Todd Phillips' highly-anticipated DC movie Joker premiered at Venice Film Festival this weekend, followed shortly by the embargo lifting reviews - and early signs are promising with a "Fresh" score of 85%. The film imagines an origin story for Batman's greatest nemesis, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a middle-aged man who lives with his mother and has a humiliating day job as a sign-spinning clown.
Joker's premiere follows the release of the final trailer for the movie, which revealed a little more about its story and characters, and left many DC Comics eager to see this take on the popular supervillain. Joker was inspired by the darkly comic 1983 movie The King of Comedy, which starred Robert De Niro in the lead role, and De Niro also appears in Joker as a comedy show host called Murray Franklin. The film is R-rated - a rarity for comic book movies, but one that Warner Bros. seems to be embracing by making next year's Birds of Prey R-rated as well.
With 27 reviews counted, Joker currently has a 85% score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is well into "Fresh" territory. In order for a film earn the site's "Certified Fresh" accolade, it must have a score of 75% or better with at least 80 reviews counted. So far only a limited number of critics have seen the film, so the score can probably be expected to shift when the next wave of reviews comes out, closer to its October release date. For now, however, things are looking very positive. In articular, the early reviews include an outpouring of praise for Phoenix's performance in the central role.
Many actors have played the character of the Joker over the years, with Heath Ledger delivering what many feel was the greatest portrayal in 2008's The Dark Knight. Needless to say, Phoenix has some great big clown shoes to fill, but he also has the unique opportunity of being the main character in his movie rather than the antagonist. Joker is set in the 1980s, and while Bruce Wayne does appear in it (played by Dante Pereira-Olson), he's still only a child. Instead of fighting Batman, it looks like the proto-Joker ends up going to war with Bruce's father, Thomas Wayne (played by Brett Cullen).
The rave reviews for Joker (which has a notably awards season-adjacent release date) is already drumming up some Oscar buzz, especially with regards to a Best Actor nod for Phoenix (he's been nominated three times in the acting categories, but has yet to win). The last DC movie to win an Oscar was 2016's Suicide Squad, which took home the award for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling. That movie also featured the Joker, but it was a very different version who was played by Jared Leto.
With fierce discussion already raging around Joker based on the reviews alone, it will be interesting to see what direction the conversation takes when fans and the general public get to see the movie in a few weeks.