Warner Bros. confirmed this week what we’ve all known for a while — three-time Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix has officially signed on to play Batman’s arch enemy the Joker in a stand-alone origin film. With a reported budget in the $50 million range, the film is expected to begin production later this year.
Todd Phillips — best known for helming the Hangover trilogy and 2016’s War Dogs — will direct the picture and co-write the screenplay with Scott Silver. Silver previously penned the Oscar-nominated script for The Fighter, as well as writing 8 Mile and The Finest Hours.
The casting of Phoenix is a major coup, since he’s mostly known for his stirring character portrayals, most recently in the magnificent film You Were Never Really Here. I’m personally especially excited for the casting, since Phoenix was one of my top two picks to portray the Joker for many years (the other being Cate Blanchett). After The Master in 2012, I started posting (on social media and at Quora) stills from the film and arguing Phoenix’s brilliant acting talent was matched by a perfect physicality for the Joker.
The Joker movie is expected to hit theaters in 2020, the same year as Matt Reeves’ film rebooting the Batman solo franchise. There should also be at least one other bat-related movie title arriving at the box office that year, and it’s a shame Warner couldn’t get the ducks in a row sooner to make sure these all released in 2019 for Batman’s 80 year anniversary (he first appeared in comics in 1939), and the 30 year anniversary of the first modern Batman movie (in 1989).
Jared Leto has already appeared as the new DCEU Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad, the first actor to assume the role after Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Before that, Jack Nicholson portrayed the Joker in 1989’s Batman. Cesar Romero brought the character to life for the first time in live-action on the 1960s TV series Batman, and in the feature film version of that same series in 1966.
Leto is supposed to reprise his Joker role for Suicide Squad 2, as well as a repeatedly mentioned solo Joker movie of his very own. But the probability of the latter project ever materializing already seemed low, and now with this week’s announcement of a different solo Joker movie starring a different actor, it seems highly unlikely Warner would greenlight two such projects.
Indeed, with Warner still in the process of changing leadership positions and rearranging DC Entertainment while trying to dramatically change course for their DC movies, the notion of competing Joker projects with different stars is the sort of unorganized mess they surely want to avoid. When Walter Hamada became president of DC Films, it seemed one priority would be avoiding announcing slates of projects that never wind up being made, and trying to trim the fat to create a streamlined plan and process. So, confusing audiences with multiple iterations of various characters — since besides the Joker, a new actor will soon be playing Batman, and at least one other DC character might wind up with more than one big screen incarnation in the next several years — seems pointedly contrary to the goal of cleaning things up for DC movies.
Getting back to the details of the Joker origin film, it’s been reported the film will have a 1980s setting. I realize there’s a lot of nostalgia driving movies lately, but the trend toward period settings for superhero movies is in danger of becoming overdone. Four previous X-Men films (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and X-Men: Apocalypse) plus the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix release (if it ever makes it to theaters, that is), Watchmen, Wonder Woman, the upcoming Captain Marvel, the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984, and now the new Joker film are all set in past decades, six of them in the 1980s or 1990s.
This isn’t to say most of those aren’t good or great films — they are — but rather to say there should be good reasoning behind period settings rather than just following a trend or using the time period as an easy excuse for lack of cell phones or other technology that might make certain plot devices moot. If a story calls for a particular period setting, that’s one thing, but I just don’t want to see it shoehorned in or done as a sort of contextual affectation.
That said, everything else I’m hearing about this project sounds great. I know we’ve already seen the Joker several time now in live-action, and Batman has a wonderfully deep bench of villains who deserve lots of screen time. But the Joker’s the Joker, he’s Batman’s arch nemesis, he’s among the greatest villain of all time, and when the performances and stories are good it’s always nice to see him again.
I’m still hunting for more details about the Joker movie project, and meanwhile I’ve got other news about DC movies coming up soon, so stay tuned, dear readers.