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Watch This Before You Go See Joker

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Sep 05, 2019

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  • Considering how singular Joaquin Phoenix's interpretation of the Joker promises to be, it's probably
  • a good idea to know a little bit about the character's long history to fully appreciate
  • what's different about his depiction.
  • Here's everything you need to know before watching 2019's Joker.
  • Since his debut in 1940 's Batman #1, the Joker has been Batman's most popular and enduring
  • arch-nemesis.
  • As a result, he's appeared opposite every big-screen version of the Caped Crusader's
  • adventures since 1966's Batman: The Movie.
  • While the character's popularity has remained consistent, the different cinematic Jokers
  • have taken a very different approach to the tone of the character.
  • The version played by Cesar Romero was a perfect fit for the campy, relatively lighthearted
  • world imagined by the TV show.
  • He was portrayed as more of a giggling, over the top bank robber than anything else.
  • When the Joker returned to theaters in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film with Jack Nicholson
  • under the makeup, he was played as something a little more like a murderous performance
  • artist.
  • He was a hitman for the mob with a thing for playing cards right from the beginning of
  • the film - and even killed Bruce Wayne's parents in that version of Batman's origin story - but
  • his dip into the acid gave him a whole new perspective.
  • He not only took over Gotham City's crime families for himself, he also plotted to kill
  • everyone in the city, dosing them with poisonous gas as his masterpiece.
  • Batman: The Animated Series hit television screens in 1992, and the following year saw
  • the theatrical release of an animated movie, Mask of the Phantasm.
  • In both the show and the film, the Joker was played by Mark Hamill, who might be best known
  • from his starring role as Luke Skywalker in a little-known independent film called Star
  • Wars.
  • Hamill's version of the character was beloved by fans, and he kept the role in various animated
  • shows and video games through today, despite flirting with retirement from the part after
  • Batman: Arkham City.
  • 2008 brought us The Dark Knight, and Heath Ledger's unforgettable, Academy Award-winning
  • performance.
  • This time, unlike Burton and Nicholson's take, the Joker had no origin story, and even told
  • conflicting versions of his history to different characters throughout the film.
  • "My father was a drinker."
  • He billed himself as an "agent of chaos," with intricate, clockwork plans that were
  • designed to destroy any sense of morality that Batman had returned to his city.
  • With the launch of DC's movie universe, we got another version of the Joker in Suicide
  • Squad, which saw Jared Leto apparently going full method actor in order to embrace the
  • Joker's sinister personality.
  • In this take, he was a heavily tattooed, unpredictable crime boss with a gift for manipulating people
  • like his sidekick, Harley Quinn, a character who had originally appeared in the animated
  • series and rose to incredible popularity in the decades since.
  • With that many different portrayals - not to mention all of the different interpretations
  • of the Joker that have appeared in comic books over the past 80 years - the idea that any
  • single actor could be the only "true" Joker is as insane as the character himself.
  • Even with that in mind, though, Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal in the Joker's first-ever solo film
  • promises to be a pretty big departure from what we've seen before.
  • One of the first questions fans were asking when Warner Bros. announced that Phoenix had
  • been cast as the Joker was: what happened to Jared Leto?
  • At one point there were no fewer than six Joker-related films in development with Leto
  • still attached for some of them.
  • Were the filmmakers just replacing Leto and being coy about it?
  • The answer: Leto's Joker and Phoenix's Joker aren't the same guy.
  • The Joker of 2019 will not be part of the DC's movie universe - it's a standalone film
  • and has nothing to do with Suicide Squad, 2017's Justice League, 2021's The Batman,
  • or any other DC films.
  • That actually may have something to do with why Phoenix accepted the lead in Joker.
  • He came close to playing Doctor Strange, turned down the role of Superman's nemesis Lex Luthor,
  • and auditioned for the part of the Red Skull in 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger,
  • but never wound up appearing in any of those movies.
  • The major difference between those roles and the role of Joker is that signing up for Lex
  • or Strange would have obligated Phoenix to appear in other movies.
  • With the new Joker film being billed as a stand-alone, character-driven drama rather
  • than a franchise blockbuster, Phoenix can play the character without signing on for
  • a sprawling series of superhero movies.
  • One of the things that makes this Joker distinct from most other versions is that we're actually
  • learning the name he was born with - Arthur Fleck.
  • It isn't the first time a writer has given the Clown Prince of Crime a proper first and
  • last name.
  • In the Gotham TV series, the Joker is Jeremiah Valeska.
  • In Tim Burton's Batman, Joker is known as Jack Napier, a suitably comic booky pun on
  • "jackanapes," another word for a fool.
  • "You are my number one guy."
  • In most other versions, including the comics canon and the award-winning version in The
  • Dark Knight, however, the Joker goes unnamed.
  • Even in Batman: The Killing Joke - a 1988 graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
  • that includes a Joker origin story - in all of the flashbacks to Joker's past we never
  • learn so much as his first name.
  • "You are my number one guy."
  • We all know Joaquin Phoenix will be Joker's lead, though some fans theorize we'll eventually
  • learn that this particular clown isn't the "real" Joker.
  • He won't be on the screen alone, though, and there are plenty of other interesting names
  • as part of the cast.
  • Appearing as Thomas Wayne is Brett Cullen, a distinguished character actor with a long
  • career in Hollywood beginning in the '80s.
  • What's interesting about his appearance here is that Joker will be Cullen's second Batman-related
  • film - he plays a congressman in 2012's Dark Knight Rises.
  • Frances Conroy plays Fleck's ailing mother Penny.
  • She's perhaps best remembered for her role as Ruth Fisher in HBO's Six Feet Under, but
  • she also has a surprising Bat-related film connection: she played the small but crucial
  • part of Ophelia in 2004's legendarily bad Catwoman.
  • We also see Zazie Beetz briefly in the Joker trailer.
  • Fans will likely remember Beetz's performance as Domino in 2018's Deadpool 2, but in Joker
  • she plays Sophie Dumond - a single mother and Fleck's love interest.
  • One of the most interesting casting choices is that of Robert De Niro as talk show host
  • Murray Franklin.
  • Fans and critics are speculating Joker will in many ways be strongly influenced by Martin
  • Scorsese's 1982 darkly satirical The King of Comedy.
  • De Niro plays a struggling, mentally ill comic in that film, just as Phoenix plays one in
  • Joker.
  • The young Bruce Wayne we see Fleck forcing to smile with his fingers in the trailer is
  • played by Dante Pereira-Olson, and it won't be the first time he's worked with Phoenix.
  • Pereira-Olson was in You Were Never Really Here, where he played the younger version
  • of Phoenix's character - another mentally ill man living with his elderly mother.
  • From what we've seen in the trailer, Joker doesn't seem like an adaptation of any single
  • comic book story.
  • However, there are glimmers of inspiration from specific comics, and at least one aspect
  • of Joker is similar to one of the most influential Joker stories of all time.
  • Written by Alan Moore - famous for Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and other groundbreaking comics
  • of the '80s - and drawn by Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke is memorable for many reasons,
  • one of which is the origin story given to the Joker.
  • We never learn his name, but the younger Joker is an aspiring stand-up comic who can't get
  • a break.
  • No one laughs at his jokes, he isn't making any money, and his young wife has a baby on
  • the way.
  • Desperate, he agrees to go on a heist with some crooks and falls into a vat of chemicals
  • that turn him into the villain we all know.
  • Like this unnamed young Joker, Arthur Fleck seems to be a failed comic, but that may be
  • where the similarities end.
  • Rather than the classic comics origin of a fall into a vat of chemicals, Fleck seems
  • to be a man driven to and beyond the brink by the madness of society, using makeup to
  • adopt the Joker's persona much like Ledger's version did.
  • The other major influence on Joker doesn't come from the comics page.
  • Instead, the visuals we see in the trailer see heavily influenced by The King of Comedy.
  • While it's not as well known as hits like Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, the 1983 collaboration
  • between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro became a cult classic for its portrayal of
  • a struggling comedian who develops a disturbing fixation on a Johnny Carson-esque talk show
  • host.
  • "Mom!”
  • "Take it easy lower it."
  • "I'm not gonna lower it I have to do this now!"
  • De Niro stars as failing comic Rupert Pupkin, while Jerry Lewis plays the very successful
  • Jerry Langford.
  • While he doesn't dress up like a supervillain, like Fleck, Pupkin is portrayed as being mentally
  • ill and the film ends with some ambiguity about whether or not the viewer is experiencing
  • actual events or Pupkin's delusions.
  • Joker is even set in the early '80s, just like The King of Comedy.
  • The influence isn't just evident from the trailer, however.
  • Scorsese himself was originally set to be executive producer for Joker, but left the
  • project due to scheduling issues.
  • Regardless, the final project seems to have his fingerprints all over it.
  • Moviegoers expecting to see the Dark Knight showing up in Joker to face off with his nemesis
  • are bound to be disappointed, but the film isn't entirely free of Batman.
  • We're just seeing him long before he decides to dress up as a bat and spend his evenings
  • fighting criminals.
  • Given that we're getting a young Bruce Wayne and a prominent role for his dad, it's possible
  • that Joker might include the murder that kicks off Batman's own origin story, but whether
  • or not that will actually happen remains to be seen.
  • It's clear, however, that no matter what happens to Thomas and Martha, their son will spend
  • this film a long way from donning his familiar comic book costume.
  • Joker is no superhero movie.
  • Instead, the cast and director Todd Phillips have spoken of the movie as a far more intimate
  • character piece and a study of mental illness rather than an action film about a killer
  • clown squirting acid at cops out of flowers on his lapel, surrounded by henchmen.
  • It will, however, take place in Batman's fictional hometown of Gotham City, complete with some
  • familiar landmarks, although it seems to be a more realistic one than what we might be
  • used to.
  • The trailer has a few shots outside and inside Arkham State Hospital, which is a much more
  • real-world version of Arkham Asylum than we've seen in other Batman media.
  • In the comics, cartoons, and video games, Arkham often appears as an impossible nightmare
  • that looks like a gothic mansion that you would expect to show up in an old Dracula
  • movie.
  • The Arkham of Joker looks more like what you'd find in the real world.
  • It's a "State Hospital" rather than an "Asylum," a term that fell out of favor decades ago.
  • Fleck appears to be walking there across a city street, whereas in most portrayals it's
  • out in the middle of the wilderness past imposing wrought iron gates.
  • Phillips wants us to see Fleck in the same cold, sterile, uncaring bureaucracy the mentally
  • ill have to navigate in our own world, rather than a place that looks like an immense haunted
  • house with prison cells designed for crocodile men.
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Considering how singular Joaquin Phoenix'sinterpretation of the Joker promises to be, it's probably a good idea to know a little bit about the character's long history to fully appreciate what's different about his depiction. Here's everything you need to know before watching 2019's Joker.

Since his debut in 1940 's Batman #1, the Joker has been Batman's most popular and enduring arch-nemesis. As a result, he's appeared opposite every big-screen version of the Caped Crusader's adventures since 1966's Batman: The Movie.

While the character's popularity has remained consistent, the different cinematic Jokers have taken a very different approach to the tone of the character. The version played by Cesar Romero was a perfect fit for the campy, relatively lighthearted world imagined by the TV show. He was portrayed as more of a giggling, over the top bank robber than anything else.

When the Joker returned to theaters in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film with Jack Nicholson under the makeup, he was played as something a little more like a murderous performance artist. He was a hitman for the mob with a thing for playing cards right from the beginning of the film - and even killed Bruce Wayne's parents in that version of Batman's origin story - but his dip into the acid gave him a whole new perspective. He not only took over Gotham City's crime families for himself, he also plotted to kill everyone in the city, dosing them with poisonous gas as his masterpiece.

Batman: The Animated Series hit television screens in 1992, and the following year saw the theatrical release of an animated movie, Mask of the Phantasm. In both the show and the film, the Joker was played by Mark Hamill, who might be best known from his starring role as Luke Skywalker in a little-known independent film called Star Wars. Hamill's version of the character was beloved by fans, and he kept the role in various animated shows and video games through today, despite flirting with retirement from the part after Batman: Arkham City.

2008 brought us The Dark Knight, and Heath Ledger's unforgettable, Academy Award-winning performance. This time, unlike Burton and Nicholson's take, the Joker had no origin story, and even told conflicting versions of his history to different characters throughout the film.

He billed himself as an "agent of chaos," with intricate, clockwork plans that were designed to destroy any sense of morality that Batman had returned to his city.

With the launch of DC's movie universe, we got another version of the Joker in Suicide Squad, which saw Jared Leto apparently going full method actor in order to embrace the Joker's sinister personality. In this take, he was a heavily tattooed, unpredictable crime boss with a gift for manipulating people like his sidekick, Harley Quinn, a character who had originally appeared in the animated series and rose to incredible popularity in the decades since.

With that many different portrayals - not to mention all of the different interpretations of the Joker that have appeared in comic books over the past 80 years - the idea that any single actor could be the only "true" Joker is as insane as the character himself. Even with that in mind, though, Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal in the Joker's first-ever solo film promises to be a pretty big departure from what we've seen before. Make sure you watch this before you go see Joker!

The Joker legacy | #
A different kind of criminal | #
What's in a name? | #
The cast | #
Unexpected influences | #
Li'l Batman? | #
Not your usual comic book movie | #