Warner Bros. just finished its annual presentation at CinemaCon and yada, yada, yada… Joker looks fucking incredible. That’s what I tweeted an hour ago, and I’m standing by that insightful assessment. Don’t worry, you’re all going to be able to watch the Joker trailer tomorrow, so if you want to go in fresh then stop reading right now. Those who dare to continue, spoilers lie ahead.
The trailer, set to Jimmy Durante’s “Smile,” opens on a happy note, with Joaquin Phoenix explaining to a therapist that his mother always told him to “smile and put on a happy face,” and that he always believed his purpose was “to bring laughter and joy to the world.” Ostensibly, that’s why he becomes a comedian, but things don’t exactly work on that front, and things start to sour quickly. It’s not long before Arthur wonders, “is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” We see Arthur being beaten on a subway train as his assailants call him a “freak.” We’re told that “Gotham has lost its way.” We hear someone, possibly Thomas Wayne, say “What kind of coward would do something that cold-blooded? Someone who hides behind a mask.” Or maybe someone else recites the second sentence. It happened so fast, and to be honest, I was trying to enjoy the moment.
As the trailer goes on, the tone gets progressively darker, even as Arthur says “I used to think my life was a tragedy, but now I realize… it’s a comedy,” and by the end, it feels like we’ve seen Arthur embrace his dark side and become the criminal mastermind known as Joker. As I referenced earlier, this is a film that seems to be a ’70s-esque character study of a man trying to find his purpose in life. He thought it was one thing, but it turns out to be quite another.
Regular viewers of Collider Movie Talk will know that I’m not a big comic book movie kind of guy, but this is my kind of comic book movie. If I had to choose between a ticket to this film and something like Avengers: Endgame, I’ll take Joker every damn time. I’m excited to see a movie like this really delve into the mind of its lead character and examine what makes him tick. I’m more interested in a comic book character’s psyche, damaged or otherwise, than I am in seeing jaw-dropping feats of physical strength repeated ad nauseam on the big screen. Director Todd Phillips doesn’t seem interested in that kind of movie either. He’d rather probe the depths of the criminal mind, and the Joker makes for quite the canvas.
Clearly, Joker is much, much darker than other DC movies like Aquaman and Shazam!, and it also appears to stand on its own, rather than be a part of the larger DCEU. Some on Twitter caught a Taxi Driver vibe from the trailer, and that’s a fair comparison, as Phillips seems to be channeling his inner Scorsese here. Even though his main character might disagree, Phillips emphasized that he sees the movie as a tragedy, and thinks Phoenix would agree.
It’s worth noting that I did catch a brief glimpse of Brian Tyree Henry in the trailer, and I don’t believe his casting was ever announced before, so that’s exciting. I’m also looking forward to seeing where Zazie Beetz fits into this urban hellscape, as the trailer positions her as a possible love interest of sorts for Arthur. And we’re all excited to see Robert De Niro in action as a TV host who may play a part in Arthur’s unraveling.
Warner Bros. will release Joker on Oct. 4 and I can’t wait to see Phillips and Phoenix’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime. Stay tuned for more stories from CinemaCon, including our take on the rest of WB’s presentation, which featured new footage from Doctor Sleep and the sequels to both Wonder Woman and It.