The Oscar nominated Joaquin Phoenix is in talks to play the Crown Prince of Crime, aka The Joker, in a standalone origin movie.
Virtually every single detail about this story is a little crazy, so brace yourself. Warner Bros. continues to develop a solo movie for The Joker, Batman and comicdom’s greatest villain. This shouldn’t be too surprising given the Joker’s stature as one of the best villains of fiction (as well as a box office draw considering what he and Harley Quinn did for the otherwise toxically received Suicide Squad). What is unexpected, however, is that this is going to be a standalone movie–and potentially a period piece–completely removed from WB’s DC Extended Universe (or whatever it’s called these days). And one that looks poised to star Joaquin Phoenix, one of the most enigmatic but fascinating character actors working today.
The latest juicy tidbit comes out of Variety, which reports that Phoenix is director Todd Phillips’ first choice for the role of the Joker, and that after some talks, Phoenix has tenatively agreed to star in the film as the Clown Prince of Crime. However, WB has not confirmed it as such, and there was once a time when Phoenix was in talks to play Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange, so don’t take it as a done deal. Then again, this is a potentially much more exciting role, especially given Phillips’ take on the material. Imagine for a moment Phoenix’s Commodus from Gladiator speaking with the Joker’s singsong voice, and then try not to smile.
Todd Phillips (The Hangover, War Dogs) is directing and co-writing the script with Scott Silver (8 Mile, The Fighter). But what makes things really interesting is that Martin Scorsese is producing, and that the whole conceit is an origin story completely removed from the DCEU. In fact, the movie has previously been described as a crime thriller set in an early 1980s Gotham City, with the plan being to evoke Martin Scorsese’s classic neo noir, Taxi Driver (1976), except, you know… with a lot more smiling.
This also probably means we’re going to get some version of the story about an up and coming criminal/killer who finds himself suddenly disfigured via a chemical bath. Suddenly, DC Comics’ recent announcement that the Joker’s real name, long left deliberately unknown, is Jack Napier (a callback to the 1989 Tim Burton Batman movie) makes a lot more sense from a synergy perspective.
Apparently, Warner Bros. plans to “expand the canon of DC properties and create unique storylines with different actors playing the iconic characters.” This vague description makes it sound like the studio is pursuing a big screen version of DC Comics’ “Elseworlds” line, which delivered classics like the Victorian-era Batman vs. Jack the Ripper story Gotham by Gaslight (soon to get an animated adaptation) and the communist Superman story, Red Son, which has recently been the subject of big screen rumors. This kind of approach, rather than the strict, Marvel-esque “shared universe” would certainly allow the studio to both forge their own identity and carry on with their mission statement of allowing directors with strong cinematic identities to steer these movies. This could be their opportunity to experiment with an R-rating, too.
Previously, Leonardo DiCaprio was rumored to circle the project, however it is not too surprising to see that things are shifting to Phoenix’s direction. And we have to say if he is cast, we will be mightily entertained.