By Casey Evans

Why subtlety is key for the Clown Prince of crime…

In the entirety of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, the Joker has always stood out as the prime example of the perfect villain; an antithesis of the hero’s personality and goals, acting as an agent of chaos, disrupting the order that the caped crusader has tried to create in Gotham.

Therefore, when studios have endeavoured to bring Batman to the silver screen, his arch nemesis has never been far behind. For the campier, less serious Batman of the 1960s, Cesar Romero harkened back to the origins of the character, playing him as more of a prankster. When Tim Burton wanted a darker take on the Crown Prince of Crime, Jack Nicholson gladly obliged with a stellar turn as the gangster Jack Napier, who turned into supervillain after a confrontation with Batman, but in my opinion despite this being a good performance, the character was drastically changed by Burton in order to create a self-contained narrative within his movie, therefore losing much of the Jokers essence in the process.

In my opinion there are only two performances to date which have captured the true essence of what the Joker should be. The first being the voice work of Mark Hamill in Batman: The Animated Series, as well as other games and films and the second being the interpretation put forward by the late Heath Ledger in 2008’s the Dark Knight.

For his Oscar winning performance, Ledger created his own take on the character while enhancing the best aspects of the Joker which had been shown in comics, such as the Killing Joke and A Death in the Family. The main thing that Ledger did right, is play the perfect line with the character between the crazy, maniacal clown and the cold, calculating psychopath. This is where other interpretations have fallen down, especially for me the Jared Leto take on the character in 2016’s Suicide Squad.

The Joker is not crazy, however much he may seem, he is a man who is always completely in control of his emotions and his situation. But whereas Ledger enhanced his performance by showing the clown persona is just an act with subtleties and layered line delivery, Leto made the mistake of focusing purely on creating a madman, therefore losing the depth which made Ledger’s performance so great and enraging fans of the character everywhere.

This fan distaste is probably the reason a Joker solo film was green lit with Leto being replaced by Joaquin Phoenix and now having seen the recent camera tests and ‘leaked’ footage of a film I was originally unsure about, I’ve got to say I’m excited to see it when it releases in 2019.

A couple of complaints I’ve heard about this film I agree with. The main one being ‘why make a Joker origin film?’ Personally, I like that the Joker’s origin is not a confirmed piece of canon. In the Dark Knight, the joker uses multiple origin stories while threatening people, but you can tell by the second time round when the narrative is different, that it is just another device the villain is using to inspire fear. These sections are probably a homage to the multiple origins stated in the comics for how the Joker came into being, but none of these are ever confirmed by the Joker himself.

The lack of an origin adds to the mystery of the character and the fact that he is no one therefore has no agenda or reason for what he’s doing further enhances to the agent of chaos persona. However, just because a good example of an origin doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean it can’t and I feel if Todd Philips and Joaquin Phoenix can do it justice then I will be happy to see how they create what seems to be a character study on a broken man beaten down by the world who decides to take matters into his own hands.

However, the main reason I am excited for Phoenix’s take on the character is due to 5 seconds of footage released by the director. For me the whole camera test posted on Todd Philips Instagram is great, with the song ‘Laughing’ by Guess Who underscoring the footage of the Joker transparently playing under a zooming in shot of pre-transformation Arthur Fleck. It has an artistic indie vibe but with a creepy, unsettling tone which I think is fantastic. However back to the 5 seconds which really sold me on Joaquin Phoenix interpretation of the character. At the end of the camera test it cuts to him in full makeup smiling before sighing and a more sinister expression comes across his face.

Joaquin Phoenix is an obviously talented actor with a knack for sinister, brooding characters and if he can bring the same aura that he has shown like characters such as Commodus from 2000’s Gladiator, then the character of the Joker is in safe hands and from the images that have already been released this seems to be the case. However, only time will tell whether these early images blossom into a stand out performance for Phoenix.

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