When we first heard that Todd Phillips (of The Hangover trilogy infamy) was making a solo Joker movie, it was hard not to roll our eyes. For one thing - Todd Phillips? Really? Doing a grim-and-gritty Joker movie? And Joaquin Phoenix would be playing The Joker? So soon after Jared Leto moved into the role for 2016's Suicide Squad? Couldn't this studio just stick to one dang thing for fifteen minutes?
Then further details began to emerge. Robert DeNiro joined the cast. Martin Scorsese flirted with being an executive producer on the project. Word began to circulate that Phillips' film was something of an homage to The King of Comedy, a most intriguing angle to apply to a Joker origin movie. As details (and, yes, set photos) continued to leak out, our interest levels in Todd Phillips' Joker skyrocketed. Whatever this thing turned out to be, it'd likely be something special.
Today, Phillips appeared onstage at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, NV to unveil the very first teaser trailer for Joker, and what I saw left me very curious, indeed. This was a teaser in the truest sense of the word, more about conveying tone and aesthetic than actual plot points, but what's there looked fresh, compelling, and just as weird as I'd hoped.
Given that the teaser is mostly just a collection of shots, voiceover dialogue and brief moments from the film, it's hard to summarize what we saw, but I'll give it a go: we see Arthur Fleck in his pre-Joker state, clearly having a hard go at things. He's in a shrink's office, then out on the street. We hear him saying, "My mother used to tell me to smile, and put on a happy face" (it appears this line will also be repurposed for the film's tagline), and then there's some footage of him getting gussied up in clown attire. Moments later, he's being attacked in an alleyway, and then later on subway. The message is clear: the world Arthur Fleck inhabits is a hostile one, and it's doing its damnedest to drive him insane.
There were shots of Phoenix in a diner with Zazie Beetz' character, a shot of Phoenix giving the Joker's laugh a whirl (it's good), a shot of Arthur approaching Arkham Hospital. We hear Arthur say, "I used to think my life was a tragedy, but maybe it's a comedy", and there's a few more shots of the Joker walking up a hallway, dancing on a staircase, forcing his own smile even wider with the aid of two hooked fingers, a quick glimpse of Robert DeNiro hosting a talk show. Several shots of Phoenix without his shirt on reveal that he's totally emaciated for the role, ironically calling to mind the weight-loss Jared Leto employed for Requiem For a Dream. Honestly, I was way into it.
Of course, all of this tells us very little about the movie. This is, again, more of a tone poem than anything else. But I was struck by how tactile the film looked; how it is, indeed, dark, but not in an obnoxious, try-hard way. I'm very intrigued by what we saw today, and am eagerly anticipating the online conversation that'll erupt once this footage makes its way online (which is supposedly tomorrow).
Stay tuned for that trailer, as well as further updates from CinemaCon 2019 as further developments occur.