From its first trailer, Todd Phillips' Joker didn't look like any other Batman movie. The film was billed as an inventive, original look at the Clown Prince of Crime that stands apart from comic book movies in general.
Even though the movie won't be released widely until October, it's already being discussed as one of the year's leading contenders to take home some of the most prestigious awards in film, specifically at the Academy Awards. Instead of being teased at comic book conventions like a regular superhero movie, it's being treated more like a prestige film with premieres at taste-making venues like the Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival. Now, CBR is going to take a closer look at Joker and dig into why exactly its already getting so much Oscar buzz.
Behind the Scenes
In addition to its premiers at major film festivals, the pedigree of the cast and crew behind-the-scenes already gives the film a seriousness and gravity that eludes most comic book movies. The film looks to be an introspective, street-level crime drama, almost certainly influenced by the works of its former producer, Martin Scorsese, which is a point that the movie's marketing seems to push. Fittingly, the film has a air about it that is very similar to the crime dramas that Scorsese is known for. The current producer, Michael Uslan, has recently remarked at how unique it is.
Similarly, star Joaquin Phoenix is famous for appearing in dramas such as Walk the Line, The Master and Her. He's already been nominated for three Academy Awards, and the dramatic weight of Joker will almost certainly rest on his shoulders. Phoenix's Oscar has been a long time coming, and Joker could give the Academy enough of a reason to recognize him for his body of work.
While director Todd Phillips is best known for rowdy comedies like The Hangover, this film seems set to be the kind of sharp left turn that can redefine a career.
Why So Serious?
While most other superhero films are special effects showcases built around action set pieces, Joker appears to be taking a different approach to its weighty subject matter. In addition to looking at the birth of the Joker, the period piece seems to look at its leads and Gotham City as a whole through the lens of modern ideas and serious social issues.
In sharp contrast to the comedic tone of the typically lighthearted Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, this film seems set to dive deep into the psychology of its main character. While a comedic tone has helped Marvel reach a wide audience, it has been a subject of criticism too. By clearly stepping out of the "fun" Marvel template, Joker could both alienate comic fans while bringing in viewers who might skip a traditional superhero movie. Phillips has stated that the film is very much divorced from the comics, furthering how different it feels from its competitors.
And The Winner Is...
It's also worth noting that the Joker, as a character, has already achieved some success at the Academy Awards. The late Heath Ledger's performance as the character in The Dark Knight earned him as posthumous Best Supporting Actor award.
The similarities between this version of the Joker and Ledger's are also fairly obvious. Both of their films were notably darker and more grounded than their competition, and both featured more subdued versions of the character compared to the cartoons and the comic books.
While the idea of someone winning an Academy Award for playing a comic book character might've seemed preposterous, it's already happened. Considering the success of Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse at the Oscars, the Academy has only gotten more comfortable with celebrating comic book movies since Ledger's win. All of those precedents ultimately give Joker a much easier path to Oscar gold.
Now, all fans can do is hope that the quality of the film matches its buzz and ambitions.
Directed by Todd Phillips, Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Marc Maron, Josh Pais and Shea Whigham. The film arrives in theaters Oct. 4.