'Send in the clowns': Joaquin Phoenix is a real wild man (and Oscar hopeful) in newest 'Joker' trailer

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

When the Batman’s away, the Joker will most definitely play. Joaquin Phoenix holds court as the Clown Prince of Crime in the latest trailer for Joker, an origin story set on the mean streets of Gotham City years before the Dark Knight showed up. That means that Phoenix will be the first cinematic Joker who doesn’t have to worry about a Batman getting all up in his business. And he’s clearly making the most of the opportunity: The new trailer provides a startling showcase for the Inherent Vice star’s wild and crazy turn — just check out that freaky laugh — which is already generating Oscar buzz. (Watch the trailer above.)

Co-written and directed by The Hangover’s Todd Phillips, Joker will be unleashed on general audiences on Oct. 4. But the movie, and Phoenix, will be going on a global tour well before that, screening at three separate film festivals — Venice, Toronto and New York — over the next month. Those prestigious playdates certainly suggest that Warner Bros. knows it has something special on its hands with this film, which stands outside of current DC Extended Universe continuity. (For now, at least.) The only connections to larger Bat-lore are brief appearances by the Wayne family, including doomed patriarch Thomas (Brett Cullen, who is glimpsed in the trailer), loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth (Douglas Hodge) and young Bruce himself (Dante Pereira-Olson).

Otherwise, Joker features an all-new cast of Gotham City citizens, starting with Arthur Fleck — the mentally-addled stand-up comic who embraces a more lucrative career as a master criminal. Fleck’s object of obsession is local talk show host, Murray Franklin, who is played by Robert De Niro in a deliberate reference to Martin Scorsese’s 1983 cult favorite, The King of Comedy. (At one point, Scorsese was going to produce the film, and Phillips pays homage to the cinematic icon with numerous allusions to classics like Taxi Driver and Mean Streets.) Based on the trailer, Franklin’s ridicule of Fleck’s not-so-great comedy abilities appears to be the thing that triggers his transformation, and he makes his first appearance under his new name on the host’s show.

Deadpool 2 star Zazie Beetz and Frances Conroy round out the ensemble as Arthur’s love interest and mother, respectively. The actor’s wild ways are going over quite well on Twitter, impressing even the most die-hard fans of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight.

No joke — Phoenix could soon become the second actor to win an Oscar for playing Batman’s nemesis, while the Caped Crusader’s awards season utility belt remains empty.

Joker opens in theaters on Oct. 4.

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