With the DC Extended Universe always in flux, it was never a guarantee that Oscar winner Jared Leto would ever make another film as the Joker. Given how bad he was – among many terrible aspects of Suicide Squad – that was probably for the best. But then Warner Bros. announced a lower-budget, pitch-black comedy origin story from Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy) starring Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix. There was no telling how this unusual collaboration would turn out.
This week, we got our first look, and it's both exciting and nothing like what I was expecting. Joaquin Phoenix – last seen hulking over child predators in You Were Never Really Here – looks wiry and out of control as Arthur Fleck, hewing closer to his incredible turn in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. This Joker isn't the wild mob lieutenant of Batman, the unhinged force of chaos of The Dark Knight, and definitely not whatever Leto was going for in Suicide Squad. This is a broken man, brought low by an uncaring society. But even in its two-and-a-half minutes, it doesn't give anything away.
We get glimpses of Robert De Niro as a talk show host, making the comparisons to The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver that much more explicit. And keep an eye out for Shea Whigham (Amazon's Homecoming) and not one but two members of the Atlanta cast: Zazie Beetz and Brian Tyree Henry. We have yet to see Marc Maron or Bill Camp, two of my favorite character actors.
Joker hits theaters on Friday, October 4. For better or worse, it won't be like any comic book film in recent memory.