By Karl Hughes
It’s been a tough few years for DC Comics and Warner Bros. Their rushed attempt at a cinematic universe fell very short, and has only recently started to claw back some lost goodwill.
With a seemingly uncertain future, the next film to appear under this mist of mediocrity is Joker.
The Clown Prince of Crime is getting an origin film, in a timeline that keeps it far away from Jared Leto’s impression seen in Suicide Squad.
While there is still plenty of mystery surrounding this film and how it came to be, there is also a lot of information to get our teeth into. So if you’re wondering what the hell this Joker film is, here’s everything you need to know.
Who’s in it?
The first surprise about Joker is that it’s gathered such a prestigious cast. The formidable and always amazing Joaquin Phoenix was a shock announcement.
Hot off the heels of last year’s fantastic You Were Never Really Here, the three-time Academy Award nominee seems to be bringing the same A-game he brings to everything.
On a shortlist of dream casting for a comic villain, Phoenix is certainly hovering at the top of the list, and his casting as the Joker is a stellar achievement.
He’s not alone either. Robert De Niro has finally agreed to be in a comicbook movie. Who he’s playing yet isn’t quite clear, but it seems as if his character (and the story itself) isn’t going to be a million miles away from the failed comedian he portrayed in the classic King of Comedy.
Joining this pair is Zazie Beetz, who you may recognise from her fantastic portrayal of Domino in Deadpool 2.
Wait, Jared Leto isn’t the Joker?
This film is a standalone movie that has no links to anything else. That means it can distance itself from the abysmal music video that was Suicide Squad.
This low budget origin story is an Elseworlds tale, meaning that it’s in no way related to anything that’s gone before.
That also means we’re still (in theory) getting Leto’s Joker back at some point in Suicide Squad 2, Gotham City Sirens, a separate film about the Joker and Harley Quinn, and even a standalone Joker film Leto is producing.
These films are far more likely to fade into the ether than ever see the light of day, especially if the Phoenix Joker is a huge hit.
Is Batman in it?
Although the comics clearly link the emergence of the Jester of Genocide with the first year of Batman’s appearance in Gotham City, this film has decided to take place long before the caped crusader pulls on his first pair of tights.
However, a young Bruce Wayne and the still living Thomas and Martha Wayne do have roles to play. Thomas Wayne might even have had an affair with the Joker’s mum, making him Batman’s half-brother. This rumour has not gone down well with fans, but then again, not a lot has.
Fun fact, Alec Baldwin was originally in the running to play Thomas Wayne, but pulled out after supposed ‘scheduling issues’.
The real reason is suspected to be the fact that Thomas Wayne in this film is supposedly drawn from real-life clown Donald Trump, and Baldwin was probably not keen on being typecast.
Who is the director?
Joker is being directed by Todd Phillips. If you don’t know the name, you’ve probably seen a few of his films, especially if you’re a fan of slapstick.
The Hangover trilogy, Starsky and Hutch, and films like Road Trip might not be very promising hints as to his ability to tell a dark and twisted examination into the psyche of one of pop culture’s most recognisable villains.
In fairness, Phillips also directed the excellent War Dogs, which was a tonal shift in style that bodes well for Joker.
He’s got some high-calibre help too. His writing partner is Scott Silver, the man behind 8 Mile, The Fighter, and The Finest Hours. That’s a good list of solid storytelling, and the combination of comedic timing from Phillips and gritty realism from Silver could result in the definitive Joker story with just the right amount of disturbing atmosphere.
It’s easy to get disgruntled by the fact this film seems to be taking an existing character and changing everything possible about him. They could just as easily have made a film about a man gone mad due to society, but when Warner Bros. has got an intellectual property as identifiable as the Joker, they prefer to flog it to death.
Whether you’re annoyed by the lack of Jared Leto, the dropping of Batfleck, or the mess of the DCEU as a whole, the fact is that there’s enough talent, and enough potential, for this film to smash it out of the park.
How will it be influenced by the comics?
Maybe experimenting is the only way forward for Warner Bros. and DC. Their attempt at creating any kind of coherent tied universe has just been awkward.
Joker takes inspiration from Scorcese and the classic Alan Moore Batman story The Killing Joke, but is different enough to leave us wondering why it’s even linked to either. Even Phillips has said that comic fans are going to be unhappy with the end result saying they haven’t followed the comicbooks.
When they’ve gone so far as to even give the Clown Prince of Crime a name (Arthur Fleck), the fear is that this incarnation of the Harlequin of Hate will be so different from the source and traditions of one of the most iconic villains in history, it will detract from any future attempts to do him well.
But with an R rating, there’s going to be some room for a bit of horror in there. For a psychological journey into the mind of Gotham’s Clown of Chaos, a 15 rating here in the UK will suffice.
Does the Joker as a character need an origin story?
Absolutely not. Is it cool to see DC trying something different? Absolutely.
They certainly aren’t being shy about showing us what to expect. Director Phillips has been happily showing off behind the scenes pics and video tests all over his Instagram page.
An with a release date of October 4th in the UK, Joker has a clear run for a week or two. It’s only box office competition on release is the Ang Lee/Will Smith vehicle Gemini Man, and the Amy Adams film The Woman in the Window.
If Joker is any good and lands well, it still faces a tough challenge in the following weeks with the release of the highly anticipated Zombieland 2 and the animated Addams Family reboot. But with a budget of just $55 million, it doesn’t need to try too hard to make its money back.
With a fearless actor and a director with everything to prove, there’s a lot to hope for. Wary optimism is the right way of looking at this film. If it works, it could be the start of a whole new direction for Warner Bors and DC, and we are excited to see what that could be.
Put on a happy face on 4th October when Joker hits UK cinemas.