Warner Bros has responded to criticism of the upcoming Joker film, including from the families of those killed while watching a Batman film in 2012, saying the film is not an "endorsement of real-world violence".

Twelve people were shot dead in a cinema in Denver in 2012 during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises.

Family members of the victims of the mass shooting wrote to Warner Bros with concerns about the new Joker film and urged the studio to join action against gun violence.

The families' letter said: "When we learned that Warner Bros was releasing a movie called Joker that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause.

"We support your right to free speech and free expression. But as anyone who has ever seen a comic book movie can tell you: with great power comes great responsibility.

"That's why we're calling on you to use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns."

Families members of victims of a mass shooting at a Batman film in 2012 urge Warner Bros to join action against gun violence

Warner Bros has now responded in a statement.

A spokesperson for the company said: "Gun violence in our society is a critical issue, and we extend our deepest sympathy to all victims and families impacted by these tragedies.

"Our company has a long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora, and in recent weeks, our parent company joined other business leaders to call on policymakers to enact bi-partisan legislation to address this epidemic.

"At the same time, Warner Bros believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues.

"Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind. It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero."

Joaquin Phoenix's performance as the Joker has received widespread critical acclaim

Joaquin Phoenix's performance as Batman's sadistic arch-nemesis has won widespread acclaim since the film had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival earlier this month where it won the coveted Golden Lion award.

Phoenix is already tipped to be among the Best Actor nominees at next year's Oscars for his portrayal of the deeply traumatised Arthur Fleck/The Joker in the DC Comics adaptation. 

Joker is directed by Todd Phillips and acts as an origins story for the character.

The film - which also stars Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Brian Tyree Henry - opens in cinemas on Friday, October 4.

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