Gaze Into the Squinting Eye of Joaquin Phoenix's Joker

In addition to this week's first look at 'Joker, we got a new Bat-Daddy plus more cast additions including Shea Whigham.

The Killing Joke
DC Comics

Why so serious? (Woof. Surely, I’m the first to lead with that reference, right?) Todd PhillipsJoker took one giant step closer into reality as the director revealed the first look of the title character via his Instagram account. Simply entitled “Arthur,” this image of Joaquin Phoenix as the Clown Prince of Crime is very much in line with the tone the production has been touting since the beginning. We’re going to get plenty of runtime before any iota of Ceasar Romero pounces into the frame.

Drawing inspiration from the classic “Killing Joke” storyline as well as Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, the Arthur seen below is expected to be a down-and-out stand-up comedian struggling to make ends meet and eventually succumbing to the insanity of ’80s era Gotham City. Checking that mop top and ugly ass jacket, this humdrum funny man chooses the blander aspects of that particular decades’ fashion in favor of the more colorful duds he’ll eventually sport. Bask in his blandness.

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Arthur.

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Coming off the streak of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad (which features Jared Leto as the character), there were not too many of us clamoring for a Joker origin story. Todd Phillips directing with Martin Scorsese (at the time supposedly) producing certainly sounded curious, but the real draw is that Joaquin Phoenix stare. There is not much to read in that photo, but we can sense the man on the verge of a mental crack. Gaze into that squint in his left eye, the head cock, and the slightest hint of a smile itching to break into a grimace. Suddenly, I’m eager to see the maniac come through.

On top of that reveal, we’ve also learned through Deadline, that Bat-Daddy Thomas Wayne has found a new actor to fill his shoes after Alec Baldwin fled the scene. Brett Cullen is no stranger to the Batman Universe. He portrayed the disgraced congressman who fell into Catwoman’s trap for The Dark Knight Rises. For another comics universe adaptation, he supplied Nicolas Cage his doomed parental motivation in the original Ghost Rider movie.

Based on the previous Alec Baldwin reports, the Thomas Wayne that the Joker encounters will not be the noble philanthropist familiar to comic book fans. Cullen’s Wayne is expected to be a shrewd and potentially diabolical businessman that would give Donald Trump a run for his money i.e. a perfect victim for The Joker to seek in his downward spiral into madness. Are we ready to see some of that righteous Wayne philanthropy tarnished by a misanthropic patriarch? Not sure, but it definitely indicates that Todd Phillips is going for the jugular with this Batman flashback.

Other newly revealed cast members, according to Collider, include Shea Whigham (Agent Carter), Glenn Fleshler (Barry), Bill Camp (The Night Of), Douglas Hodge (Penny Dreadful), and Josh Pais (Ray Donovan). They join previously announced co-stars Robert De Niro as a talk show host, Frances Conroy as Arthur/Joker’s mom, Deadpool 2‘s Zazie Beetz as a single mother who might be Arthur’s love interest, and comedian Marc Maron.

We’re still a ways off before a trailer drops, but this single headshot is enough to keep anticipation high. Not many actors could reinvigorate our desire for a character that has already been performed in live-action by four others, but Phoenix’s dangerous energy seems like a natural fit. Simply look at what he did in this year’s You Were Never Really Here. With very little dialogue to hang his character on, that film allowed him to steal audience empathy through sheer physicality. That’s exactly what a new Joker requires.

That’s no mook staring back at us. That’s a man with nothing left to lose, and desperate to share life’s futility with others. Brett Cullen better find a panic room.

Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.