watchmen,
V for Vendetta, and other groundbreaking comics of the ’80s – and drawn by Brian Bolland,
The Killing Joke is memorable for many reasons, one of which is the origin story given to
the Joker. We never learn his name, but the younger Joker
is an aspiring stand-up comic who can’t get a break. No one laughs at his jokes, he isn’t making
any money, and his young wife has a baby on the way. Desperate, he agrees to go on a heist with
some crooks and falls into a vat of chemicals that turn him into the villain we all know. Like this unnamed young Joker, Arthur Fleck
seems to be a failed comic, but that may be where the similarities end. Rather than the classic comics origin of a
fall into a vat of chemicals, Fleck seems to be a man driven to and beyond the brink
by the madness of society, using makeup to adopt the Joker’s persona much like Ledger’s
version did. The other major influence on Joker doesn’t
come from the comics page. Instead, the visuals we see in the trailer
see heavily influenced by The King of Comedy. While it’s not as well known as hits like
Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, the 1983 collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro
became a cult classic for its portrayal of a struggling comedian who develops a disturbing
fixation on a Johnny Carson-esque talk show host. “Mom!” “Take it easy lower it.” “I’m not gonna lower it I have to do this
now!” De Niro stars as failing comic Rupert Pupkin,
while Jerry Lewis plays the very successful Jerry Langford. While he doesn’t dress up like a supervillain,
like Fleck, Pupkin is portrayed as being mentally ill and the film ends with some ambiguity
about whether or not the viewer is experiencing actual events or Pupkin’s delusions. Joker is even set in the early ’80s, just
like The King of Comedy. The influence isn’t just evident from the
trailer, however. Scorsese himself was originally set to be
executive producer for Joker, but left the project due to scheduling issues. Regardless, the final project seems to have
his fingerprints all over it. Moviegoers expecting to see the Dark Knight
showing up in Joker to face off with his nemesis are bound to be disappointed, but the film
isn’t entirely free of Batman. We’re just seeing him long before he decides
to dress up as a bat and spend his evenings fighting criminals. Given that we’re getting a young Bruce Wayne
and a prominent role for his dad, it’s possible that Joker might include the murder that kicks
off Batman’s own origin story, but whether or not that will actually happen remains to
be seen. It’s clear, however, that no matter what happens
to Thomas and Martha, their son will spend this film a long way from donning his familiar
comic book costume. Joker is no superhero movie. Instead, the cast and director Todd Phillips
have spoken of the movie as a far more intimate character piece and a study of mental illness
rather than an action film about a killer clown squirting acid at cops out of flowers
on his lapel, surrounded by henchmen. It will, however, take place in Batman’s fictional
hometown of Gotham City, complete with some familiar landmarks, although it seems to be
a more realistic one than what we might be used to. The trailer has a few shots outside and inside
Arkham State Hospital, which is a much more real-world version of Arkham Asylum than we’ve
seen in other Batman media. In the comics, cartoons, and video games,
Arkham often appears as an impossible nightmare that looks like a gothic mansion that you
would expect to show up in an old Dracula movie. The Arkham of Joker looks more like what you’d
find in the real world. It’s a “State Hospital” rather than an “Asylum,”
a term that fell out of favor decades ago. Fleck appears to be walking there across a
city street, whereas in most portrayals it’s out in the middle of the wilderness past imposing
wrought iron gates. Phillips wants us to see Fleck in the same
cold, sterile, uncaring bureaucracy the mentally ill have to navigate in our own world, rather
than a place that looks like an immense haunted house with prison cells designed for crocodile
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