Joaquin Phoenix Joker
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Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/DC Entertainment

Todd Phillips promises his Joker movie will feature a ‘clear-cut’ origin story for the villain

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Jul 11, 2019

Why so serious? We've got comic book news that'll put a smile on your face!

A few days back, we reported on director Todd Phillips making the bold claim that his standalone Joker film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix in the title role would anger comic book purists by not using anything from the treasure trove of DC source material.

In that same long form interview with Empire for the magazine’s August issue, he also assured fans that the movie would feature “a very clear-cut interpretation” of the character’s origin story. This could also be seen as flying in the face of tradition because the Joker’s beginnings have been more purposefully muddied over the years than a newly-dug construction site after rain. Even so, things still have the chance to stay rather ambiguous with Phillips admitting that it's only one person's take.

"We just wrote our own version of where a guy like the Joker might come from," the filmmaker continued. "That was interesting to me. We're not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker. It's about this man."

The Joker

Image Credit: Warner Brothers

Wanting to tell a dark and intimate character study, Phillips cited Taxi Driver, Serpico, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as the main influences for Joker.

"Getting people out to see them on a large scale is really difficult because the movie business is so comic book-oriented," added Phillips. "And then I thought, 'You could do a character study if you do it about a comic book character' ... I always liked the Joker because I like mayhem ... I just love the energy that a disruptor brings."

Bringing things full circle, the movie will feature Taxi Driver's Robert De Niro in the role of Murray Franklin, a talk show host that harkens back to Jerry Lewis's character in The King of Comedy. In a role reversal from Rupert Pupkin, De Niro will now be occupying the slot of a television comedian terrorized by a wannabe comic psycho.

As for what's mentally ailing Phoenix's Arthur Fleck, the film will keep his psychological issues (ones that drive him to a life of demented crime) under a thick layer of mystery. 

"[He's] been in the system for a long time," Phillips explained, talking about the various institutions Arthur's been admitted to over the years for "a condition the film doesn't specify."

Set in Gotham City (circa 1981), Joker chuckles into theaters everywhere Friday Oct. 4.  On that day, we'll see if Phoenix can stand alongside the tour-de-force performances of Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger.

Phillips co-wrote the project's screenplay with Scott Silver. Bradley Cooper is attached as a producer.


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