The release date of “Joker” is upon us but let’s take a look at what got us to this point: the point where a supervillain solo film can win the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival.
The film, directed by Todd Phillips, is to be released on Friday, Oct. 4 and is the origin of the story of the infamous DC Comics supervillain, the Joker. The mantle of the Joker has been taken up by many actors over the years but this time around, seasoned actor Joaquin Phoenix puts on the face paint to become the Clown Prince of Crime. While the details on the plot are still somewhat fuzzy as with all movies pre-releases, but there are a few key details that are known. Unlike many incarnations, this Joker has a name: Arthur Fleck, a failed stand-up comedian who suffers a psychotic break after Gotham City pushes him to break. In addition to Phoenix, the film features Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin, a talk show host who eventually features the Joker on his show.
The Joker as a character has been taken up by acting legends. To name a few: Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto, and voiced in animation by the likes of Mark Hamill, and even Zach Galifinakis. Not all portrayals are created equal though, unfortunately.
Jack Nicholson portrayed the Joker in director Tim Burton’s “Batman” in 1989, the first of Burton’s forays into the world of the Dark Knight. According to Nicholson, Burton’s vision was primarily inspired by that of taking the feel and style of classic animation and placing a live action skin over that. Nicholson’s portrayal is probably one of the most famous partly because of the actor’s previous success in films such as the Stephen King classic, “The Shining,” or the adaptation of the Wasserman play, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Nicholson brought this legend to the character when he stepped into the overtly colored pinstripe suit and tie.
The next most famous portrayal that Phoenix has to live up to is Ledger’s Joker. This portrayal solidified the character in Millennial and Gen Z minds. The edge that this portrayal has on the character is a stark take from previous iterations in the regard that this Joker’s sense of humor is decidedly more transparent. Before, the Joker was a character that told jokes with double meanings, usually at the peril of his victims. Ledger’s Joker just gets down to business. He comes off as a total madman because of his nonsensical speech, but it’s not lighthearted at all. His approach is almost monstrous.
Jared Leto is the most recent actor before Phoenix to take up the helm of Joker, and I have to say it was less than appealing. Leto’s Joker is purely crazy for crazy’s sake. He doesn’t really have any sort of goal that he’s trying to accomplish and frankly, he’s also setting a bad example for people in general about how to behave around women. The Joker has always been a character that people have rallied around and Leto’s Joker has the danger of rallying the wrong crowd.
Joaquin Phoenix has a long history to follow up on but it’s certainly possible for him to follow up with another grand joke that earns the win at Venice Film Festival and at box offices across the country.