What is the point of a trailer, when it comes down to it? Back in the day, it was to simply illustrate something was coming — an announcement of sorts that, hey, you are in a movie theater right now watching a movie, and you could be doing it again in the months ahead with a TOTALLY DIFFERENT thing! Coming attractions, and all that. But with the advent of the internet came (like everything else) a fundamental shift in the purpose of a movie trailer: no longer was it solely used to announce projects to people who may not be aware of them — in the high information digital age, a lot of people (especially ones reading, say, an incredible niche and very obscure movie blog) generally know what big movies are coming out within a given year. That’s especially true for comic book properties, the most popular and widespread medium of our generation — if you have even a passing interest in the film news world, you likely know of all the superhero projects coming out within the next year (there is a lot of them though, so remember to keep notes — there will be a quiz after.)
So on that end, the question remains: what is the point of a trailer, if not to simply announce to the world your presence? Well, it can serve two main purposes: to excite those already in the bag for the property (think every Avengers: Endgame tease), or to convince people who are uninterested that, yes, there movie is worth paying attention too. Of the dual purposes, I would argue the latter is far more important. While it’s impossible to really quantify it, I can speak from experience that a well made trailer can pull me into a movie’s camp that I previously wouldn’t even have stepped foot in. The great ones for Pokemon: Detective Pikachu have done just that recently, and now another Warner Bros. project that I was super cynical about is slowly on the path to winning me over. That’s right, folks: I might soon be on team Joker origin movie.
That’s a pretty alarming change for me, since I was one of many folks who scoffed at this project when it was first announced, for the usual reasons (we don’t NEED an origin for every character, it ruins the appeal of the Joker, it’s a symptom of the over-saturation of comic book movies that’s exhausting to even me, who enjoys the genre, etc.) But then Martin Scorsese was confirmed as a freaking producer and I was like “Whaaat…?” And then Joaquin Pheonix was cast in the main role and I was like “WHAAAAT?!?!?!” And now this first Joker trailer is here, and I’m like “Fucking FINE, Joker movie — I’m interested in you, okay?!”
Frankly, I’m putting most of the blame on this purely on Joaquin Pheonix, who has long been one of my favorite actors, and looks to be giving his absolute all for this. If this a role that freaking Joaquin Pheonix thinks deserves his attention, at this point in his career, I just have to be paying attention too. And frankly, the whole Taxi Driver/King of Comedy Scorsese riff, about mentally unstable people unraveling at the world around them, ultimately forcing them to embrace their darker instincts just to surivive is, admittedly, my cinematic fetish. I love the pseudo-genre, and aside from recent examples like Nightcrawler and First Reformed, it’s a genre we don’t really see a lot of these days. If framing the story in the comic book origins of a famous super-villain is the only way to get this story on screen again in a big, dramatic way, then I guess I have no choice but to (rather begrudgingly) accept it. If they absolutely HAD to make a movie about the origins of the Joker, than I guess this is the approach that is most up my alley.
And, besides, even putting Joaquin Pheonix aside (is that even possible, tho), there’s plenty of other notables involved here to get excited about: Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, Marc Maron — fucking Brian Tyree Henry?! The cinematic seal of quality for the past year? Get the fuck out of here man, this cast is absolutely stacked.
But of course a very good cast is not enough to guarantee the quality of a movie, and I’m still not 100% over on the “Joker is going to rock!” camp. Todd Phillips just has a very mixed track record as a director (not to mention writer, which he’s also doing alongside Scott Silver), so I have to keep my embrace here very much at arms length Although I will say that, as a filmmaker, he’s actually kind of underrated, at least from an aesthetic point of view — he cares more about the look and feel of his films far more than most of his contemporary comedy directors. A move into more dramatic, darker territory was probably inevitable for him (especially after the strange little biopic dramedy that was War Dogs.) And I always root for filmmaker’s tackling subject matter outside of their usual oeuvre — if that wasn’t worth fighting for, we would have never gotten Jordan Peele: Horror Auteur, and what a lesser world that would be.
Still, the pure artistic talents of a young Scorsese is not what I get from Phillips so far, and though I’m hoping for him to surprise us, I’m leaving myself plenty of room for disappointment. That and my general wariness to the concept keep me from going absolute full tilt hyped for this one’s prospects. But this is a good trailer, for a film I think has a LOT of promise. And that’s a lot more than I would have said about the movie a year ago, that’s for sure.
We won’t have long to wait for Joker, as it will be hitting theaters on October 4 of this year. I can only hope my general enthusiasm for the film will remain by the time we reach that point — and, hopefully, far beyond.