Plans (and desires) for a standalone Joker movie have been rife for many years. Those plans will finally be coming to fruition in October of next year when Todd Phillips takes the directing and co-writing job on ‘Joker’ (catchy title). With Joaquin Phoenix’s first make-up test being released, I thought I’d look into what we know about what is already one of the most anticipated films of 2019 (after Avengers Pt. 4 and Star Wars Ep. IX).
Announcements for the film were first made in August of 2017, with Martin Scorsese potentially attached to produce, but ultimately it appears he has stepped down from the project. Todd Phillips (known for directing The Hangover Trilogy and War Dogs, among others) was announced to be directing the film, as well as co-writing it with Scott Silver. Initially, with Scorsese involved, there were plans that Warner Bros. would cast Leonardo DiCaprio as The Joker, but director Phillips announced that Phoenix was always his first choice for the role, and in July 2018, he was cast as the Joker and the film was officially green-lit. Joining the cast are the likes of Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz and Bill Camp as Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father. Initially Alec Baldwin was cast as Wayne, but he left the project, tweeting that “I have NOT been hired to play a role in Todd Phillips’ Joker as some Donald Trump manqué”. This perhaps gives some insight into what Thomas Wayne’s character will be like and how he will fit into the story.
The film has been announced to be a Crime Horror film, and will possibly have an R rating as it tells the origin story of a failed stand-up comedian who is driven insane and becomes a psychopathic murderer. This feels like a fantastic direction to take the Joker, and it appears we will get a glimpse into the psychology of the Joker and what made him who he was in better ways than we have before. Granted there are certain reservations with this narrative. It is widely accepted that Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is the best on screen (though Jack Nicolson is close second). However, what made him stand out was the fact his character arrived late and left early in his story arc. He was a fully fleshed out character when we first see him, and through the film we learn little of his motivations other than to cause chaos. With ‘Joker’ giving such a definitive back-story, there are potentials that the knowledge of back story and motivations will lessen the intensity and fear of the character, but hopefully this will not be the case.
What is exciting is that the film has a relatively small budget for a film starring DC Comics standout villain. Admittedly $55 million is a lot, but compared to the $300 million being spent on the likes of Avengers or Justice League, it is refreshing to be getting a film that appears to be more focused on the dark story than providing huge set pieces that do nothing to progress the narrative. Elsewhere in the production, Lawrence Sher, regular collaborator with Todd Phillips will provide the cinematography and Hildur Guðnadóttir, fresh off composing for ‘Sicario 2: Soldado’, will score the film. This provides another insight into the tone, as Hildur is known for creating intense, brooding scores and this will perhaps mean a deep and unsettling film will ultimately occur.
I must say that I am tremendously excited about this film and will eagerly be following it’s production. The first makeup tests have shown the Joker keeping his iconic red lips and green hair, but taking a far more sinister, clown paint look. It is clear that Joaquin Phoenix is an astonishing actor who brings depth to every character he plays, and I have no doubts that ‘Joker’ will add another fine string to his bow. After the characters last appearance in the questionable Suicide Squad, this film seems to finally be giving the Joker another outing worthy of his legacy, and I for one cannot wait!