Production is underway on DC Comics’ latest standalone film, a plot that focuses on an origin story of one of their most notorious villains – The Joker. While filming is in its early days, there has been plenty of test footage and ‘leaks’ revealed to the public giving an insight into Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the character.
Those who are familiar with The Killing Joke graphic novel will know this story has been done before and was brought to life in 2016’s underwhelming animated adaptation. However, Todd Phillip’s take on the character won’t feature the Bat, as the story is set before Bruce Wayne’s transformation into the caped vigilante.
Phillips takes the helm in the director’s seat for the film and co-writes with Scott Silver, a somewhat unlikely duo. Phillips is known for his work in comedy, having helped produced The Hangover trilogy, while arguably Silver’s last project of this magnitude was 2010’s The Fighter. Some fans have been understandably taken aback upon discovering who’s behind the dramatic and thrilling story.
Another surprising casting was that of Phoenix for the leading role. When news began to circulate that DC were considering a Joker standalone movie, my first hope was that Jared Leto would be nowhere near the project and my second was that Willem Dafoe would be perfect for the role. His menacing performance as the Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man would translate seamlessly to the disturbing psychopath that is the Joker. The reality is though, Dafoe is 63-years-old, whereas Phoenix is only approaching his 44th birthday. An older portrayal of the Joker is not necessarily a bad thing but for an origin story it seems Phoenix was the smart choice.
So, what do we know about the project so far? Batman won’t feature in this story but one of the more surprising revelations is that the Joker has been given a name – Arthur Fleck. This is surprising as the character has never been given a name before his transformation into the Joker. Even in The Killing Joke, in sequences where we see him as a failing comedian, his name is never revealed. Another noticeable detail to the character’s new name is that it can be abbreviated to A. Fleck which is very similar to that of Ben Affleck – the most recent actor to take on the role of Batman. Perhaps this is just a coincidence but fans haven’t let it go unnoticed.
I think what has everyone talking is Phoenix’s makeup for the character. When I saw the test footage, my initial reaction was to doubt that it could be the final form. However, footage from a scene was ‘leaked’ to the press alongside several high-quality images with Phoenix in the same makeup. My opinion was quickly swayed when I saw Phoenix in character. Even if it was for a few seconds in a scene taken out of context, the makeup matched the psychotic nature of the character as he’s seen smiling walking away from the chaos.
For this film to be a success for me, from the first act to the final, Arthur Fleck must be destroyed. What makes the Joker so disturbing is that he wakes up as unhinged as he is when he gets into his bed at night. I don’t think there can be any remorse for his actions in the later stages of the film if it’s truly going to do the character justice. Surely the Joker can only truly flourish when the mind of Arthur Fleck has been ruined. This is what makes me most excited for the project. To see what direction both Phillips and Phoenix go with the narrative.
While details on supporting characters have been kept to a minimum, we know Zazie Beetz (Deadpool Two) and Robert De Niro will be involved in the project. De Niro’s character has yet to be revealed while Beetz will play a character called Sophie Dumond.
I have confidence that this film could potentially be one of the better DC releases in recent times. The Dark Knight is one of my favourite movies, so Phoenix’s performance will face some tough competition with Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the villain looming in my mind. I even hold Mark Hamill’s performance of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, and the video game Arkham Trilogy, in high regard. That being said, I’m optimistic that Phoenix will bring a fresh new take on the character that could blow both casual and passionate fans away.
Besides, nothing can be as bad as Leto’s Suicide Squad Joker, let’s just forget that happened.
By David Ronney