Will ‘JOKER’ Live Up to the Hype or Leave Fans Wanting More?

When you’ve got a super-villain from the opposite camp cheering you on, you must be doing something right. Actress Karen Gillan, who is known for playing Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers movies, tweeted after seeing the trailer for Joker. What’s notable about that is that Gillan works for the Marvel/Disney camp, and she’s hotly anticipating a film from the rival Warner/DC side. And that’s just one of the many enthusiastic reactions the trailer has prompted.

Who played the Joker in the past?

Of course, this is hardly the first time the Joker has appeared in a movie. Cesar Romero cackled his way through the part in the 1960s TV series, while Jack Nicholson was the first big-screen cinematic joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Some argued he played the role so well that Batman was left as something of a bystander in his own movie.

The “clown prince of crime” next appeared in Christopher Nolan’s 2004 The Dark Knight, with Heath Ledger making such an indelible impression that he was awarded a posthumous  Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. And it just so happened that the trailer for the new movie more or less coincided with what would have been the actor’s 40th birthday.

Then there was Jared Leto’s unhinged take on the character in the 2016 film Suicide Squad. Having just won an  Oscar for The Dallas Buyer’s Club, Leto was expected to turn in another hard-hitting performance.  Although the character was not front and center in that film and was instead part of a villainous ensemble, some thought too much of Leto’s performance might have been left on the cutting room floor.

Now comes Joaquin Phoenix with his take on the character and this time he’s leading the show with no Batman in sight, not even a cameo, as best we know.

Where did the Joker come from?

Batman’s arch-rival is about as old as the Dark Knight himself, first appearing in the comics in 1940. However, his origin was not known until 11 years later when we learn that he was a criminal who swam through chemical muck that turned his hair green and twisted his features into a clownish grimace. Burton more or less depicted this origin in the 1989 film, although there he fell into a chemical vat.

Nolan’s Dark Knight dispensed with an origin scene altogether, with Ledger offering a different origin story to every person he meets. As such, the audiences was never sure which version of it was true – if any of it was.

The comic books have altered the character several times: In the acclaimed The Killing Joke from 1988, the chemical misadventure made the character suffer a psychotic break. Further comic rewrites morphed the character into Red Hood One, although the new film will reportedly be based primarily on The Killing Joke.

Who is directing ‘Joker’?

The director of the new movie is Todd Phillips. His name may not ring a bell, but he’s directed a number of big hits that are mostly comedies. He directed all three of the movies in The Hangover series, although Warner Bros. may not have been keen to bill the trailer as “From the director of the Hangover trilogy.” Then again, back in 1989,  Batman wasn’t promoted as “From the director of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”

Even with the director’s unlikely credentials, many have praised what Phillips has shown so far, with some even comparing the trailer to the work of legendary director Martin Scorsese. Helping to drive that comparison home is the fact that frequent Scorsese collaborator Robert De Niro appears in Joker.

Can the film possibly live up to that level of anticipation? We’ll find out when it opens Oct. 4, just in time for Halloween.