Warner Bros., the filmmakers behind Joker, and now movie theater chain Regal Cinemas are all going on the defensive against criticisms that the upcoming DC Comics adaptation glamorizes and trivializes the same kind of persona that has destabilized so much of the United States through mass shootings and other flamboyant criminal acts. Such criticisms hit hard and early, when a version of the screenplay was leaked online and critics noted that the fundamental idea o the movie seemed to center around making a middle-aged white male on a trajectory to commit mass muder into a sympathetic protagonist. That concern has only picked up steam as the movie has begun to be screened for audiences, racking up critical accolades and seemingly on a pace to make huge money in its opening weekend.
After law enforcement became concerned about the potential for violence at Joker screenings (not least of all because of the supposedly-Joker-inspired mass shooter who opened fire on a theater full of people in Colorado when The Dark Knight Rises was released in theaters), other movie theater chains -- including Landmark and AMC -- issued brief statements acknowledging the concerns and promising to beef up security and limit what costumes audience members could wear for the movie.
"At Regal, we do not believe the content or the existence of any movie is a cause or a signal for violence," a spokesperson for Regal told TheWrap. "Nevertheless, although we do not comment on security protocols implemented by our theatres at any time, patron and employee safety is our foremost concern. In collaboration with NATO, we are in regular contact year-round with law enforcement so we have information to help make whatever security assessments they deem appropriate at all times."
For his part, star Joaquin Phoenix walked out of an interview when asked about the concerns. Filmmaker Todd Phillips first tried to address the concerns but seems to have tired talking about it and is now just blaming "outrage culture."
"It's all tone. I think one of the biggest jobs of a director is you're the purveyor of tone, and this movie was always written and meant to be a slow burn, and I think the violence is part of that slow burn. We were very careful, I think, with it," Phillips explained from Venice. "A lot of people assume or think it's gonna be a really violent movie, but if you break it down to the amount of people that [Arthur] has a problem with, I think the reason it affects you differently — I mean, you can watch a movie like John Wick 3, and there's a much higher amount of violence. But I think why it might affect you differently is we tried to paint it with as realistic a brush as possible. So when it comes, it sort of feels like a punch in the stomach. But again, it was all just a balancing act of tone."
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Robert De Niro, Joker opens October 4.