The DC Comic Universe shattered on the weekend of November 17, 2017. That was the release of Justice League, which should have been the pinnacle of a shared universe featuring Batman and Superman, but instead rang in with an opening weekend under 100 million, a full-scale flop in comparison to most of its brethren. Since then, Warner Brothers has begun to divorce the shared universes from each other. The first release since, Aquaman, was a boldly colorful, wildly silly, and extraordinarily profitable box office hit. Now, Warner has introduced the next film with the Joker teaser trailer, a movie which will wildly deviate from what came before.
This is a good thing, and not just because the gray and gritty Justice League concept failed to resonate with audiences. One of the unfortunate side issues that developed in this ultimately angry and inflexible take on the characters was Batman's main antagonist, the Joker, became an abusive, horror show of a creature, someone no one could root for, even in an anti-hero sense. Worse, Joker actor Jared Leto's insistence on method acting caused him to openly abuse his co-stars, to the point where it became an ugly side story to Suicide Squad's release back in the summer of 2016.
Taken together, it's not surprising in recent years, the Joker has become the avatar of anti-SJW and incel memes in certain rabid corners of the internet. However, with the first trailer for the new film, there's hope of a full-scale rehabilitation.
The director for the new Joker film, Todd Phillips, may not seem like an auteur type choice going in, considering his credits include movies like The Hangover Trilogy and Borat. However, anyone familiar with 1970s era cinema will recognize this is a Scorsese homage, from the washed-out Gotham palette that eerily calls to mind the New York City of films like Taxi Driver to the stand-up comedy clubs scenes which are a direct reference to Scorsese's lesser-known film, King of Comedy.
The phrase "dark and gritty reboot" used to describe Zack Snyder's Justice League universe slowly went from praise to sneering over the course of the franchise's existence. And yet, there is "dark and gritty" and then there this kind of "dark and gritty," which is entirely different. Arthur isn't shoegazing in the rain like Superman once did in Man of Steel, or Batman later did in Batman vs. Superman. His dark and gritty Joker is something else entirely; a terrifying horror of a lonely man pushed one step too far.
Phillips appeared yesterday as part of the Warner Brothers panel at CinemaCon, and when pushed to define which genre his Joker movie would fall under, clarified he thought of it as a tragedy. While the trailer makes it feel like a horror film on par with It: Part 2 (also coming from Warner Brothers this fall), a genuine comic-book genre derived tragedy may be precisely what Warner Brothers needs to define themselves opposite the Marvel canon chugging along under its Disney rival.
Joker arrives in theaters on Oct. 4, 2019.