Warner Bros. has released the first trailer for Joker, its upcoming origin story for the classic Batman villain. It’s directed by Todd Phillips, and it stars Joaquin Phoenix as the titular character.
The trailer gives us our first look at Phoenix’s depiction of the character, a clown and comedian from Gotham named Arthur who seems to have fallen on hard times. He’s beaten up and humiliated on the streets and in the subway, and he muses, “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” Over the course of the trailer, we see his descent into madness, appearing at the very end in costume as the classic villain.
The film comes at a strange time for Warner Bros., which has struggled to build up a cinematic universe like that of its rival studio Marvel. The studio found an enormous amount of success with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Batman saga, and it attempted to build up its own, interconnected expanded universe, starting with Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, followed by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Justice League, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam! The studio opted to abandon its expanded universe franchise in favor of more standalone films back in 2017, and the latest releases, while technically connected to one another, have relied less on the cinematic universe concept.
This film is part of that distancing. Warner Bros. began developing the project back in 2017as “part of a sub-brand” that would focus on standalone films about various DC characters. Future films include a new take on Suicide Squad and a horror spinoff from Aquaman. This film is reportedly inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. (Scorsese is also a producer on the film.) Joker looks as though it’s pulling some of its inspiration from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s classic graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, which introduced one origin for the character. While there are some small references to the larger DC touchstones, like Arkham Asylum, there’s no sighting of Batman.
Phoenix is the latest in a long line of actors to take on the Joker character, including Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Jared Leto in Suicide Squad, and Cameron Monaghan in the television series Gotham. Phoenix’s version looks like it falls more in line with Ledger’s classic depiction, with less of the zaniness that we saw in Leto’s portrayal.