Any origin story for the Joker would have to be creepy, but Todd Phillips’s take on the classic comic book villain is going the extra mile to make the narrative as dark as it can be. Joker, which by the looks of the first teaser trailer follows the development of the DC Comics villain and Batman nemesis as he walks through the city of Gotham as a sign-spinning clown and takes care of his ailing mother (played by Frances Conroy), stars Joaquin Phoenix in the famed role. Phoenix’s Joker is a dogged outcast who is continually beat down by the citizens of Gotham and determined to laugh and smile (quite sinisterly) through the pain. It looks well-made, but hopefully this portrayal does not valorize a villain who is known for being a psychopath who terrorizes an entire city of people.
After Phoenix’s casting was initially announced, many fans of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight were skeptical that Phoenix could pull off playing the role that won Heath Ledger a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, but during a CinemaCon screening of the official trailer, the doubters were transformed. Critics raved about Phoenix’s creepy character study in the film, even comparing his work to Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Many Jokers have come before him, including versions played by Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero, but Phoenix’s Joker already appears to be leaps and bounds more thoughtful and much less of a lampoon than Jared Leto’s version in Suicide Squad.
Joker will not prominently feature any tête-à-têtes between Batman and the Joker at Arkham Asylum. In this version of the story, which appears to possibly take place in the 1970s, Bruce Wayne (played by Dante Pereira-Olson) is too young to be the Joker’s archrival. Instead, his father Thomas Wayne is still alive and running things in the city of Gotham.
Robert De Niro joins the DC cinematic universe as Murray Franklin, a talk show host and possible antagonist of the Joker. Zazie Beetz plays Sophie Dumont, a potential love interest, and fellow Atlanta star Brian Tyree Henry can be spotted in the trailer as an orderly at Arkham Asylum.
“I used to think my life was a tragedy, but now I realize it’s a comedy,” the Joker says near the end of the trailer. Well, comedy is often considered to be tragedy plus time, so perhaps in due time audiences will be laughing right along with the Joker on October 4, but for now, he is sufficiently disturbing.