Joaquin Phoenix isn't laughing in the first Joker trailer

Batman's great nemesis gets his own origin story in Joker, with Joaquin Phoenix playing the tortured criminal with the rictus grin

Video by Jamie Dunn | 03 Apr 2019

Are you sick of superheroes like Tony Stark and Captain Marvel cracking wise? Then Joker might be the comic book movie for you. Joaquin Phoenix doesn't do much joking in the first trailer for the new film about Batman's greatest nemesis. Gritty urban drama is more the vibe in Todd Phillips' film, which centres on Phoenix's Arthur Fleck, a lonely man who makes a living by dressing up as a clown for a retail outlet, and follows him as he descends into madness thanks to the cruel, pitiless world he sees around him. In the first trailer, we see Phoenix's character get beat up by some teenagers, harassed on the subway, kicked down some stairs and generally being miserable in between taking care of his invalid mother. 

Why so serious? Well because this isn't your typical comic book movie. Stand-up Marc Maron appears in Joker and told NME that we should expect "more of an intimate and gritty movie with a very specific scope. It’s going to be really interesting to see how it comes out.” Martin Scorsese is one of the producers, and word is Phillips has taken from some of Scorsese’s films, like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, rather than his own oeuvre, which includes The Hangover and Due Date.

There's no sign of Batman in the trailer, but we do get a glimpse of Arkham Asylum, where the Caped Crusader often locks The Joker up in the comic books. One thing is for sure: Joaquin Phoenix is taking this film as seriously as his other great performances in films like You Were Never Really Here, Inherent Vice and Her. When NME ask Maron about working with Phoenix, the WTF Podcast host says the actor was deep into the character. "I didn’t really get to talk to him because he was pretty immersed in The Joker," he says. "I was just like, ‘I’m not gonna bother that guy’. That was fine. You just gotta respect people’s process.”

Phoenix is hardly the first great actor to take on the role. Jack Nicholson went big in his scene-stealing turn as the sarcastic villain in Tim Burton's Batman, while Heath Ledger went for a blend of manic and tortured in his Oscar-winning interpretation of the character in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight – he died before the film was released. Jared Leto, meanwhile, played The Joker in the unwatchable Suicide Squad

We'll see how Phoenix's take on the character compares to these memorable performances when Joker is released 4 Oct. Until then, take a look at the trailer in the player above or on YouTube.