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Warner Bros. shows off first ‘Joker’ footage at CinemaCon

Todd Phillips
Warner Bros. unveiled a first look at “Joker” on April 2 at CinemaCon 2019, the official convention of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, in Las Vegas.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision)

“There’s been a lot of chatter about what this film is and what it isn’t,” Todd Phillips said before unveiling the first look at “Joker.” “And most of it hasn’t been very accurate.”

So what will the writer-director’s take on the iconic DC villain look like exactly? Phillips told movie theater owners at CinemaCon on Tuesday that he views the film starring Joaquin Phoenix as an “origin story about a beloved character that has no origin.” But he said he’s found it difficult to categorize the film to the Warner Bros. marketing team, ultimately labeling it as a tragedy.

The first teaser trailer — which will go online Wednesday — did veer towards darkness, with many in the audience comparing its tone to “Taxi Driver.” In the story, the Joker is painted as a fragile, mentally unwell man who turns to evil after years of being mocked by society.

Joaquin Phoenix stars in “Joker,” with Robert De Niro and Zazie Beetz.
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He begins as a street clown — noting his mother told him his life’s purpose was to “bring laughter and joy to the world” — where he’s bullied by locals. On the train, dressed in his costume, he’s deemed a “freak” by fellow passengers and beaten up. As he grows tired of the bullying, he sits in front of a mirror, forcing his lips into a smile. “I used to think my life was a tragedy,” he says, “but now I realize it’s a comedy.”

Phoenix, who slimmed down for the role, seems to have taken a more somber approach to the character — a contrast to the maniacal, raving mad portrayals given in the last decade by Heath Ledger (who won an Oscar for “The Dark Knight”) and Jared Leto (in “Suicide Squad”).

The film, due out in October, was one of the most highly anticipated featured during the Warner Bros. slate presentation. After a somewhat awkward kickoff by studio chairman Toby Emmerich — who presumably took over introductory duties after CEO Kevin Tsujihara stepped down last month amid a sex scandal — the studio brought out the likes of Melissa McCarthy, James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain to impress exhibitors.

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Todd Phillips, director of the upcoming film “Joker,” discusses the film during the Warner Bros. presentation at CinemaCon 2019.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision)

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Helen Mirren, on hand to promote her twisty new Bill Condon thriller “The Good Liar,” played to the crowd by dissing theatrical exhibitors’ biggest rival: streaming platforms. “I love Netflix, but [screw] Netflix,” she said, using an expletive. “There’s nothing like sitting in the cinema and the lights go down.”

The studio showed off a variety of films, from their lucrative horror franchises (“It: Chapter Two”) to big-budget blockbuster fare (“Godzilla: King of the Monsters”) and potential Oscar bait (“The Goldfinch”). On Tuesday night, the studio will screen “Blinded by the Light” — a film about a Pakistani outsider who connects with Bruce Springsteen’s music — which it acquired at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @AmyKinLA


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