Joaquin Phoenix meets his perfect match in Joker: Folie à Deux teaser

Joaquin Phoenix returns as Arthur Fleck in Joker: Folie à Deux.

Joaquin Phoenix won an Oscar for his portrayal of a failed stand-up comedian struggling with mental illness in the 2019 film Joker, director Todd Phillips’ controversial interpretation of the classic Batman villain. The honor was richly deserved. In my review, I called it a “masterful performance” that “transforms the narrative into something more than a competent-but-unremarkable tale of hard knocks driving a troubled man to violence.” The film ended up topping $1 billion globally at the box office—the first R-rated movie to do so, making it the highest-grossing R-rated film ever.

Now Phoenix is reprising that role in Phillips’ follow-up, Joker: Folie à Deux, costarring Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn. It’s hard to imagine Phillips matching his earlier achievement, but Warner Bros. released the first teaser last night, and quite frankly, the film looks fantastic.

(Spoilers for the 2019 film below.)

Joker was intended to be a standalone film—part of DC Films’ decision to move away from the shared-universe approach of its prior franchise DCEU films. (DC Studios CEO James Gunn is now calling it the “DC Elseworld” project.) It had no relation to the Justice League films that came before, so that freed Phillips to create his own darker, grittier version of this iconic character. He cited Martin Scorsese films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The King of Comedy among his influences. There’s no real origin story for the Joker in the comics—not a definitive one, anyway—so Phillips and screenwriter Scott Silver were able to cherry-pick the canonical elements they needed and make up the rest. (In Batman: The Killing Joke, for instance, the Joker is a failed comedian.)

In Joker, we followed the journey of Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a struggling aspiring stand-up comedian taking care of his ailing mother Penny (Frances Conroy) in Gotham City in 1981. She called him “Happy,” and, while deep down Arthur was anything but, he did his best to “smile and put on a happy face” to please her. But life had not been kind to Arthur. He had at least one stint at Arkham Asylum and suffered from a neurological disorder that caused him to break out in maniacal laughter whenever he was anxious or stressed (which was often).

When city budget cuts meant he could no longer afford his medications or therapy sessions, he began a steady descent into outright madness, culminating in his unhinged on-air murder of late night talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Riots broke out in the streets of Gotham City as Fleck was arrested and committed to Arkham Asylum.

Our last glimpse was Fleck being chased down a corridor by orderlies, laughing maniacally and leaving a trail of bloody shoe prints. He’s still at the asylum in the teaser, which is where he meets Gaga’s Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a fellow inmate who becomes increasingly obsessed with Arthur… and vice versa. When his therapist asks Arthur if anything has changed recently, he responds, “I’m not alone anymore.” One assumes more murderous mayhem will ensue.

The sequel was officially announced in 2022. In addition to Phoenix and Gaga, Zazie Beetz returns as Sophie, Arthur’s former neighbor and a single mom, on whom he had a crush, as well as Leigh Gill and Sharon Washington reprising their roles as Arthur’s therapist, Gary, and social worker, respectively. The cast also includes Brendan Gleeson, Catherine Keener, Jacob Lofland, Steve Coogan, Ken Leung, and Harry Lawley in as-yet-undisclosed roles.

Joker: Folie à Deux hits theaters on October 4, 2024.

Listing image by Warner Bros.

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