Yesterday, at CinemaCon, Warner Brothers showed the first trailer for an upcoming release – The Joker, which stars Joaquin Phoenix and will open in October. The movie is going to be an origin story for the iconic Batman villain, and will be set in the 80’s, long before the DC universe as we know it: however, this may not be such a bad thing, as the DC universe is currently going through some renovations, to say the least, and the whole idea of a shared universe with all the DC characters is becoming more and more unlikely with every passing day – most recently, the Wonder Woman creative team have made headlines with their repeated statements that their next film, Wonder Woman 1984, won’t be a sequel: it will be a stand-alone film, for the stand-alone Wonder Woman universe, which apparently doesn’t actually exist in the DCEU proper – it’s all getting very confusing. Actually, it’s interesting to note that Wonder Woman 1984 and The Joker both take place in the 80’s, though I doubt there will be any connection. It’s unclear if The Joker will even have any connection to Matt Reeves’ Batman movie, which is still very much a top-secret project.
Anyway. Getting back to The Joker itself: the thing is, this movie clearly doesn’t want to fit into the DCEU at all. Just based from this trailer, we can see that this movie looks to be all the things that, at the moment, the DCEU is steering away from – dark and gritty realism with a dash of the macabre. It only makes sense when dealing with a character like the Joker: unpredictable, dangerous, defying expectations. We see in this trailer, in fact, the makings of a movie so unlike any previous comic book movie that I would not be shocked if it gets nominated for some Oscars next year – of course, it’s far too early to say that for certain, but it is definitely worth keeping an eye on. Black Panther was able to score a nomination for Best Picture this year: could The Joker be the next comic book movie to do so?
It might seem presumptuous to say “yes”, but take a look at this trailer: this is an intricate and profound character study of Arthur Fleck, the man who will become the Joker – there is sadness here, and a grim and unflinching portrait of a man scarred by emotional trauma. This Joker is not stylized or done up to fulfill comic book fans’ expectations: this Joker is stricken to the core by pain and anguish, he is depressed, tortured, on the brink of taking his own life. He has a job as a sign spinner outside a bankrupt store, where he dresses like a clown, intent on bringing “laughter and joy to the world”. He is robbed and beaten up, and even ends up at the Arkham State Hospital, an iconic location in Gotham City. The locale looks like the New York City of the late 70’s and early 80’s, and its brutality is also reminiscent of that period.
But Arthur Fleck finds purpose in a new life – a life of crime, that gives him the opportunity to be free, careless, independent. He who once ran from the police now hounds them. He who once hid in the shadows now makes a dramatic entrance at a protest, somersaulting down a flight of steps. He who once slouched over, dressed in dark clothes, trudging through the filthy streets, now dons a new outfit: the painted smile, the green wig, the brightly colored suit. He no longer slouches – now, he leaps over taxi-cabs and strides elegantly down hallways, dancing for the great audience all around him, the people of Gotham. “I used to think that my life was a tragedy,” he says. “But now I realize it’s a comedy.”
And the people embrace him and take him as their figurehead in their rebellion against the forces of law and order. This is not a movie about a supervillain, this is a movie about a man who just happens to become a supervillain: it’s almost like historical fiction, uncovering the truth behind this classic character of comic book mythology and delving deep into his troubled psyche.
There is, however, one hint that may or may not indicate a connection to the wider DCEU – there is a scene, near the end of the trailer, of the Joker meeting a young boy, though the two are separated by the bars of a metal gate. This boy may not be the young Bruce Wayne, but there’s a strong chance that he is.
So no, aside from that one hint (that may not even be a hint), The Joker does not have a connection yet to the DCEU. But it doesn’t need one. It is entirely its own thing, its own bizarre and beautiful being, and it stands alone. The DCEU is moving towards being a fun, family-friendly environment – this stands out as a dark, harsh exception. But this movie (at least from the trailer) seems almost to enjoy and embrace its complete uniqueness.
Trailer Rating: 8.5/10