News

Joker Teaser Trailer: 5 Things We Learned About Joaquin Phoenix's Take on Gotham's Baddest

The first trailer reveals a physical transformation, a sympathetic direction, and a look and feel that owes much to Scorsese.

by | April 3, 2019 | Comments

It seemed like such a joke at first. In the summer of 2017, word broke that Warner Bros. Pictures was developing a standalone Joker origin movie with director Todd Phillips while still planning a continuing story with Jared Leto as the Joker from Suicide Squad. And then Joaquin Phoenix emerged as the lead, photos emerged of the production being shot, and fans started getting excited. Joker is coming out in October and the teaser released by the studio on Wednesday proved something key: this approach could work. But we also gleaned a few other things from the trailer and its very different take on the Clown Prince of Crime.


The Film Has A Vintage Look

Joker

(Photo by @ Warner Bros. Pictures)

From the first second, the teaser shows that Joker will look different. The glossier color grading of films like Aquaman and the animated quality of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice have been replaced with an older aesthetic derived from the stripped-down crime dramas the studio produced in the 1970s. While still cleaner than Taxi Driver or Serpico, it is clear Phillips wants to invoke the rundown feel of New York captured in those films for his vision of Gotham City.

Of course, those WB-produced films achieved that look by simply going on location and shooting a city in decline, so Joker’s rundown Gotham will look a little artificial. Nonetheless, it still has a sense of place with real exteriors and a mundane-looking Arkham Asylum. While the Dark Knight trilogy tried the stripped-down approach, it never aimed for the 1970s level of grit seen Joker‘s subways and alleys. It definitely sets the film apart from Joker’s other cinematic appearances.


Joaquin Phoenix Transforms Into A Classical Joker

Joker

(Photo by @ Warner Bros. Pictures)

Reportedly, Phoenix lost 50 lbs. for the role. And as seen in certain shots of his back, the transformation is startling. A wiry Joker is not a new idea. That rendition of the character is all over the Batman: Arkham video game series and is a constant design choice in the comics with artists like Jim Aparo and Brian Bolland giving him impossible proportions. But in getting into this “fighting weight,” Phoenix’s whole face takes on the angular visage that artists in comics, animation, and games have been giving the character for decades.

It is probably why he so instantly looked the part in those early costume tests the studio released.

Of course, lanky proportions are not required when bringing the character to the screen as Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger proved. And once you add the suit into the mix, the actor’s dedication to a skinny body gets lost under layers of clothing. Nonetheless, Phoenix’s commitment to changing himself into that classic Joker body is commendable. At the same time, we hope he’s enjoyed a good meal or two since production wrapped.


Arthur Fleck Is Sympathetic

Joker

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

As the landmark graphic novel The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Bolland established, the Joker is unknowable — even to himself. Part of what makes him Batman’s nemesis is the lack of a simple motivation or even a genuine history. In the 1989 Batman, the character receives an origin as a Gotham City mob enforcer who only turns to theatrics when his boss betrays him and Batman lets him fall into a vat of chemicals. In The Dark Knight, he arrives in town fully formed, but we learn almost nothing about him. This approach was lauded because it skews so close to the comics: the Joker is a force of nature.

But now we have Arthur Fleck.

In one of the most critical departures from the established comic book canon, Joker sets out to give him a relatable and concrete history. He’s a failed comedian, down on his luck and, as the shot of his notebook reveals, suffering from some sort of mental illness.

We also see him being good to his mother, Penny (Frances Conroy), and having a genuine moment with Zazie Beetz’s Sophie. Also, we witness him getting kicked to the curb a lot by Gotham scum of both the blue- and white-collar varieties. The end result is a Joker who is knowable and, ultimately, relatable. He has to be if he is the protagonist of the story. But in doing so, the movie opens up the possibility of the character being viewed as a hero, a thematic choice it must apply carefully and consciously position for its tragic consequences.


Thomas Wayne Is A Loudmouth

Thomas Wayne - Joker

(Photo by @ Warner Bros. Pictures)

At one point, rumors surfaced indicating that Alec Baldwin would play a version of Thomas Wayne more akin to a certain publicity-hungry 1980s land developer than the caring patron of the city we usually see. Considering Baldwin is known for playing a parody of that land developer, the casting suggested the film might have a broader tone than the one we are seeing in the teaser.

And to that end, the preview offers a glimpse of Thomas Wayne. Played by The Dark Knight Rises veteran Brett Cullen, we see Bruce’s father is more than happy to appear on TV and decry the latest string of Gotham City calamities. Of course, his key statement — “What kind of coward would do so something that cold-blooded? Someone who hides behind a mask.” — is an obvious joke about the Batman, but the overall context of his morning talk show appearance is clear.

But it is also clear Wayne will be a little more nuanced than the broad caricature some may have expected during Baldwin’s very brief association with the project. In fact, the tone of the film as presented in the teaser is a far cry from anything one might have expected from The Hangover director Phillips. The apparent seriousness on display, ironically, makes it all the more compelling.


It Is A Love Letter To The King Of Comedy

Joker

(Photo by @ Warner Bros. Pictures)

At the same time, Phillips is not forgetting his comedy roots. In fact, the film seems to derive a lot of its soul from Martin Scorsese’s 1982 film, The King of Comedy. In it, Robert De Niro plays a sad-sack, failed comedian whose obsession with a Johnny Carson-esque late-night talk show host (Jerry Lewis) leads to kidnapping and, surprisingly, the character’s best chance at stardom.

De Niro’s one appearance in the teaser in front of a multi-colored curtain — a la Carson’s monologue backdrop in the 1970s and early 1980s — invokes the look and tone of King of Comedy. The parallel is pointed and no doubt one of the film’s early selling points. Getting De Niro to essentially play the Lewis role gives the film a very different association from its comic-book trappings.

Also consider the banner for Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times seen in the trailer. That film is a comedy classic with a number of pointed comments about the workaday world crushing the little guy. Sure, Joker is still a comic book movie, but it is pulling ideas and influences from a wide array of sources.

The fact most of these sources are ultimately owned by WarnerMedia may even be a joke in itself.

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.


Joker is in theaters October 4, 2019

#1

Joker (2019)
68%

#1
Adjusted Score: 105540%
Critics Consensus: Joker gives its infamous central character a chillingly plausible origin story that serves as a brilliant showcase for its star -- and a dark evolution for comics-inspired cinema.
Synopsis: Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur... [More]
Directed By: Todd Phillips

Tag Cloud

IFC MTV San Diego Comic-Con mutant DC Comics werewolf theme song Nickelodeon crime drama Hallmark trailers BAFTA science fiction Amazon Prime Video jamie lee curtis binge TV One worst Star Trek cancelled TV shows Arrowverse Oscars BET Awards A24 Fox Searchlight The Academy king kong facebook ghosts ESPN films TV movies Fargo talk show feel good discovery 007 HBO Max Action mockumentary stand-up comedy Mystery TBS travel women X-Men chucky fresh Super Bowl game of thrones renewed TV shows ABC Signature composers Comedy Central aliens Western miniseries Set visit black comedy Musical Ellie Kemper indiana jones emmy awards Hulu breaking bad 72 Emmy Awards Logo Adult Swim cancelled TV series Freeform Baby Yoda live event satire mission: impossible Mudbound Rock Opinion Wes Anderson AMC Plus FXX football Image Comics biopic Interview Heroines indie nfl Sci-Fi Musicals elevated horror cops rotten movies we love twilight Video Games BBC America Crunchyroll war Character Guide new zealand documentary olympics Academy Awards Netflix Christmas movies Reality disaster book adaptation CBS All Access Discovery Channel Song of Ice and Fire YouTube ID target Cosplay 2016 action-comedy basketball name the review E! Schedule historical drama 2018 History rt labs critics edition canceled TV shows Avengers Spike Trivia VH1 TLC dceu batman PaleyFest dc Toys romance christmas movies streaming movies ABC Family scary movies saw Hallmark Christmas movies zombies parents posters comic book movies zombie psycho toronto critic resources Countdown Disney Paramount 99% WarnerMedia Bravo Chernobyl Mary poppins Watching Series SDCC rotten BBC Brie Larson A&E harry potter Music sag awards Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Sneak Peek nbcuniversal a nightmare on elm street RT History Epix TCM dark Certified Fresh diversity Food Network Family The Purge Lifetime Christmas movies suspense psychological thriller Country VOD crime thriller cats AMC die hard Superheroe hispanic hist Marathons 90s spain comic books razzies know your critic adaptation Shudder TV renewals dramedy 45 Black Mirror godzilla supernatural Disney streaming service Holidays Summer zero dark thirty 2015 New York Comic Con gangster documentaries ViacomCBS festivals Premiere Dates classics video children's TV debate Paramount Network unscripted TV Disney+ Disney Plus Ghostbusters Awards festival versus Universal Pictures cartoon screenings Turner Marvel Television NYCC Pop spider-man kids PlayStation Awards Tour Horror james bond See It Skip It BET halloween cancelled television Comedy hollywood Paramount Plus reboot SundanceTV technology Fox News VICE superhero CBS USA police drama remakes Tumblr Comic-Con@Home 2021 OWN slasher MSNBC dreamworks high school Endgame adventure CNN Quiz Grammys docudrama dexter scary YA Ovation National Geographic 1990s spider-verse Pixar Acorn TV Hear Us Out Podcast casting Christmas golden globes award winner Mary Tyler Moore Animation scorecard french FX on Hulu worst movies new york royal family 24 frames sequels TIFF Exclusive Video telelvision ABC scene in color Trailer PBS 4/20 Film Festival sitcom Legendary witnail Pacific Islander Britbox Neflix Pride Month 21st Century Fox young adult new star wars movies El Rey Disney Channel Pet Sematary Extras laika Sundance Now Comics on TV Anna Paquin prank period drama Amazon Prime Lucasfilm spanish reviews game show biography boxing Tomatazos dogs Columbia Pictures child's play japan Creative Arts Emmys vampires Women's History Month Travel Channel 93rd Oscars Classic Film sequel toy story mob docuseries best HBO Go doctor who hispanic heritage month YouTube Premium Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Pop TV Box Office king arthur international Instagram Live Reality Competition screen actors guild joker monster movies cinemax heist movie jurassic park Pirates asian-american sports Crackle Sony Pictures all-time Emmy Nominations MCU book Captain marvel legend mcc CMT Funimation Red Carpet Elton John ratings comics stoner Martial Arts justice league medical drama ITV Masterpiece Alien television Fall TV Amazon Comic Book DC streaming service Kids & Family Disney Plus Superheroes serial killer Vudu richard e. Grant superman cooking obituary Trophy Talk Dark Horse Comics 2021 2017 Spectrum Originals blaxploitation Syfy APB Apple TV+ deadpool The Walt Disney Company genre japanese marvel cinematic universe Television Critics Association anime Film Photos First Look nature Thanksgiving crime Stephen King Tarantino canceled social media Sundance Apple 73rd Emmy Awards Infographic Cannes based on movie concert leaderboard video on demand adenture TCA 2017 critics 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards what to watch lord of the rings revenge Nominations Tubi venice italian E3 IFC Films TNT true crime Binge Guide BBC One USA Network movies LGBT DirecTV space Mindy Kaling anthology spinoff black 20th Century Fox Shondaland Year in Review President RT21 romantic comedy SXSW CW Seed Turner Classic Movies archives rt archives australia Netflix Nat Geo free movies news FX NBC blockbusters Spring TV series Fantasy Best and Worst halloween tv GLAAD pirates of the caribbean GIFs finale green book cancelled Peacock rom-coms YouTube Red south america strong female leads Lionsgate foreign Lifetime Winners robots WGN latino Starz OneApp rt labs tv talk Sundance TV The Witch IMDb TV comedies popular live action GoT Election dragons comic book movie Television Academy Emmys TCA Winter 2020 politics directors stop motion Broadway universal monsters 71st Emmy Awards criterion The Arrangement sopranos Walt Disney Pictures crossover TCA Awards spanish language Teen Winter TV cars The CW hidden camera Rom-Com LGBTQ Showtime FOX transformers natural history aapi Tokyo Olympics thriller Amazon Studios slashers golden globe awards Esquire Mary Poppins Returns Black History Month Calendar TV Land Valentine's Day singing competition quibi Warner Bros. wonder woman movie Universal 2020 Rocketman Marvel Studios Cartoon Network Polls and Games vs. DGA DC Universe The Walking Dead Apple TV Plus Drama animated political drama Star Wars boxoffice franchise kong Holiday NBA marvel comics kaiju American Society of Cinematographers HBO trophy spy thriller TruTV Biopics Rocky teaser cults art house TCA independent streaming First Reviews Marvel blockbuster comiccon fast and furious comic Writers Guild of America 2019