When Man of Steel premiered in 2013, it was supposed to launch Warner Bros’ DC Expanded Universe (DCEU) into the stratosphere.
The DCEU was expected to go toe-to-toe with Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), evolving over the months and years to become one of Hollywood’s most successful shared movie franchises. But Man of Steel failed.
I thought it was a masterpiece but few others agreed. And things only got worse after that; Batman V Superman also failed, and so did Suicide Squad and Justice League.
Even with Wonderwoman’s success, it quickly became clear that the DCEU would have to take drastic measures to stay afloat. So here we are, in an entirely new era of DC comic book movies, the majority of which are neither connected nor particularly beholden to the style Zack Snyder introduced with Man of Steel.
Joker is Warner Bros’ latest attempt at righting the DCEU ship, and honestly, I don’t know what to make of the first trailer. Even if you have never read comic books, you have probably heard of the Joker. Batman’s most iconic villain has spent the last few decades making his mark on popular culture.
Every generation has taken a crack at the so-called Clown Prince of Crime. Jack Nicholson’s Joker was the suave mobster. Heath Ledger’s Joker was a grim, unhinged, nihilist.
Cesar Romero was, well, a clown. And people would rather forget Jared Leto’s punk rock Joker. But I actually liked him, even with all his tattoos and piercings and gold teeth. He was, for all intent and purpose, the millennial joker.
And now we have Joaquin Phoenix, who might be the most interesting choice for an actor to play the Joker, ever. I don’t know what this movie is supposed to be. Joker looks less like a fun and exciting comic book film following the rise of Batman’s greatest villain and more like a dark and disturbing character study exploring the psyche of a broken comedian, a miserable soul in a merciless world that has to abandon any sense of morality or decency to find happiness.
If you have watched the trailer, then you have seen that smile. The Joker is typically a menacing character, and you can see it in every expression he flashes at his victims. That smile in the trailer, though? That was not menacing. I would call it unsettling. Joaquin Phoenix is not the Joker. He is not a larger-than-life criminal element with a sadistic mind and grandiose intentions.
Todd Phillips’ protagonist is just a man, and a sad one at that; the result of society’s ills, and its unyielding ways. I don’t know what to think of that Joker. I have never liked the character, to begin with. And the idea of a Joker movie has never appealed to me.
In fact, I did not even like this trailer. It felt bland. I don’t feel like I got a clear sense of the story the director wants to tell. But I am intrigued. And that intrigue will get me into the theater to watch this movie.